Obituary: Thomas Wiseman

Writer whose family history infused his literary output


The journalist, author, film critic playwright and screenwriter Thomas Wiseman, who has died aged 87, was born Alphons Weissman in Vienna and managed to reach England with his mother just before the outbreak of the Second World War.

His father, a one-time officer who had arranged their escape via some well-established contacts, was unable to save himself, and was killed in Buchenwald. His father’s fate permeated Wiseman’s literary output.

After the war, Wiseman began a career in journalism at the age of 16 on the West London Observer, where he wrote film, theatre and book reviews and also had a column called Star Spot about the TV personalities of the day. He came to the attention of Lord Beaverbrook and was hired by the London Evening Standard to write a column on show business. He also wrote a weekly column on the arts for The Guardian. The success of his first novel, Czar, published in 1967, which drew on his knowledge of Hollywood, enabled him to become a full-time author, while his next two novels, Journey of a Man and The Quick and the Dead, focused on his family history, the latter earning him a Jewish Chronicle Book Award and a highly favourable review in the Times Literary Supplement. This book, which told of a man returning to Vienna, a journey Wiseman himself never made, was a particularly personal work.

In contrast, his next novel, The Romantic Englishwoman, made into a film directed by Joseph Losey, starring Glenda Jackson and Michael Caine, for which he and Tom Stoppard wrote the screenplay, concerned a novelist who fictionalised his wife’s sexual encounter with a phoney poet in Baden-Baden.

The theme of the war returned in his later novels, Savage Day and The Day Before Sunrise; the latter was hismost commercially successful work. It was optioned by a Hollywood studio although the film was never shot. With his last novel, Genius Jack, he returned to the theme of the film industry.

Wiseman also wrote non-fiction, the first, entitled The Seven Deadly Sins of Hollywood, and two plays, The Private Prosecutor, which was performed at the Royal Court Theatre in 1957, and The Dealer, which was based on his father’s fate.

It was through his work as a theatre critic that Wiseman met his future wife Malou Pantera, an Italian actress. Their son Boris, a former Associate Professor of French, is now project co-ordinator at a research foundation in Paris.

Thomas and Malou lived in the South of France in a fine house surrounded by a beautiful garden where they offered hospitality to numerous guests. One was John Fowles, author of the best-selling novel, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, who visited them frequently to cure his bouts of depression. His depictions of them in his diaries, however, was quite discourteous, mocking Tom’s “Jewish appetites” and dubbing Malou maloutante – a possible pun on malcontente. Boris was particularly struck by how graciously his father took the unflattering comments.

His generosity towards Fowles, believing he should be free to write whatever he wanted, exemplifies the man Thomas Wiseman was : a true gentleman.

He is survived by Malou, Boris and his grandchildren, Oscar and Elodie.



Thomas Wiseman: born January 1, 1931. Died August 29, 2018




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