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British author Tom Sharpe dies aged 85

By Belinda Goldsmith

LONDON (Reuters) - British comic novelist Tom Sharpe, known for his "Wilt" series about a harassed and hen-pecked university lecturer, has died aged 85, his publisher said on Thursday.

The London-born author, whose last and 16th novel "The Wilt Inheritance" was published in 2010, died in Spain where he had a home in the northeastern coastal town of Llafranc.

"Tom Sharpe was one of our greatest satirists and a brilliant writer: witty, often outrageous, always acutely funny about the absurdities of life," Susan Sandon, Sharpe's editor at Random House, said in a statement.

Sharpe, the son of a preacher from the northeastern English county of Northumberland, was educated at Cambridge University's Pembroke College and spent his national service during World War Two in the Royal Marines.

He told Reuters at a writing festival in 2010 that he did not set out to be a comic writer but wanted his first novel to attack the apartheid regime in South Africa, where he lived for 10 years before being expelled for sedition in 1961.

In South Africa he did social work before teaching in Natal.

"It just happened. Before that I'd been reading Thomas Mann, and Sartre, and Kafka and Kirkegaard," he said.

The result was his first novel in 1971, "Riotous Assembly," which lampoons South Africa's apartheid system and the police followed by a 1973 sequel, "Indecent Exposure".

In 1974 he wrote "Porterhouse Blue" which sent up the inner workings of an ancient university loosely based on Cambridge which was made into a television mini-series with David Jason.

Sharpe's 1975 novel "Blott on the Landscape", about the construction of a motorway in rural England, was made into a BBC television series in 1985 starring David Suchet as Blott.

Back in Britain, Sharpe taught apprentices at a technical college in Cambridge which inspired him to create the character Henry Wilt, a lecturer accused of murdering his wife after he was seen trying to hide a blow-up doll.

He went on to write four more Wilt novels. A film version was released in 1989 with Griff Rhys Jones and Mel Smith in the lead roles.

"I found that Wilt was such a good character, and the book itself was sufficiently funny, even I laughed at parts of it, and then I wrote another one, and another, and in each case he is an innocent," he said.

(Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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