Leading figures from showbusiness and the media gathered today to say an affectionate farewell to Keith Waterhouse.
The life of the author, journalist and playwright, who died in September aged 80, was celebrated in a thanksgiving service at St Paul’s Church in London’s Covent Garden.
The hour-long service featured a rousing rendition of an excerpt from Waterhouse’s play Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell by stage and screen legend Peter O’Toole, who starred in the West End smash hit.
He delivered lines from the play, provoking laughter from the congregation, complete with a Bloody Mary from which he took a swig at the end.
He said before reading the excerpt: “In my late middle age, Keith presented me with Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell.
“In 1999, in my early antiquity, with the same team, we did the play again, at the Old Vic. Keith and I enjoyed what every author and actor wants, a zonking great hit.”
O’Toole said that print journalism and the pub had been “stifled” in recent years.
He added: “Keith’s play has become a comical elegy on this double demise.”
Waterhouse was one of Britain’s most prolific authors, writing more than 50 books, plays and television scripts.
His retirement from his twice-weekly Daily Mail column after almost a quarter of a century was announced in May last year.
He rose from humble beginnings to see his name in lights. After school he became a clerk in an undertaker’s office, which provided inspiration for his book and play Billy Liar, the story of a daydreamer planning his escape from an undertaker’s job.
Following National Service in the Royal Air Force, Waterhouse achieved his ambition to be a reporter on the Yorkshire Evening Post. He landed his first Fleet Street job on the Daily Mirror in 1951.
Waterhouse would also often draft articles and speeches for former Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell and former Prime Minister Harold Wilson.
A newspaper strike in 1956 gave him the time to write his first novel, There Is A Happy Land, set on a Leeds housing estate.
Waterhouse was a great drinking friend of Jeffrey Bernard. Along with Willis Hall, with whom he collaborated in dramatising Billy Liar, Waterhouse wrote Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell, based on Bernard’s weekly “Low Life” columns in the Spectator magazine.