Ashes of writer Tom Sharpe buried at ceremony in remote Northumberland church yard

Author buried with a bottle of whisky, a cigar and his favourite pen

If writer Tom Sharpe - master of black comedy and surreal situations - had penned his final laying to rest in a remote Northumberland cemetery, he probably couldn’t have done it better.

Quite what the church authorities, if they had been informed at all, would have made of his partner of the last 10 years, the grandly named Montserrat Verdaguer i Clavera, digging a hole in the ground next to a grave to bury his ashes in, well, God only knows.

But this is what she had set her heart on doing when, following the famous author’s death in Llanfranc on the Costa Brava in Spain in June last year aged 85, she looked through his papers and noticed that, time and again, he wrote of his desire to be buried in Thockrington.

It was here he spent his youth with his family and it was Thockrington Church where his father, the Reverend George Sharpe, was a preacher.

And, after a 1,200 mile car journey from Llanfranc, through France and via the Channel Tunnel with his ashes on the seat beside her that Montserrat - “Monty” to her friends - conducted her own impromptu service yesterday.

Monty brought with her a picture of Sharpe as a boy with his father taken not far from where she now stood shivering. There was another of Sharpe in later years in his study as well as a copy of his book, The Throwback, set in part in the wild, remote landscape she now found herself in.

Then she produced a bottle of Famous Grouse whisky, his favourite tipple, a Cuban cigar and his favourite pen with which he wrote many of his famous books like Wilt, Porterhouse Blue and Blott on the Landscape to name but a few.

After digging a hole in the ground next to the grave of Thomas Lancelot Robson with her bare hands - which somewhat soiled her brilliant white jacket and trousers - she planted his ashes into the ground, covered them with earth and read her tribute to him.

“In this ancient church in Northumberland,” she said, “in which your father was buried you will remain for eternity. In the middle of nowhere, in an empty place, surrounded by grass and sheep. Tom Sharpe, rest in peace forever.”

Beside her stood Charlie Harrison, a local man who Sharpe befriended on a trip back to Northumberland about 25 years ago.

“I saw this chap looking confused,” he recalled. “I went over to help. He said he was looking for Pasture House as his father had lived there. I asked: ‘Are you Tom Sharpe? I saw you on the TV a week ago’. We became good friends.”

It was to Charlie that Monty, 59, turned when she arrived in Northumberland with a Spanish film crew in tow on Saturday night.

“He was a very famous writer in Spain,” explained the well wrapped up Anna Teixidor Colomer, of the TV3 channel in Catalunya, before she added politely: “Where exactly are we?”

A quick glance around revealed the church in splendid isolation surrounded by a number of curious sheep, rolling hills with no house visible for miles around. The only outside reminder of modernity was the thump of a low flying RAF jet.

Monty and her then husband had befriended Sharpe in 1994 when he bought a house in Spain and helped nurse him through periods of sickness. A while after her husband died a decade ago they became a couple and she moved in with him.

She said: “He was a marvellous man. Very intelligent, very nice. Some times he had an explosion - he could get very cross about things. Then 10 or 15 minutes he’d be fine.”

Charlie added: “Tom loved this area. His grandfather William was a stonemason for the Belsay estate. He would come back at every opportunity and had friends round this area.”

On the spot where his ashes were buried there was a simple memorial to him with words he would have appreciated: “He Made People Laugh”.

Charlie commented: “He was a wonderful guy but I used to say he was a bit crazy. He had some funny ideas. He would have loved this.”

Meanwhile Monty vowed to return every year to pay her respects at Tom’s grave.

She might have to come back sooner than that.


David Whetstone
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