Mr. Sharpe, a onetime teacher and photographer who was briefly imprisoned in South Africa as a political enemy of the state, turned to writing comic fiction in his 40s. During the next 40 years, he published 19 satirical novels, many of them bestsellers, that spoofed British education, politics and social customs.
His work was sometimes described as combining the comic fiction of Evelyn Waugh and Kingsley Amis with the madcap, absurdist humor of Monty Python.
In a 1984 review of three of Mr. Sharpe’s books, writer Alan Ryan declared in The Washington Post, “Tom Sharpe is writing what are very possibly the funniest novels in English today.”
He was sometimes criticized for being crude, with off-color humor and graphic descriptions of embarrassing sexual antics. His characters are repeatedly caught up in one mishap after another and often receive their comeuppance in the most outrageous ways.
In “Porterhouse Blue” (1974), Mr. Sharpe spoofed the clubby world of the University of Cambridge — his alma mater. In another of his well-regarded books, “Blott on the Landscape” (1975), he skewered British developers, bureaucrats and scheming politicians.
In “Blott,” a member of parliament who seeks to profit from a highway built through his wife’s ancestral estate ends up being eaten by lions kept in a tourist park.
Mr. Sharpe may have been best known for his six farcical “Wilt” novels about Henry Wilt, a hapless teacher at a third-rate technical college who is forever doing battle with incompetent students — “bloodyminded young thugs,” he calls them — imperious administrators, quadruplet daughters and a formidable wife. “Wilt,” a 1989 film (released in North America as “The Misadventures of Mr. Wilt”), was based on Mr. Sharpe’s fiction.
In the first novel in the series, “Wilt” (1976), the title character fantasizes about killing his overweight, sexually ravenous wife. Before committing the foul deed, Wilt rehearses by stuffing a life-size doll, dressed in one of his wife’s frocks, into a hole at a construction site.
He is caught, of course, and later learns that his wife has disappeared from their home. Arrested on suspicion of murder, Wilt must answer some uncomfortable questions at the police station. He is told to start from the beginning.
“God made heaven and earth and all — ” Wilt says, before the inspector interrupts, telling him he needn’t go back so far.
In a scene typical of Wilt’s dreary experience at the trade school, he learns that he has been turned down for an academic promotion:
“Wilt heard the news before lunch in the canteen.
“ ‘I’m sorry, Henry,’ said Mr Morris as they lined up with their trays, ‘it’s this wretched economic squeeze. Even Modern Languages had to take a cut. They got only two promotions through.’