, and teacher
, generally grouped among the "angry young men
" in the 1950s, though he denied the affiliation
. Amis' ascent from the obscurity of lower middle class
London was largely self-willed
. He became a man of outrageous wit
, and gained a reputation
as a "supreme clubman
." A radical
in his young adulthood, Amis was later known for his conservative critique
of contemporary life and manners
"'You'll find that marriage is a good short cut to the truth. No, not quite that. A way of doubling back to the truth. Another thing you'll find is that the years of illusion aren't those of adolescense, as the grownups try to tell us; they're the ones immediately after it, say the middle twenties, the false maturity if you like, when you first get thoroughly embroiled in things and lose your head. Your age, by the way, Jim. That's when you first realize that sex is important to other people besides yourself. A discovery like that can't help knocking you off balance for a time.'" (from Lucky Jim, 1954)
Kingsley Amis was born in London as the only son of a business clerk. He was educated at the City of London School and St. John's College, Oxford. After service in the army with the Royal Corps of Signals Amis completed his university studies and worked as a lecturer in English at the University College of Swansea (1948-61) and in Cambridge (1961-63).
In 1947 Amis published his first collection of poems, Bright November. It was followed by A Frame of MindD (1953), Poems: Fantasy Portraits (1954) and A Case of Samples: Poems 1946-1956 (1956). During this time Amis was a member of the literary group The Movement whose members included Robert Conquest, Elisabeth Jennings and Philip Larkin.
As a novelist Amis made his debut with Lucky Jim (1954), which was very successful. The comic main character also appeared in novels That Uncertain Feeling (1956) and I Like It Here (1958), a xenophobic novel set in Portugal.
After the death of Ian Fleming in 1964 Amis wrote a James Bond adventure, Colonel Sun (1968). His study of the world famous spy appeared under the title The James Bond Dossier (1965). In the story Colonel Sun Liang-tan of the People's Liberation Army of China collaborates with an ex-Nazi plan to open the eastern Mediterranean for Chinese influence and continue to the whole Arab world and Africa. Oh, and M gets kidnapped.
"The empty room gazed bleakly at Bond. As always, everything was meticulously in its place, the lines of naval prints exactly horizontal on the walls, watercolour materials laid out as if for inspection on the painting table up against the window. It all had a weirdly artifical, detached air, like part of a museum where the furniture and effects of some historical figure are preserved just as they were in his lifetime."
(from Colonel Sun)
Amis's anti-intellectual stance is also reflected in such anthologies as The New Oxford Book of Light Verse (1978) and The Popular Reciter (1978). Among his other works are books on drink, columns on food for Harper's and Queen, detective books, the critical study Rudyard Kipling and his World (1975), Memoirs (1990), and The King's English (1998), mini-essays on the craft of writing well.
In the 1980s Amis wrote the Booker Prize winning novel The Old Devils (1986), which tells the story of a group of retired friends and their wives, whose lives revolve around social drinking, and the effect on them of the reappearance of Alun Weaver, a professionally Welsh literary pundit. Semi-autobiographical You Can't Do Both At Once (1994) was set between the wars, and told the story of Robin Davies, who progresses from south London suburbia, through Oxford, and on to a lectureship in a provincial university.
Amis had three children from his first marriage to Hilary Bardwell. He was married from 1965 to 1983 to the novelist Elisabeth Jane Howard. Amis was knighted in 1990. He died in 1995 at the age of 73 with over 20 novels to his credit, plus dozens of volumes of poetry, stories, collections of essays, and criticism.