Erudite, much published, and witty man of letters

A career that spanned advertising, publishing and broadcasting

Sat, Sep 14, 2013, 02:11

Bernard Share, who has died of heart failure, was a man of letters whose career spanned more than 60 years. He produced novels and stories for adults and children, journalistic writings and book reviews, as well as editing Books Ireland and Cara magazines, in parallel with his early career as an advertising copywriter. He also served as general secretary of Clé, the Irish book publishers’ association.

Bernard Vivian Share was born in May 1930 in London, to Frederick, a civil servant, and May, who had both emigrated from Ireland. He spent his first 17 years there, attended school in Pinner, Middlesex, developed an interest in Irish literature and calligraphy and sang in the local church choir. The family had links to Dublin’s northside, and he remained proud of this heritage.

After attending Trinity College Dublin, where he became a “scholar” and co-founded the literary magazine Icarus, Share lectured in modern languages in Australia and Ireland.

Back in Ireland and working at O’Kennedy Brindley, a leading advertising agency, he met his collaborator and kindred spirit, illustrator Billy Bolger.

Together they joined Janus Advertising in Parnell Square, where they sometimes wore cut-out Mickey Mouse ears while going about their daily work. In 1962 they set up their own creative consultancy, Verbiage Enterprises. Their collaboration continued until Bolger’s death earlier this year.

Meanwhile Share contributed articles and book reviews to The Irish Times and later Hibernia Fortnightly Review. He wrote news features about Australian politics and was an early advocate of the fiction of Anthony Burgess, relishing his skilful wordplay.

A generous reviewer, Share’s kindness was not always repaid. Poet and journalist Bruce Williamson found his early fiction owed too much to Brian O’Nolan, then writing an Irish Times satirical column as Myles na Gopaleen.

Another reviewer chided an early Share work for sexism, a word then coming into vogue. In both cases it could be argued that Share’s multilayered jokes had eluded reviewers.

The London Independent’s Boyd Tonkin spotted what Bernard Share was at when reviewing Transit in 2009: “ . . . a deliciously sly and offbeat novel of time-travel, scrambled pasts, abandoned hopes and Ireland, old and new. If Samuel Beckett ever returned to write a Doctor Who special, it might closely resemble Transit”.

His works included novels, satires, and a series of six children’s books with Billy Bolger, The Bed That Went Whoosh. Comedian Spike Milligan said his novel Inish (1966) was the funniest book he had ever read.

His love of wordplay yielded a humorous examination of Irish slang in the English language. Slanguage was a commercial and critical success, first published in 1997 and reprinted many times since. In similar vein Dublinese Know What I Mean? followed in 2007.

He was a frequent contributor to Radio Éireann’s Sunday Miscellany under the enlightened editorship of Maxwell Sweeney, and he also broadcast on Australian radio.

His factual book on Ireland during the second World War, The Emergency (1987) spun off into a celebrated satirical fantasy, The Finner Faction (1989), with guest appearances by General de Gaulle and his wife. Other notable books included Naming Names (2001) and In Time of Civil War (2006).

Overall he produced upwards of 20 books, making a living by storytelling, consistently engaging with and amusing his readers. He is survived by his sons Peregrine (Perry) and Tristram, and his sister Jackie Ord.