Renowned poet and critic Anthony Thwaite dies aged 90

Anthony Thwaite beside a punt moored on the river tas outside his home where poet Philip Larkin once

Anthony Thwaite beside a punt moored on the River Tas, outside his home - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2016

Well-respected and admired poet and critic Anthony Thwaite has died aged 90, following a long illness. 

Anthony Simon Thwaite, born June 1930, was widely known as the editor of his friend Philip Larkin's collected poems and letters, as well as his own work. He has been a significant figure in publishing since the 1950s and deeply involved in literary life.

Ann and Anthony Thwaite. Pictured: Anthony Thwaite punting poet Philip Larkin along the River Tas.

Anthony Thwaite punting poet Philip Larkin along the River Tas - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Born in Chester to Yorkshire parents, Hartley and Alice (nee Mallison), his father worked as a bank cashier in the north of England and retired as Yorkshire district manager of Lloyds Bank. 

When the Second World War broke out in 1939, he crossed the Atlantic alone aged 10 and spent the war years in and around Washington in the United States with his mother’s sister, Nora, and her family. He returned in 1944 on D-Day, sporting an American accent.

At Kingswood School, in Bath, a teacher encouraged him to take up writing poetry after praising his Anglo-Saxon riddles. National Service near Leptis Magna, Libya, encouraged him further, both as a poet and as an amateur archaeologist. He eventually became a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. 


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As an undergraduate at Christ Church, in Oxford, Mr Thwaite came to early prominence as a poet after publishing a pamphlet with Fantasy Press for a series that included the early work of Larkin, Kingsley Amis, and Elizabeth Jennings. His poems began to appear in The Listener, the New Statesman, The Times’ literary supplement, and - following on from his first book reviews and a series of undergraduate articles - The Spectator.  

Ann and Anthony Thwaite
Photo: Angela Sharpe

Ann and Anthony Thwaite Photo: Angela Sharpe - Credit: Archant © 2007

At Oxford, he edited the weekly magazine Isis, became president of the poetry society, and met his wife, biographer Ann Harrop. In 1955, they travelled on a ship to teach in Japan for two years, where their first child was born. 

He went on to complete a graduate traineeship at the BBC and spent eight years there as a radio producer and then as literary editor of The Listener. In 1965, he took two years unpaid leave to return to North Africa as an assistant professor at the University of Libya, Benghazi, with his wife and four daughters.  

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A brief return to the BBC in 1967 ended when he was invited to be the literary editor of the New Statesman. In 1968 he won the Richard Hillary Memorial Prize for the poetry collection The Stones of Emptiness. His subsequent career saw him take up a number of different positions including Henfield writing fellow at the University of East Anglia, visiting professor at Kuwait University, Japan Foundation fellowship at the University of Tokyo, co-editor of Encounter magazine, and poet-in-residence at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. He also spent many years as an editor of the poetry list at Secker and Warburg, and later as an editorial director of André Deutsch. 

He judged many prizes and literary competitions, including sitting as chair on the Booker Prize judging panel in 1986. He sat on literature advisory committees, presented numerous radio programmes and Writers World on BBC2, edited and wrote introductions to many selections and anthologies, and became a regular book reviewer for The Observer and The Sunday Telegraph. 

He travelled all over the world, reading his own poems and talking about others. The National Portrait Gallery, in London, has three photographic portraits of him in its collection, including a double portrait with his wife. Mr Thwaite received two honorary doctorates in his lifetime, one from the University of Hull and another from the UEA. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was awarded an OBE for services to poetry in the 1990 New Year Honours.  His poetry collection, Going Out, won the East Anglian Book Awards poetry category in 2015.

Poetry winner Anthony Thwaite with the award presented by guest speaker Sarah Perry at the East Angl

Poetry winner Anthony Thwaite with the award presented by guest speaker Sarah Perry at the East Anglian Book Awards 2015 at Jarrold. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY - Credit: SIMON FINLAY

Ann and Anthony ThwaitePicture by: Sonya Duncan

Front cover of award-winning book Going Out by Anthoy Thwaite - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Mr Thwaite lived in Low Tharston, south of Norwich, for more than 45 years. 

He died on April 22 at the age of 90 following a terminal illness and is survived by his wife and their daughters, Emily, Caroline, Lucy and Alice.

- To pay tribute to Anthony Thwaite, please email your name, age, address, and words to donna-louise.bishop@archant.co.uk

- To view all the obituaries and tributes join the Facebook group Norfolk's Loved & Lost.

Ann and Anthony ThwaitePicture by: Sonya Duncan

Ann and Anthony Thwaite Picture by: Sonya Duncan


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