National newspapers were full of tributes following the death of one of England’s best-selling and wittiest writers on May 6, aged 83. His name was Leslie Thomas. But to me, he was simply Whizz, writes Xenia Rimmer.
For the man who founded his fame and fortune on a good-time girl called Juicy Lucy in the novel and film Virgin Soldiers, was a modest man never happier than when making people laugh. Especially kids like me.
He was a friend of my parents and Whizz and his wife Diana shared their love of a laugh and a glass or two of grape juice. Ahem.
I was disappointed when they left me at home to go sailing around the Med for Leslie to do some research for a book which later appeared as Some Lovely Islands.
But I joined them some months later for a bucolic weekend at the Thomas’s home in Hampshire. And it was there that Leslie, the man with the moustache, became Whizz, the wizard of words and wit.
And it was there that he told me not to call him Uncle Leslie – but Whizz. Apparently a tag attached to him by the family as a reminder, as if he needed one, to keep his feet on the ground, because he wasn’t quite the Whizz he might think he was.
I was allowed the free run of his study, the word centre of his string of novels, film scripts, TV series and travel books. Perhaps I was hoping some of his magic would rub off. It still might!
He always remembered my birthday and, all these years on, I still have a teddy bear he once gave me – called Whizz, of course! Even my mum was delighted when, for one of her Big 0 bashes abroad, he and Diana both contributed to a spoof BBC radio broadcast about her.
It was his roaring laugh I’ll remember fondly, too. And it was infectious; he once served-up a leather boot on a plate when a fussy, eight-year-old me turned down his offering of dinner. Another time, a wave hit the yacht we were travelling on so strongly that it upended a fruit bowl on the opposite side of the bar and he was left wearing its contents upon his head, tribal-style.
Those not as lucky as I as to have known him need only pick up a novel of his to share his wicked, witty ways.
Gee, Whizz we’ll all miss you.
> Mr Thomas’ time spent as a national serviceman in Malaya inspired his most famous work, The Virgin Soldiers, a story about British soldiers based in the Far East which became a bestseller and a hit film.
His other works included Dangerous Davies, the Last Detective, which was adapted for ITV. He he was given an OBE for services to literature in 2004.