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Thursday, 24 May 2012

KEITH WATERHOUSE Bimbo (1990)

Sceptre Books UK, 1990


But now I want to set the record straight. I have a dinky little tape recorder in the shape of a pair of Marilyn Monroe's lips which I kindly had bought for me in a Covent Garden gift boutique, and am dictatorising this all by myself, strictly no lecherising reporters present, alone on my ownsome in my Mayfair luxury pad – not lovenest as the Sunday Shocker made me call it.  Now the world will see the reel Debra Chase, not the sex-mad gold-digging bimbo I was made out to be.  Not that I have anything against s-e-x in its place (which is not always the bedroom!!!) but I am just not made like that.  Neverthemore this does not mean to say I am just a smalltime girl who struck lucky, even though I am sticking to the truth this time round there will be some starting relevations with the aid of my hithertofore unpublished Sex Romps Diary, so pin back your ears for the reel Debra Chase story as told by herself, exclusive.  



The Novel:  The life of a 'page three popsy' is not, as Debra Chase helpfully informs us, 'one long romp on a fur-lined bed.'  It's a long, difficult, often bumpy road from her days as third runner-up in a wet t-shirt contest to her reign as the top topless model in the Daily Stunner and the sizzlingly scandalous bedmate of Sir Monty Pratt, Member of Parliament and high-profile CEO of Pratt's Famous Pork Pies.  Along the way poor Debra is forced to endure the jealousy of friends and co-workers, the attentions of men both desirable and undesirable, as well as the media's unceasing efforts to portray her as a homewrecking sex addict whose well-publicized antics threaten to strike another blow at the always questionable credibility of the British Conservative Party.

Bimbo is her story, told by her in the tabloid-speak of the same newspapers – the Daily Stunner, the Sunday Shocker, the Sunday Sleaze she becomes the star attraction of for a few headline-capturing months.  Debra is a kind of Candide figure, innocent and sometimes astoundingly naïve but not entirely lacking in either intelligence or self-awareness, whose insatiable appetite for glamour takes her from the small town of Seathorpe to the sinful nitespots of London, exposing her to randy soccer players, jaded photographers and the less-than-honourable intentions of more than one rapacious peer of the realm along the way.  She's a vacuous star for a vacuous age –– plastic, evanescent, as instantly disposable as the trashy periodicals which are glad to publish topless photos of her even as their reporters vilify her for being an immoral, gold-digging slut.  

By the age of nineteen, Debra has seen it all, done it all and survived it all to become the unwitting victim of her own dubiously earned celebrity.  Yet she remains unfailingly optimistic, her belief in a brighter future unshaken even after she's forced to give up the man she affectionately calls 'The Sir' and the luxurious flat they share together in Mayfair to return to her dad's humble little home in another forgettable seaside town called Oceanview.  'Everyone has their ups and downs and I reckon I have had my share of both but this is not the end of Debra Chase's story by any means,' she says of herself at book's end, 'it is only The Beginning.'

Keith Waterhouse was a very smart writer and one of the smartest decisions he made in writing this poignant and very clever novel was to have Debra tell her own story in her own unique, verbally-challenged way.  Instead of making her story seem trite and foolish, this technique allows her to become a person the reader can't help but like and admire in spite of –– or even perhaps because of –– her self-confessed shallowness and sometimes painful ditziness.  By the end of the book you care enough about her to hope she'll survive whatever life throws at her next and go on to enjoy other occasions when it will be impossible for her, as she so charmingly puts it, to 'congeal her jublifications.'  Happily, something tells you that she will, that no amount of scandal or slander can ever completely crush a spirit as resilient as hers happens to be



KEITH WATERHOUSE, 2008
The WriterKeith Waterhouse once wrote that the art of writing 'consists simply of choosing a handful of words from the half a million or so samples available, and arranging them in the best order.'  Luckily for us, this was a theory he was able to practise consistently and entertainingly for more than half a century, beginning with his first 'real' job as a features writer for the Daily Mirror in the mid-1950s and continuing right up until his death in September 2009.  

In addition to his sixteen published novels, Waterhouse wrote a twice-weekly newspaper column for the Mirror and then (from 1988) for its rival daily newspaper the Daily Mail, several screenplays with his friend Willis Hall (including adaptations of his own novel Billy Liar, of Stan Barstow's A Kind of Loving and of Mary Hayley Bell's Whistle Down the Wind as well as the 1980s children's TV series Worzel Gummidge) and the award-winning West End play Geoffrey Bernard is Unwell.  He became a CBE in 1991, by which time he'd come to be seen as one of the grand old men of English literature –– a far cry from his humble beginnings as an undertaker's assistant in his native Yorkshire. 


KEITH WATERHOUSE and WILLIS HALL (seated)
Waterhouse first rose to fame with the publication of his second novel Billy Liar.  He claimed to have written the book in three weeks and it was published in 1959, later spawning a successful play, a highly-praised 1961 film, a West End musical (which starred a young Michael Crawford as an all-singing, all-dancing Billy) and a TV series which lasted for two seasons during the mid-1970s.  Billy Liar was and remains an iconic British novel, a classic that deals honestly and humorously with the unforeseen consequences of self-delusion and the refusal of its loveable, commitment-wary hero to face facts and grow up.  In 1975, Waterhouse published a sequel, Billy Liar on the Moon, which saw the now-married Billy working for his local council while keeping a mistress on the side and leading the same rich fantasy life which had gotten him into so much trouble as a teenager.


KEITH WATERHOUSE, c. 1959
Like his most famous creation, Waterhouse was a native of Leeds, where he grew up poor on a council estate and was often charged with the unpardonable crime (at least in wartime England) of being considered the dirtiest child in his street.  His first novel, 1957's There Is A Happy Land, draws heavily on these experiences and is a strikingly realistic study of early childhood and its associated terrors.

Waterhouse left school at fourteen and found work as an undertaker's assistant (an experience he put to use in Billy Liar) and then as a reporter for the Yorkshire Evening Post –– an uninspiring job which nevertheless allowed him to tell editors he was experienced when he began applying for positions on the major London papers.  The Daily Mirror initially turned him down for a job, but luckily he bumped into the features editor on his way out of the building and somehow talked the man into hiring him as a freelancer.  For the rest of his life he would turn out his two columns faithfully each week, never once missing a deadline, while still finding the time to do his 'other work' as novelist, screenwriter, playwright and well-known London 'luncher.'  His editor at the Daily Mail perhaps summed him up best when he said 'Keith was a genius, for whom the phrase "Fleet Street legend" could have been invented.  A consummate journalist, scintillating satirist and unrivalled chronicler of life and so much more.'  

He was married twice and fathered two daughters and a son.  His only indulgence, he said, was to drink an entire bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne each day.  It was a regimen that obviously agreed with him.  His last column appeared in the Daily Mail just a few weeks before his death at the ripe old age of eighty.


Click HERE to read KEITH WATERHOUSE's 12 Ground Rules for Writers (by which he meant journalists).  You can also click HERE to read a selection of the articles he wrote for the Daily Mail.  His autobiographies, City Lights and Streets Ahead, were published in 1995 and 1999 respectively.  There is no official biography yet but expect one eventually, given his fame and what a beloved British institution he was.  Billy Liar is still available but sadly this isn't true of his other novels, none of which, including Bimbo, currently remain in print.  The Collected Plays of Keith Waterhouse, which includes Geoffrey Bernard is Unwell and his own stage adaptation of Billy Liar, was published by Oberon Books in January 2012.  

The 1961 film version of Billy Liar, directed by JOHN SCHLESINGER and starring TOM COURTENAY and JULIE CHRISTIE, is still available as a Region 2 UK/Europe DVD, as are both series of the 1970s TV version which featured JEFF RAWLE in the title role.


You might also enjoy:
LAURIE GRAHAM The Ten O'Clock Horses (1996) 
JACK TREVOR STORY Live Now, Pay Later (1963)
SOME BOOKS ABOUT...Books 

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting this, Bentley. I've read quite a few books by Keith Waterhouse but "Bimbo" was one I'd never even heard of before. It's a shame no one here in England wants to republish his novels. I never even knew there was a sequel to "Billy Liar" before I read your blog.

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  2. I share your amazement, Jo. KW was a fine, highly entertaining writer whose novels tend to get overshadowed by his journalism. "Jubb" and "The Bucket Shop" are well worth reading if you can find them, as are later novels like "Good Grief" and "Our Song." None of them should be that tough to locate in the UK.

    Thanks a bunch for the comment too. Very much appreciated.

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