Born June 23, 1930;

Died April 22, 2021

FOR the best part of seven decades Anthony Thwaite, who has died aged 90, swam serenely through the piranha-rich waters of literary London.

His curriculum vitae included spells as literary editor of the Listener, the New Statesman and Encounter. He was a familiar voice on the BBC, where he was a producer for five years, chairman of the Booker Prize in 1986 (when the winner was Kingsley Amis’s The Old Devils), a stalwart of Arts Council committees and a regular guest on British Council foreign tours.

Quintessentially English, he wrote poetry that was witty, lucid and plain-speaking.

It was his friendship with another poet, Philip Larkin, that drew his name to the attention of the wider public. He was the first person to read Larkin’s poem ‘This Be The Verse’, which opens with a punch to the solar plexus: “They f*** you up, your mum and dad./ They may not mean to, but they do.”

In a letter to Thwaite, dated April 14, 1971, Larkin said he had “dashed off a little piece”, which he thought, ironically, might be suitable for inclusion in an anthology for children which Thwaite’s wife, Ann, was then compiling, though it might need “polishing”. Signing off, Larkin added: “I’m just doing an introduction for the US Betjeman – like trying to introduce the Holy Roman Church to the Loyal Orange Lodges.”

The volume of Larkin’s selected letters (1992) included a photograph of him in a punt on the River Tas, near Norfolk, while Thwaite, long-haired and wearing a pullover and jeans, played gondolier. Both men are obviously hugely enjoying themselves.

In a later letter, Larkin thanked Thwaite in his role as editor of and contributor to the festschrift, Larkin at Sixty (1982). “You...are far too generous to me and my few words, and I am deeply grateful.”

After Larkin’s death in 1985, Thwaite became his literary executor along with Andrew Motion and Monica Jones, one of Larkin’s several lovers.

It was agreed that Motion would write his biography while Thwaite would edit a selection of his letters as well as the collected poems. Publication of the latter, in 1988, caused considerable controversy, not least because of the order imposed on the poems and by the inclusion of much previously unpublished material.

One of Thwaite’s most vociferous critics was Martin Amis, who railed against the inclusion of “squibs and snippets, rambling failures later abandoned, lecherous doggerel”.

The association with Larkin tended to overshadow Thwaite’s own reputation as a poet. He was of the school known as The Movement, which flourished in the 1950s and was marked by its Englishness and its adherence to form. Apart from Larkin, other alumni included Kingsley Amis, Donald Davie, Thom Gunn, Elizabeth Jennings and DJ Enright.

Thwaite’s first significant collection, Home Truths, appeared in 1957. It was followed by The Owl in the Tree (1963), The Stones of Emptiness: Poems 1963–66 (1967), which won a Richard Hillary Prize, New Confessions (1974), Letter from Tokyo (1987) and Poems 1953–1988 (1989). His Collected Poems was published in 2007.

Much anthologised, his work was widely admired for its urbanity, gentle humour and intelligence. Tobias Hill, reviewing the Collected Poems, described him as “a master of disquiet”. Critics, however, pointed to his lack of originality. It is perhaps worth noting that Andrew Motion and Blake Morrison, the first chronicler of The Movement, found no space for Thwaite in their influential 1982 anthology, The Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry.

Anthony Thwaite was born in Chester, Cheshire, in 1930, the son of a bank manager. Aged ten, he was sent to the United States where, as war raged in Europe, he spent four years with an aunt in Virginia and developed a lifelong interest in snakes and exotic insects, both of which are a feature of his work.

Returning to England, he attended a school in Bath and had an early ambition to become an archaeologist but he was lost to poetry the moment his English teacher recited Shelley’s Ozymandias.

Thereafter he won a scholarship to Christ Church, Oxford, but he opted to do his National Service first. While stationed in Libya he found tens of thousands of Roman coins in a seaside pool.

He finally reached Oxford in 1951, where he edited Trio and Isis and ran the poetry society. In 1953, he made his publishing debut with a pamphlet produced by the Fantasy Press.

A career in Grub Street beckoned and he began contributing to Encounter, the London Magazine and the Spectator. He successfully applied for a traineeship with BBC but, having recently married a fellow student, Ann Harrop, agreed to take a two-year lectureship to teach literature in Japan.

Once home, he finally joined the BBC where, based in the talks department, he shared an office with Louis MacNeice. In 1962, he became literary editor of the Listener, the BBC’s much-mourned weekly journal.

Over the coming years Thwaite held a variety of posts in academe, journalism and publishing. He and Ann, a respected literary biographer and author of books for children, who survives him, owned an old millhouse near Norwich. Books of poems continued to appear.

He insisted that Late Poems (2010) would be his last but five years later he produced Going Out, in which he examined his own beliefs and contemplated his mortality.

Responding to the gift of a copy of Thwaite’s New Confessions, Larkin himself wrote: “Of course, it isn’t my sort of thing, but I’m inclined to think that condemns me, not it! It’s a big bold adventurous subject, and the style is a long way from The Movement, dignified and commanding.”