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Saturday 20 March 2021

A 'Blott' on the Literary Landscape: Where Are Tom Sharpe's 17 Typewriters?

English satirical novelist Tom Sharpe once said that he hoped to die at his typewriter. These were words, apparently, he aped from his friend and hero P.G. Wodehouse. Whether either Shape or Wodehouse achieved their ultimate goals at their typewriters we do not know. But when Sharpe died, on a quiet cul-de-sac in the Catalan seaside village of Llafranc, on June 6, 2013, aged 85, we do know he owned 17 typewriters. And at least one of them had been used to write 30,000 words of an unfinished autobiography. This, and the 17 typewriters, were left in the care of Sharpe’s former doctor and secretary, Montserrat Verdaguer Clavera, who said “for me it is a great honour to be chosen to receive all his manuscripts, photographs, typewriters and cameras”.

Dr Verdaguer: There's a photo of another typewriter right above her. 

Sharpe in Llafranc on October 8, 1997.

Coming up to the 93rd anniversary of Sharpe’s birth, at Holloway in London on March 30, 1928, the whereabouts of his typewriters remains a mystery. But no more so than the whereabouts of his actual remains. A little more than five years ago Dr Verdaguer faced a charge of £1,320 after burying, without permission in a remote Northumberland graveyard, Sharpe’s ashes - along with a bottle of Famous Grouse whisky, his favourite fountain pen, two small tea-light candles and two red plastic numerals. This finding followed a hearing of the Church of England’s Consistory Court. A day before the first anniversary of Sharpe’s death, Dr Verdaguer drove 1200 miles from Spain with a film crew to St Aidan’s Church in Thockrington. Sharpe had spent his youth in the area while his father, the Reverend George Sharpe, was a Unitarian clergyman at the church. Euan Duff, Chancellor of the Diocese of Newcastle and a judge of the Consistory Court, told the hearing that in November 2015 the Reverend Michael Slade, Vicar of St Aidan’s, carried out a dig in the churchyard. Chancellor Duff said, “The domestic arrangements of Mr Sharpe are not clear but it seems he was living apart from his wife prior to his death and in some sort of relationship with Dr Verdaguer. He was apparently cremated and, according to what Dr Verdaguer has later claimed, the majority of his ashes were taken by his widow, but some were left with Dr Verdaguer.” The Consistory Court found that after paying the £1,320 court costs Dr Verdaguer could have back the ashes and other items unearthed from the church yard.

Photographs taken at the time of the June 5, 2014, burial included one showing a framed picture of Sharpe at one of his typewriters, a blue electric Smith-Corona S 301. It’s not one of the machines Sharpe was seen with in the many other images of him at typewriters. Obituaries for him claimed Sharpe collected “antique typewriters”, but none of those machines he was photographed with could be said to be antique – although they ranged more manuals to electric portables and semi-portables.

Although Sharpe was best known for his English-based books, notably the Wilt series, Porterhouse Blue and Blott on the Landscape, it seems his legacy has largely remained in Catalonia, according to the terms of his last will. Dr Verdaguer was also charged with the creation of a foundation. Dr Verdaguer said she “would like the foundation to be in Palafrugell”, the Costa Brava town near where Sharpe had lived since 1995. None of his literary heritage was to be sold, presumably including his typewriters.

Sharpe in Cambridge on October 7, 1985.


Bill M said...

A great typewriter mystery.

Richard P said...

He looks like a man with a sense of humor.