Tributes poured in yesterday for Miles Kington, broadcaster, author and columnist for The Indepedent, who died on Wednesday, aged 66, after a short battle with pancreatic cancer. Kington, also a jazz musician, enjoyed an illustrious 43-year career on national newspapers – he also wrote for The Times – and Punch magazine. Born in Northern Ireland, he began freelance writing after graduating from Oxford University and entered national newspaper journalism as a jazz reviewer.
Simon Kelner, editor-in-chief of The Independent, for which Kington wrote columns for 21 years until his death, praised him for a rich body of work that "no modern journalist could match" in quality or quantity. "Every single day over more than two decades, his column – witty, topical, erudite, acutely observed – has been a fixture in The Independent," he said yesterday. "He was loved by readers, and adored by colleagues who were awestruck by his total lack of pomposity, his modesty and his desire to be as unobtrusive as possible. He was a colossus of colloquy."
Humphrey Lyttelton, the jazz musician and broadcaster, described Kington's death as "a great loss" as he spoke about their friendship.
"I always enjoyed his humour," he said. "He used to look at you with a very solemn face before coming up with something that was always wonderfully witty.
"Humorous writing is one of the hardest things in life to do. How he managed to do it for so long and so consistently, I haven't the faintest idea. But I also knew him as a writer about jazz and a very good player in his own right – he played the double bass extremely well. All jazz musicians are humorous; they have to be, because it is a very hard life."
Richard Ingrams, editor of The Oldie, said Kington managed to produce universally engaging writing on any given subject. "He was one of those people who could write an interesting column on just about anything you liked. He was intensely curious about everything and could write about anything in an intensely funny and entertaining way.
"I don't think there are many journalists with quite that fluency; it's very rare. Miles was a very unassuming and delightful man, and I was very fond of him," he said.
The broadcaster and journalist Matthew Norman said Kington had mastered the difficult and rarely achieved art of humorous writing. "To anyone who ever tries to be vaguely amusing in print, Miles Kington's hit rate over so many years defies credibility. Of the great humorist writers I don't know anyone else who attempted to achieve it on a daily basis; it's a staggering achievement and unparalleled. To write every day with the touch of whimsy and delicacy that he did is astonishing," he said.
While at Punch, Kington devised the much-loved "Franglais" sketches, in which he exposed the use of half-English, half-French by the British. The sketches were brought together as a series of books including Let's Parler Franglais!, Let's Parler Franglais Again and Let's Parler Franglais One More Time.
He was also a prolific broadcaster, pursuing his passions for everything from steam trains to international affairs in programmes such as Three Miles High, Great Railway Journeys Of The World, Steam Days and The Burma Road, as well as a number of radio programmes written and presented for BBC Radio 4 on world leaders. Kington also made his mark on the stage, writing plays including Waiting For Stoppard, shown at the Bristol New Vic in 1995, and Death Of Tchaikovsky – A Sherlock Holmes Mystery in 1996.
Yesterday, colleagues and readers were shocked to hear that Kington had died. His last column for The Independent appeared in Wednesday's paper. In Who's Who, Kington listed as his hobbies "mending punctures" and "falsifying personal records to mystify potential biographers".