It’s extraordinary to think that one of Britain’s greatest post-war writers was expelled from school for hiding a naughty rhyme in her gymslip pocket.
But renowned Liverpool author Dame Beryl Bainbridge claims that’s precisely why she had to leave Merchant Taylor’s Girls’ School in Crosby.
And it wasn’t even her fault. Another girl had put the poem there in the first place!
Literature was always going to play a major role in Bainbridge’s life. She kept a diary from the age of 10 from which sprang the inspiration for her dark, comic and often tragic novels.
It was an inspiration that drove her to two Whitbread Awards and five nominations for the coveted Booker Prize.
It also catapulted her into the Times’ Top Ten list of British writers since 1945 and led her to being described, by one critic at least, as a ‘national treasure’.
While her earlier novels were autobiographical, drawing on her life in Liverpool, her later works were pure historical fiction.
Topics were as varied as Scott of the Antarctic, the SS Titanic, the Crimean War and the poet and essayist Dr Samuel Johnson.
In all, she wrote 18 novels and two collections of short stories as well as a series of plays for stage and television.
Dame Beryl Bainbridge was born in Liverpool in November 1932 and grew up in Formby.
At the age of 11, she appeared on the Northern Children’s Hour radio show with future actress Billie Whitelaw and presenter Judith Chalmers.
Literature took a temporary back seat to acting in Bainbridge’s life as she studied at what is now the Tring School for Performing Arts in Hertfordshire.
She played various parts after graduating, including a nuclear protestor in an early episode of Coronation Street.
In 1954 she married artist Austin Davies and had two children before the couple divorced. She later had a third child, actress Rudi Davies, with Scottish screenwriter Alan Sharp.
Bainbridge returned to writing to fill time between acting jobs. Her novels were works of psychological fiction peppered with her own memories.
Her first book, Harriet Said, was rejected by publishers. But her fifth, Injury Time, won the Whitbread prize for the best novel of 1977.
In 1980, her novel Sweet William was released as a film starring Jenny Agutter and Sam Waterston. It featured a BBC researcher swept off her feet by a Scottish playwright who turns out to be a serial philanderer.
Bainbridge later admitted that William was based on her previous partner Sharp. She said: ‘I didn’t exaggerate his character. If anything, I toned him down.’
She wrote eight more novels from 1980, including An Awfully Big Adventure. It was adapted into a film starring Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman in 1995.
Bainbridge was awarded the 1996 Whitbread prize for her novel Every Man for Himself about the sinking of the Titanic.
Her final novel, According to Queeney, was a fictional account of the last years of Dr Samuel Johnson through the eyes of his confidante Queeney Thrale.
Bainbridge was working on a semi-autobiographical novel, The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress, at the time of her death in July 2010. It recalled her journey across America in 1968.
In 2000, she was appointed a Dame Commander of the British Empire and was posthumously honoured by the Booker Prize committee in 2011.
Her achievements have even been immortalised in song. Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler wrote the track Beryl about her on his 2015 album Tracker.