Born: June 20, 1934

Died: August 20, 2017

GORDON WILLIAMS, who has died aged 83, was on the shortlist for the first Booker Prize, wrote biographies of such as Acker Bilk and Bobby Moore, collaborated on books and scripts with Terry Venables, turned down Bill Forsyth’s approach to script Gregory’s Girl, and fell out dramatically with film director Sam Peckinpah.

He was, almost incidentally and irrefutably, one of the great Scottish novelists, producing at least three works of the highest rank: From Scenes Like These, a rite of passage tale of extraordinary power; Walk Don’t Walk, a comedic work so dark it demands to be read with a torch; and The Upper Pleasure Garden, a newspaper novel of distinction and profundity.

His most famous work is The Siege of Trencher’s Farm. It is oddly appropriate, given Williams’ unwitting ability to repel celebrity, that it became famous by its film name of Straw Dogs and precipitated that argument with Peckinpah who directed the film. Williams described the subsequent script as crap. Peckinpah said the book was “so bad it makes me want to drown in my own vomit’’.

The film, gaudily controversial over a rape scene (which Williams was always keen to point out was not in the book), still retains its notoriety while enduring fame eluded Williams. An article, written by a devotee, the critic DJ Taylor in the Guardian in 2003, was headlined: ‘Gordon who?”

It is, perhaps, best then to answer this question in biographical details and then in testimony to his greatness.

Gordon McLean Williams was born in George Street Hospital, Paisley, to Kathleen Cull Williams (nee Cameron) and William McLean Williams, a police constable. His great uncle William had written a memoir and Williams later stated this had made the idea of being an author more realistic, adding : “I was lucky he was not a ballet dancer.”

Williams spent his childhood in Ferguslie Park, Paisley, being educated at the John Neilson Institution. He left school the day before his 17th birthday and spent 18 months working as a junior reporter with the Johnstone Advertiser and Paisley Pictorial before entering national service with the RAF in 1952. His loathing of the Air Ministry, and a paranoid group captain, inspired his novel, The Camp (1966).

After the RAF, he returned to the Johnstone Advertiser, before joining the Poole and Dorset Herald. He moved to the South London Advertiser followed by stints as a sub-editor at Boys' Own Paper in Fleet Street, and at John Bull magazine.?

He left there for Men Only, which was then a magazine with articles, serials and book reviews (long before it was relaunched as a porn magazine).?From Men Only he went to Weekend Magazine as a features writer.

It was there that an interview with Acker Bilk, the clarinettist, formed the prelude to a biography.

He then became assistant editor of Scene, an arts magazine, where he started writing novels. In tandem, he was ghost writing for Denis Law, Scottish footballing legend, and Bobby Moore, captain of England’s World Cup-winning team.

His breakthrough came early when From Scenes Like These was placed on the first Booker Prize shortlist in 1969 alongside works by Iris Murdoch and Muriel Spark.

The Siege of Trencher’s Farm (1969) was written in Devon where he had moved with his family. He wrote it in nine days to ensure he received £500 from the publisher, running across the country lane from the house to catch the Post Office van so that the manuscript could be posted off to London in time.

He favoured Roman Polanski to direct the film version but it was given to Peckinpah with the subsequent incendiary results.

Williams then embarked on an outpouring of creativity: The Upper Pleasure Garden (1970), Walk Don’t Walk (1972), The Bornless Keeper (1973), and Big Morning Blues (1974). The first two of these are great novels, the other two are merely very good.

He also wrote They Used to Play on Grass (1972) with Terry Venables, footballer and future England manager. They also collaborated on the Hazell television series and books.

Williams admitted his alcoholism in the late 1970s and embraced sobriety.

He published Pomeroy (1982), a clever, slick historical novel. This prompted an invitation from the Glasgow Herald to write an article on the career of an author.

Williams produced a typically brilliant piece. It was funny, dark and gently revealing. Of the invitation to script Gregory’s Girl, he writes: “When silver-tongued film director Bill Forsyth suggested I might script some worthy little comedy about a Glasgow girl footballer for amateur actors, I put it as tactfully as possible that I had bigger fish to fry.”

The subsequent implication is that fish, unspecified but still unfried, consumed his life savings.

He was withering in the same article about writing. “The crucial factor is temperament rather than ability. Scots are luckier than, say, Estonians here: our own little quirks of character, namely obsessiveness, megalomania, suicidal guilt, paranoia, cowardice when sober, and loudmouth hostility in drink, a fetish for minutiae and unquestioning drudgery as a defence against headaches from using our brains and a belief that conversation is a series of interruptions, are exactly those required for novels.”

This is distilled Williams. There is enough to produce laughter, more than enough to produce a wince of recognition. It is a cocktail that has the promise of lightness and produces the kick of a mule. It is laced, too, with self-deprecation.

Asked why he stopped writing novels, he once replied: “I got bored.” This was a fate he never inflicted on his readers. His relative obscurity is unjust and perplexing. His self-deprecation was both attractive and undeserved. Just because he did not think he was a great novelist is no reason to agree with him.

He is survived by his wife Claerwen Jean Jones, whom he married in 1964, his children Harriet, Jessica and Samuel, and three grandchildren.