Review of the year: Obituaries


POPE JOHN PAUL II

Poet, playwright, actor, theologian, philosopher, sportsman, and the bishop of Rome. It may be safely said that no one, since the dawn of history, has spoken directly to so many people as did John Paul II. The thrust of his message may perhaps be summed up in a few very simple words: the oblivion of God is ultimately the source of the present cultural crisis and of the miseries which all parts of the globe, though in different ways, suffer. People killed God - in their heart, of course - in the hope of liberation from His tyranny; as a result they brought upon themselves all kinds of tyranny - either physically oppressive or morally debilitating - leaving them in a void. The most important, crucial problems of mankind and its worries simply cannot be solved by technical means; there is no technology to replace love, personal responsibility and compassion, or to heal hatred and the widespread feeling of the meaninglessness of life. (Leszek Kolakowski )

ROBIN COOK

His The Point of Departure is one of the most significant political books of this decade - the story of a politician who genuinely wanted to bring democracy closer to the people but who saw a government increasingly detached from the values of himself and his party, and who developed a growing conviction that, on Iraq, that government's position was morally, diplomatically and politically wrong. Whatever our disagreements, I always continued to talk to Cook and berated him for not doing something about bombing and sanctions of Iraq when, as Foreign Secretary, he had the power to do so. His answer to me was that he really believed in bombing and sanctions as a policy of containment. When he was Leader of the Commons, I asked him if he couldn't do something to change the Prime Minister's mind about Iraq. He shook his head and said to me, "Tam, I'm out of the loop. I can do nothing." (Tam Dalyell)

RONNIE BARKER

For most of The Two Ronnies' run, Barker wrote 75 per cent of the material, under the pseudonym Gerald Wiley. The quality of this helped to ensure a consistently high standard and viewers continued to tune in to the Barker-Corbett double act. "It's a marriage," said Barker. "People refuse to believe that we don't have rows, tensions, private wars. It's a strange thing after so many years but we never have. Actually, it's even more amicable than a marriage - wedlock without the bad patches." One of the writers of the other 25 per cent was Barry Cryer. "It wasn't like writing for Eric and Ernie," he recalled: Morecambe and Wise played, on the whole, themselves. Barker and Corbett, when not behind their "news desk", were playing other characters. "You could write almost anything knowing these two would do it brilliantly. Because they weren't a double act; they were two men who worked together and had their own careers." (Anthony Hayward)

GEORGE BEST

Operating alongside fellow world-class forwards in Law and Charlton, Best was incandescent, a magical manipulator of a football and an entertainer supreme. Positioned nominally on the wing but roaming at will, he was capable of going past opponent after opponent, able and frequently eager to make brutal assailants look like clumsy buffoons, and he was as clinical a finisher as any in the land. Much is made of his heavenly fusion of skill and speed, balance and timing, which made him sometimes virtually unplayable. In addition, though, Best was immensely brave and, in his early twenties, attained a resilient strength and an unshakeable self-belief which enabled him to laugh in the face of the vÄicious physical punishment to which he was routinely subjected. He was, too, mentally acute. In short, in a footballing sense he was flawless, possessing the assets to excel in any role. (Ivan Ponting)

ANNE BANCROFT

The Graduate 's best-known scene is the one in which Bancroft, as a close friend and contemporary of Dustin Hoffman's parents, crooks her left leg on the stool of her cocktail bar, while Hoffman, framed behind it, awkwardly murmurs, "Mrs Robinson, you're trying to seduce me . . . aren't you?" (Tom Vallance)

SAUL BELLOW

"I am an American, Chicago born, that sombre city, and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent." Of American literature's famous declarative openings (from Moby Dick to The Sun Also Rises) that of The Adventures of Augie March was the post-war period's most celebrated, renowned for the robustness it promised, and fulfilled. (Andrew Rosenheim)

LORD CALLAGHAN OF CARDIFF

In his early days at No 10, Callaghan preached a simple idealism and homespun radicalism that touched many Labour hearts. Government spending, he proclaimed, was not a denial of freedom as the Tories pretended, but a way of increasing real freedom. "I was brought up after my father died in a family which lived in two furnished rooms. That was a denial of freedom." (Lord Ardwick)

PROFESSOR SIR RICHARD DOLL

 

Tens of millions of deaths have potentially been avoided in the 20th century and maybe hundreds of millions this century by the recognition of the hazards of smoking and the benefits of stopping. Doll's contribution to global public health is so large that, according to the Nobel laureate Sir Paul Nurse, it "transcends the boundaries of professional medicine into the general community of mankind". (Conrad Keating)

JOHN FOWLES

A virtuoso piece of storytelling, The Magus was an immediate popular success, especially with students. Fowles wrote in the foreword to a revised version published in 1977: "I now know the generation whose mind it most attracts. And that it must always substantially remain a novel of adolescence written by a retarded adolescent." (Peter Guttridge)

SIR EDWARD HEATH

Ted Heath was the most "unspun" of politicians. His dismissal of public-relations artifices easily declined into the neglect of communications. The shrewd James Douglas, director of the party's Research Department, noted: "He always had a clear idea of what he wanted to say but somehow never knew how to say it. He expected his speechwriters to be able to communicate for him the thought that he was incapable of communicating." (Professor Dennis Kavanagh)

THE EARL OF LICHFIELD

The young Patrick Anson was rumbled taking illicit snapshots with his grandfather's Box Brownie: when the film was developed, a photograph of a housemaid in her bedroom - shot through a window from a fire escape - was revealed. "That was my first nude," Lichfield confessed. (Alexandra Younger and Paul Levy)

SIR JOHN MILLS

Mills's forehead might have been stamped "Made in Great Britain" and he was only rarely available for export. Not for him the Hollywood contract, as was the fate and rarely the fortune of so many British actors. One of the keys to his success was his resolute middle-classlessness - Mills was in the saloon bar when Noël Coward was in the Ritz and George Formby was in the boozer. (Adrian Turner)

MO MOWLAM

Dying young, she will become a legend and the legend will be of a superb public persona of enormous humanity, who gave a warmth to other people with messy lives. For those (of whom I am not one) who had to work with her at close quarters day in and day out facing difficult decisions, she was a different kettle of fish. But she will, for all that, enter the pantheon of heroes of the Labour movement. (Tam Dalyell)

ROSA PARKS

Returning home by bus in Montgomery, Alabama, one winter evening in 1955, weary after a long shift's work as a seamstress at a local department store, she refused a request by the driver to give up her seat to a white passenger. Her punishment was to be remanded in custody and fined $14. But the deed would mark the true start of black America's struggle for racial equality, and make her name famous around the world. (Rupert Cornwell)

PRINCE RAINIER III OF MONACO

The high point of his reign was surely the picnic to which he invited all 4,500 of his subjects in May 1974, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his accession. Rainier was a prince with a perfect princess and three handsome children, presiding over an earthly paradise. (Rupert Cornwell)

DAME MIRIAM ROTHSCHILD

Her classic study of bird parasites Fleas, Flukes & Cuckoos addressed such matters as what birds would talk about if they could speak, and the lives of extraordinary beasts like the worm that feeds on the tears of a hippopotamus, or the fluke that wanders from the liver of a snail to the body cavity of a shrimp and "ends up living happily ever after under the tongue of a frog". There was, as one critic exclaimed, a wonderful nightmare in every paragraph. (Peter Marren)

DAME CICELY SAUNDERS

She was the first modern doctor to devote herself to the care of the dying. She said that there was no such thing as intractable pain, though she had met intractable doctors. (Caroline Richmond)

LORD SHEPPARD OF LIVERPOOL

Faith in the City, subtitled "A Call for Action by Church and Nation", was the most influential message to the nation issued by the Church of England in the 20th century. Eventually Margaret Thatcher and succeeding governments, Tory and Labour, saw the inner cities and the riots as a British disability which must be faced. More than any other bishop - perhaps more than any other public figure - Sheppard, by persistent prophetic protests in Parliament, the press and his diocese, helped to change public opinion. (The Very Rev Alan Webster)

HARRY THOMPSON

Like any good satirist, Thompson also manifested a healthy disrespect for the political class. In the teeth of fierce opposition from Hislop and Merton on Have I Got News For You, the producer placed a tub of lard beside Paul Merton in place of the then Labour MP Roy Hattersley, who reportedly kept cancelling at the last minute. It became one of the most celebrated episodes in the show's history. (James Rampton)

HUNTER S. THOMPSON

The invention of gonzo journalism came about because Thompson was late for a sports deadline for Scanlan's magazine, with a story to write about the Kentucky Derby. "I'd blown my mind, couldn't work," he said. "So finally I just started jerking pages out of my notebook and numbering them and sending them to the printer." The article was hailed as "a breakthrough in journalism". Thompson compared his experience of the resulting furore as "falling down an elevator shaft and landing in a pool of mermaids". (Peter Guttridge)

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