British literary giants pay their respects to Beryl Bainbridge

By Tom Brooks-Pollock
Sunday 23 October 2011 07:14

Literary luminaries, family members and close friends gathered yesterday to say goodbye to the acclaimed novelist and "superb granny" Dame Beryl Bainbridge at a packed church in north London.

Dame Beryl, whose works – including An Awfully Big Adventure and Master Georgie – made her one of the best-known figures in post-war British literature, died at the age of 77 on 2 July after a short battle with cancer.

Writer AN Wilson, broadcasters Sue McGregor, Henry Kelly and Lord Melvyn Bragg, former hostage Terry Waite and playwright Ronald Harwood were among hundreds of mourners at the funeral service near the Liverpool-born author's home in Kentish Town. The funeral cortege then made the short trip to Highgate Cemetry, where Bainbridge was buried as mourners sang the Rolf Harris song Two Little Boys.

Parish priest Father Graeme Rowland said Dame Beryl, who was shortlisted for the Booker Prize on five separate occasions, "had a way with words and a carefully tuned sense of what would work.

"To the last breath," Father Rowlands said, what mattered to Dame Beryl was "tolerance, patience and regard for others".

"All that she has achieved," he went on, "along with the devotion of herself to her art.

"In the last five years that's been so much of a struggle for her to achieve, but she faced it with courage and determination."

He added: "As a character Beryl was very easy to love. There was no pretence in her dealings with others. She was always herself. She was a superb granny. She was a bit in awe of her family for having grown up so sensibly.

"She loved babies. On her death bed, when she felt too ill to read, she asked for pictures of babies, any babies, to cheer her up."

Dame Beryl, who worked as an actress before becoming a master story-teller, had requested a traditional Catholic service, with hymns and readings in Latin.

The artist Philip Hughes said Bainbridge had been a close friend for almost 50 years: "We have been neighbours all our lives," he said.

"Beryl would have liked the service. I think most important to her was bonding with her three children and seven grandchildren.

"She never really had much money. It's an extraordinary thing for a writer so famous that she was always fairly hard up. You can write an airport thriller and make a million. But Beryl didn't write those sort of books and didn't fetch that short of money."

The author and humanitarian Terry Waite paid tribute to Dame Beryl, whom he had asked for writing advice after being released by his captors in Lebanon.

"She was willing to spend the time with me," said Waite, who was held hostage from 1987 to 1991.

"She didn't discuss faith much at all. She discussed life and that was most important to me. She was concerned about people and there was no edge or side to her. She would talk with anybody."

Waite described Bainbridge as "a very traditional British lady," adding: "She had a very generous spirit."

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