Tom Sharpe, comic novelist, born March 30 1928, died June 6 2013
Tom “PG Wodehouse on Acid” Sharpe, who died today, was the laugh-out-loud author of farce-cum-satire, probably best known for his ‘Wilt’ books about further education and ‘Porterhouse Blue’ set in an Cambridge College. But he was also a savagely witty critic of apartheid in South Africa, where he lived and was politically active in a low-key sort of way (as a social worker) between 1951 and 1961, when he was deported.
He excoriated white South African racism, arrogance and stupidity in two wonderful books, ‘Riotous Assembly’ (1971) and ‘Indecent Exposure’ (1973). Here’s a little taster for you:
Riotous Assembly (excerpt from Chapter 2)
Miss Hazelstone was telephoning to report that she had just shot her Zulu cook. Konstabel Els was perfectly capable of handling the matter. He had in his time as a police officer shot any number of Zulu cooks. Besides there was a regular procedure for dealing with such reports. Konstabel Els went into the routine.
‘You wish to report the death of a kaffir,’ he began.
‘I have just murdered my Zulu cook,’ snapped Miss Hazelstone.
Els was placatory. ‘That’s what I said. You wish to report the death of a coon.’
‘I wish to do nothing of the sort. I told you I have just murdered Fivepence.’
Els tried again. ‘The loss of a few coins doesn’t count as murder.’
‘Fivepence was my cook.’
‘Killing a cook doesn’t count as murder either.’
‘What does it count as, then?’ Miss Hazelstone’s confidence in her own guilt was beginning to wilt under Konstabel Els’ favourable diagnosis of the situation.
‘Killing a white cook can be murder. It’s unlikely but it can be. Killing a black cook can’t. Not under any circumstances. Killing a black cook comes under self-defence, justifiable homicide or garbage disposal.’ Els permitted himself a giggle. ‘Have you tried the Health Department?’ he inquired.
It was obvious to the Kommandant that Els had lost what little sense of social deference he had ever possessed. He pushed Els aside and took the call himself.
‘Kommandant van Heerden here,’ he said. ‘I understand that there has been a slight accident with your cook.’
Miss Hazelstone was adamant. ‘I have just murdered my Zulu cook.’
Kommandant van Heerden ignored the self-accusation. ‘The body is in the house?’ he inquired.
‘The body is on the lawn,’ said Miss Hazelstone. The Kommandant sighed. It was always the same. Why couldn’t people shoot blacks inside their houses where they were supposed to shoot them?
‘I will be up at Jacaranda House in forty minutes,’ he said, ‘and when I arrive I will find the body in the house.’
‘You won’t,’ Miss Hazelstone insisted, ‘you’ll find it on the back lawn.’
Kommandant van Heerden tried again.
‘When I arrive the body will be in the house.’ He said it very slowly this time.
Miss Hazelstone was not impressed. ‘Are you suggesting that I move the body?’ she asked angrily.
The Kommandant was appalled at the suggestion. ‘Certainly not,’ he said. ‘I have no wish to put you to any inconvenience and besides there might be fingerprints. You can get the servants to move it for you.’
There was a pause while Miss Hazelstone considered the implications of this remark. ‘It sounds to me as though you are suggesting that I should tamper with the evidence of a crime,’ she said slowly and menacingly. ‘It sounds to me as though you are trying to get me to interfere with the course of justice.’
‘Madam,’ interrupted the Kommandant, ‘I am merely trying to help you to obey the law.’ He paused, groping for words. ‘The law says that it is a crime to shoot kaffirs outside your house. But the law also says it is perfectly permissible and proper to shoot them inside your house if they have entered illegally.’
‘Fivepence was my cook and had every legal right to enter the house.’
‘I’m afraid you’re wrong there,’ Kommandant van Heerden went on. ‘Your house is a white area and no kaffir is entitled to enter a white area without permission. By shooting your cook you were refusing him permission to enter your house. I think it is safe to assume that.’
There was a silence at the other end of the line. Miss Hazelstone was evidently convinced.
‘I’ll be up in forty minutes,’ continued van Heerden, adding hopefully, ‘and I trust the body-’
‘You’ll be up here in five minutes and Fivepence will be on the lawn where I shot him,’ snarled Miss Hazelstone and slammed down the phone.
The Kommandant looked at the receiver and sighed. He put it down wearily and turning to Konstabel Els he ordered his car.
As they drove up the hill to Jacaranda Park, Kommandant van Heerden knew he was faced with a difficult case. He studied the back of Konstabel Els’ head and found some consolation in its shape and colour.
If the worst came to the worst he could always make use of Els’ great gift of incompetence and if in spite of all his efforts to prevent it. Miss Hazelstone insisted on being tried for murder, she would have as the chief prosecution witness against her, befuddled and besotted, Konstabel Els. If nothing else could save her, if she pleaded guilty in open court, if she signed confession after confession, Konstabel Els under cross-examination by no matter how half-witted a defence attorney would convince the most biased jury or the most inflexible judge that she was the innocent victim of police incompetence and unbridled perjury. The State Attorney was known to have referred to Konstabel Els in the witness box as the Instant Alibi.
Telegraph obit here …
and the Graun‘s here