Keith Waterhouse, British Playwright, Dies at 80 | Playbill

Obituaries Keith Waterhouse, British Playwright, Dies at 80
Keith Waterhouse, who made his name as a novelist with 1959's "Billy Liar," and scored a West End hit with Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell, died on Sept. 4 at his home in London. He was 80.

"Billy Liar," the Leeds-born writer's most famous work, was the story of Billy Fisher, a teenager with a rich fantasy life. (The novel was almost never published, when he left 10,000 words of the manuscript in a taxi and had to start again.) After it scored as a novel, it was adapted for the stage and film. The play starred Albert Finney as Billy and opened on the West End in 1960; the film version, released in 1963 and directed by John Schlesinger, featured Tom Courtenay.

Mr. Waterhouse went on to write a number of plays, many of them in collaboration with Willis Hall. His greatest success came when he put his friend, the dissolute columnist Jeffrey Bernard, as the center of a solo drama starring Peter O'Toole. The title of the play came from the notice The New Statesman often ran when Bernard was too drunk to write his column, which was often.

The play found the soused journalist locked inside his favorite pub for the night, giving him the chance to expound to the audience on any number of subjects. Mr. Waterhouse drew on his past experience as a reporter for the Yorkshire Evening Post and The Daily Mirror to spin tales about the world of Fleet Street. The play was a personal success for both Waterhouse and O'Toole. It won the Evening Standard Award for Comedy of the Year in 1990.

O'Toole revived the piece a decade later at the Old Vic. Mr. Waterhouse's last play, The Last Page, was an elegy on the demise of Fleet Street. Other plays included Celebration, All Things Bright and Beautiful, England Our England, Come Laughing Home, Children's Day and Whoops-a-Daisy.

Keith Spencer Waterhouse's father sold fruits and vegetables from a cart. He left school at 14 and worked as an undertaker’s assistant, a newsboy, a rent collector and a clerk before doing compulsory service with the Royal Air Force. He wrote his first novel, “There Is a Happy Land," in 1957. Soon, he was aligned by critics with a new breed of working-class writers such as John Braine and Alan Sillitoe. Future novels included "Jubb" (1963), "The Bucket Shop" (1969), "Office Life” (1978), “Bimbo” (1990) and “Palace Pier” (2003). He also published two volumes of memoirs, “City Lights: A Street Life” (1994) and “Streets Ahead: Life After City Lights” (1995).

He also made his mark in television, writing the hugely popular satirical show "That Was the Week That Was" and its successor "The Frost Report" in the 1960s.

His marriage, in 1984, to Stella Bingham, ended in 1989. He is survived by a son and a daughter from a previous marriage to Joan Foster, which was also dissolved. A daughter predeceased him.

Click Here to Shop for Theatre
Merchandise in the Playbill Store
Today’s Most Popular News:

Blocking belongs
on the stage,
not on websites.

Our website is made possible by
displaying online advertisements to our visitors.

Please consider supporting us by
whitelisting with your ad blocker.
Thank you!