Beryl Bainbridge

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Dame Beryl Bainbridge
Beryl Bainbridge circa 2000.jpg
Born (1932-11-21)21 November 1932
Liverpool, England
Died 2 July 2010(2010-07-02) (aged 77)
London, England
Occupation Novelist
Nationality British

Dame Beryl Margaret Bainbridge DBE (21 November 1932 – 2 July 2010)[1][2] was an English writer from Liverpool. She was primarily known for her works of psychological fiction, often macabre tales set among the English working class. Bainbridge won the Whitbread Awards prize for best novel in 1977 and 1996; she was nominated five times for the Booker Prize. She was described in 2007 as "a national treasure".[3] In 2008, The Times named Bainbridge on their list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945".[4]


Beryl Bainbridge was born in Liverpool, Merseyside and brought up in nearby Formby. Her parents were Richard Bainbridge and Winifred Baines. Although she gave her date of birth in Who's Who and elsewhere as 21 November 1934, she was born in 1932 and her birth was registered in the first quarter of 1933.[5] When German former prisoner of war Harry Arno Franz wrote to her in November 1947, he mentioned her 15th birthday.[6]

She enjoyed writing, and by the age of 10 she was keeping a diary.[6] She had elocution lessons and, when she was 11, appeared on the Northern Children's Hour radio show, alongside Billie Whitelaw and Judith Chalmers. Bainbridge was expelled from Merchant Taylors' Girls' School (Crosby) because she was caught with a "dirty rhyme" (as she later described it), written by someone else, in her gymslip pocket.[7] She then went on to study at Cone-Ripman School, Tring, Hertfordshire (now Tring Park School for the Performing Arts),[8] where she found she was good at history, English and art. The summer she left school, she fell in love with a former German POW who was waiting to be repatriated. For the next six years, the couple corresponded and tried to get permission for the German man to return to Britain so that they could be married. But permission was denied and the relationship ended in 1953.[6]

In the following year (1954), Beryl married artist Austin Davies. The two divorced soon after, leaving Bainbridge a single mother of two children. She later had a third child by Alan Sharp, the actress Rudi Davies.[6] Sharp, a Scotsman, was at the start of his career as novelist and screenwriter; Beryl would later let it be thought that he was her second husband; in truth, they never married but the relationship encouraged her on her way to fiction. In 1958, she attempted suicide by putting her head in a gas oven.[3] Bainbridge spent her early years working as an actress, and she appeared in one 1961 episode of the soap opera Coronation Street playing an anti-nuclear protester.

To help fill her time, Bainbridge began to write, primarily based on incidents from her childhood. Her first novel, Harriet Said..., was rejected by several publishers, one of whom found the central characters "repulsive almost beyond belief". It was eventually published in 1972, four years after her third novel (Another Part of the Wood). Her second and third novels were published (1967/68) and were received well by critics although they failed to earn much money.[7][9] Seven more novels were written and published during the 1970s, of which the fifth, Injury Time, was awarded the Whitbread prize for best novel in 1977.

In the late 1970s, she wrote a screenplay based on her novel Sweet William. The resulting film, starring Sam Waterston, was released in 1980.[10]

From 1980 onwards, eight more novels appeared. The 1989 novel, An Awfully Big Adventure, was adapted into a film in 1995, starring Alan Rickman and Hugh Grant.

In the 1990s, Bainbridge turned to historical fiction. These novels continued to be popular with critics, but this time, were also commercially successful.[7] Among her historical fiction novels are Every Man for Himself, about the 1912 Titanic disaster, for which Bainbridge won the 1996 Whitbread Awards prize for best novel, and Master Georgie, set during the Crimean War, for which she won the 1998 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. Her final novel, According to Queeney, is a fictionalized account of the last years of the life of Samuel Johnson as seen through the eyes of Queeney Thrale, eldest daughter of Henry and Hester Thrale. The Observer referred to it as a '...highly intelligent, sophisticated and entertaining novel.' [11]

From the 1990s, Bainbridge also served as a theatre critic for the monthly magazine The Oldie. Her reviews rarely contained negative content, and were usually published after the play had closed.[7]

Honours and awards

In 2000, she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE). In June 2001, Bainbridge was awarded an honorary degree by the Open University as Doctor of the University.[12] In 2003, she was awarded the David Cohen Prize for Literature together with Thom Gunn. In 2005, the British Library acquired many of Bainbridge's private letters and diaries.[6] In 2011, she was posthumously awarded a special honour by the Booker Prize committee.[13] Mark Knopfler included a song dedicated to her and her posthumous award on his 2015 album Tracker.[14]

Last years

In 2003, Bainbridge's grandson Charlie Russell began filming a documentary, Beryl's Last Year, about her life. The documentary detailed her upbringing and her attempts to write a novel, Dear Brutus (which later became The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress); it was broadcast in the United Kingdom on 2 June 2007 on BBC Four.

In 2009, Beryl Bainbridge donated the short story Goodnight Children, Everywhere to Oxfam's Ox-Tales project, four collections of UK stories written by 38 authors. Her story was published in the 'Air' collection. Bainbridge was the patron of the People's Book Prize.

Bainbridge was still working on The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress at the time of her death. The novel, which was based on a real-life journey Bainbridge made across America in 1968, is about the mystery girl reputed to have been involved in the assassination of Robert Kennedy. The novel, which was published in May 2011 by Little, Brown.[15] was edited for publication by Brendan King, whose biography Beryl Bainbridge: Love by All Sorts of Means was published in September 2016.[16]


Bainbridge's grave in Highgate Cemetery

Bainbridge died on 2 July 2010, aged 77, in a London hospital after her cancer recurred.[17][18] Confusion over her birth year resulted in some reports giving her age at death as 75.[19] She is buried in Highgate Cemetery.



Short story collections

  • Mum and Mr Armitage (1985)
  • Collected Stories (1994)
  • Northern Stories Vol. 5 (co-editor with David Pownall) ISBN 978-0-946407-97-2 (1994)


  • English Journey, or The Road to Milton Keynes (1984)
  • Forever England: North and South (1987)
  • Something Happened Yesterday (1993)
  • Front Row: Evenings at the Theatre (2005)


  1. ^ Frontispiece of Injury Time by Beryl Bainbridge,1991 Penguin edition.
  2. ^ The Profile: Beryl Bainbridge
  3. ^ a b Higgins, Charlotte (25 May 2007), "Bainbridge is seen through a grandson's eyes", The Guardian, London, England, retrieved 17 January 2008 
  4. ^ "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945". The Times. 5 January 2008. Retrieved 19 February 2010. 
  5. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 2010-07-05. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Hastings, Chris (12 October 2005), "Beryl Bainbridge, a German prisoner of war and a secret love affair", Telegraph, London, retrieved 17 November 2008 
  7. ^ a b c d Preston, John (24 October 2005), "Every story tells a picture", Telegraph, retrieved 17 January 2008 
  8. ^ Paul Levy, "Dame Beryl Bainbridge: Novelist whose work began rooted in autobiography and which later developed to encompass historical subjects", The Independent, 3 July 2010.
  9. ^ Brown, Craig (4 November 1978), "Beryl Bainbridge: an ideal writer's childhood", The Times, p. 14 
  10. ^ Canby, Vincent (18 June 1982), "Sweet William (1979)", New York Times, retrieved 17 January 2008 
  11. ^ "Madness and the mistress". The Observer. 2001-08-26. Retrieved 2013-05-08. 
  12. ^ "Dame Beryl Bainbridge, Doctor of the University" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 December 2013. Retrieved 4 August 2013.
  13. ^ Man Booker Prize "Best of Beryl" Award, 8 February 2011.
  14. ^ "Mark Knopfler unveils new song 'Beryl'". NME. 18 January 2015. Retrieved 20 January 2015. 
  15. ^ "Beryl Bainbridge last masterpiece of an obsessive". Daily Telegraph. 2010-05-07. Retrieved 2011-05-10. ,
  16. ^ "Beryl Bainbridge. Love by All Sorts of Means: A Biography". Bloomsbury. 2016-02-24. Retrieved 2016-02-24. ,
  17. ^ "Dame Beryl Bainbridge, novelist, died on July 2nd, aged 77". The Economist. 15 July 2010. Retrieved 2010-12-25. 
  18. ^ Bainbridge had been a heavy smoker for much of her life. See The Economist obituary, 17 July 2010, p. 90.
  19. ^ "Dame Beryl Bainbridge dies at 75". BBC News. 2010-07-02. Retrieved 2010-07-02. 

External links

  • Shusha Guppy (Winter 2000). "Beryl Bainbridge, The Art of Fiction No. 164". The Paris Review. 
  • Beryl Bainbridge on IMDb
  • Guardian interview
  • "Author page" at The Guardian
  • Beryl Bainbridge Criticism (Vol. 131)
  • Beryl Bainbridge biography
  • Dame Beryl Bainbridge at British Council: Literature
  • The Oldie Magazine
  • Beryl Bainbridge, Mordant Novelist, Is Dead at 77, The New York Times, 2 July 2010
  • Beryl Bainbridge: 1932 - 2010, Thought Catalog
  • The Man Booker Prize: Special Prize for Beryl Bainbridge
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography audio podcast - issued in January 2014 (find under literary listings)
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