Review of the year: Obituaries

Click to follow
The Independent Online


Spark is acclaimed as a Roman Catholic novelist - in that awkward sub-genre of 20th-century converts that includes Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene, both admirers of her work - and leaves trails of theology in all she writes. Yet, when asked what part her Catholicism played in her writing (she converted in 1954), she would say, mysteriously, that it had given her confidence, a context, it had freed up her style. "That's the whole secret of style, in a way," she said. "It's simply not caring too much, it's caring only a little." One of her first books was a study of the then Poet Laureate, John Masefield, published in 1953. "I was not yet ready to write novels," she wrote in an introduction to a new edition in 1991. "I thought in many ways that novels were a lazy way of writing poetry, and above all I didn't want to become a 'lady-novelist' " (James Fergusson)


For most of the past 100 years a Yorkshire fast bowler seems to have been part of the English national character. In modern times there has been the cheery, ebullient Darren Gough and the rustic grin of the never-daunted Matthew Hoggard. In the Thirties, it was the very tall, bespectacled, professorial Bill Bowes, who was also an amateur magician. Between them came Fred Trueman, faster, stronger, tougher, the epitome of the lad called "oop from t'pits" to blast the Aussies. He once described himself, with that hint of self-mockery that lay behind his bolder assertions, as "the greatest bloody fast bowler that ever drew breath" In his pomp, 1955-65, he genuinely frightened county batsmen, not only by his bombardments on the field but by his forays into their dressing room before the match, when he would sweep in, survey their apprehensive faces and announce how many victims he expected that day (Derek Hodgson)


The death of Malcolm Arnold will strike sadness into the hearts of musicians everywhere, and of wind-players in particular. There can scarcely be a single one who has not encountered at some time or another that quintessential Arnold work, his Three Shanties, and rejoiced over it. Charming, melodious, graceful, witty; cheeky, even. But it takes skill, hard work, a fine ear and lots of practice to write pieces even as innocent-sounding as these shanties - and they date from the very earliest years of his long composing career. One of the most significant moments in that career came way back in 1947, when a colleague suggested that he send off some of his music to the film studios outside London. He was to write some 130 film scores and in 1957 won a Hollywood Oscar for David Lean's The Bridge on the River Kwai (Piers Burton-Page)


In the documentary series Crocodile Hunter, the khaki-clad Australian wildlife television presenter with the boisterous charm wrestled with the scissor-jawed reptiles and accepted bites as part of the job. But he met his death at Batt Reef off the Queensland coast when he was attacked by a stingray, which plunged its lethal barb into the left-hand side of his chest while he was filming for his eight-year-old daughter Bindi's underwater documentary Deadly Sea Creatures. Only two such deaths have been recorded in Australian waters over the past 61 years. "I'm a thrill-seeker," Irwin once said, "but, crikey, education's the most important thing." ("Crikey!" was the catchword familiar to tens of millions of viewers, used whenever he happened upon something interesting.) Irwin was the modern- day embodiment of the television underwater explorers of the 1950s and 1960s. Jacques Cousteau was one of his heroes (Anthony Hayward)


The eight-minute tracking shot that opens The Player is a tour de force, and it is a mark of the respect generated by Altman within the industry that he was able to muster a collection of name players (66 in all) to take small (sometimes virtually walk-on) parts in the ambitious tale, one of Altman's funniest, as well as most acerbic, films (Tom Vallance)


Barrett found fame an uneasy burden, by most accounts, and dealt with increasing pressure to commercialise Pink Floyd's sound by ingesting huge quantities of LSD. The five-piece line-up, with their old friend David Gilmour as a second guitarist, lasted only a few chaotic weeks before Barrett was asked to leave the band. "I suppose it was really just a matter of being a little offhand about things," he said (Robert Webb)


P. W. Botha, interviewed in 1988 by the South African Broadcasting Corporation on his party's 40th anniversary in power, relied on jest to explain both his and the party's longevity. Botha, then 72, told the story about the village pastor, feted on his 80th birthday, who insisted that he did not have an enemy in the world. "How is it possible after all these years?" enquired his parishioners. "Simple," replied the crusty octogenarian. "I outlived all the other bastards" (Brian Pottinger)


When he took over at The World at One in 1994, the programme's reputation for hard news and tough interviewing was already long established. Over the next decade, Clarke enhanced that reputation. He was always impeccably polite - the overall sense of calm was helped by his marvellous voice, quiet, gentle and authoritative: "like honey rolling over his tonsils" was one description (Robert Hanks)


Though he made his dislike of BBC time-servers clear to all concerned, Drummond reserved his contempt for the management nostrums of the Birt regime, seeing in them only fake theories, intellectual corruption and career opportunism fuelled by profound ignorance of and hostility to the values to which the BBC should have been devoted. He lived to see most of them discredited (Sir John Tusa)


Finlay's work reaches across huge distances, arranges the most far-flung and breathtaking unions, the most abrupt confrontations, the most homely similes. The machine-gun as a flute (the air-vents, the finger-stops); the swallow as the sky's anchor (see its shape!); ploughed fields as "the fluted land", fluted like the grooves of a classical column; the floats of a fishing-net as lemons; the wake of a boat as stitching; a Malevich Red Square as the slant blade of a guillotine; a bird-table as an aircraft carrier; a sun-dial as a sail (Tom Lubbock)


Like Casablanca (to which it is on every level superior), Gilda became a Hollywood myth, a prodigy of popular culture. And, even if its fascination is due above all to Rita Hayworth's extraordinarily erotic presence, the youthful Ford (their first meeting is a beautifully hackneyed chestnut: after enigmatically scrutinising him, she murmurs a retrospective reproach, "It's been a long time, Johnny. Why did you never call me?") looked splendid in a snow-white tuxedo (Gilbert Adair)


Mercilessly sent up as "Dave Nice" in the early Nineties by the comedians Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse in their "Nicey & Smashie" DJ spoofs, Freeman enjoyed the joke so much he appeared in the "Radio Fab" sketches himself. His armoury of catchphrases was now supplemented by the cry of "Pop-tastic, mate!" (Chris Welch)


When, as an undergraduate, I let out to my then lecturer, the formidable Joan Robinson, that I had invited a 42-year-old visiting American professor in Cambridge to tea to meet some of my student friends, she observed, "And what did Mephistopheles say to you?" The truth was that the lilting voice of Milton Friedman had beguiled us all (Tam Dalyell)


Galbraith enriched the vocabulary of literate people everywhere with phrases like "the conventional wisdom", the "techno structure" and the "affluent society". He wrote more than two dozen books and hundreds of articles on everything from Indian painting to economic theory, two of his books, The Great Crash and The Affluent Society, 20th-century masterpieces of rigorous analysis coated with sardonic humour fit to stand with Voltaire or Veblen (Godfrey Hodgson)


Ralph Harris was the most friendly and least lordly of peers. His easy manner, however, concealed his stature as one of the most influential figures of our age. Along with his fellow director of the Institute of Economic Affairs, Arthur Seldon, he was a key figure in the revival of the doctrines of classical liberal economics which inspired the Thatcher revolution (Russell Lewis)


Haughey's baleful laser stare and volcanic temper were famous. A Fianna Fáil senator, called for a dressing-down (after breaking a cardinal rule that only Haughey as leader could determine or comment on Northern Ireland policy), made to leave. A couple of minutes later Haughey looked up, saw he was still there, and asked why. Amid all the wood panelling the poor man could not find the door. Haughey bellowed: "Then why don't you jump out the fucking window" (Alan Murdoch)


During the 1950s and 1960s, Nigel Kneale bestrode British television like a colossus. At a time when the wildest science fiction, in books, magazines and on the big screen, seemed in imminent danger of becoming scientific fact, Kneale's clever and terrifying imaginings became obligatory viewing for a TV audience which had only just recovered from the shock of watching the Coronation (Jack Adrian)


Laker Airways was launched in 1966 as a "contract carrier" to the package holiday trade. He protected his slender profit margins by running his small fleet immaculately. "I have my name on the side of this plane," he told passengers. "It has got to do well." They loved it. He meant it (Berry Ritchie)


When Ken Lay was paraded in handcuffs to a Houston courthouse two years ago, to be indicted for presiding over a massive fraud at Enron, the energy company he created, it provided the image that defined a whole era of boardroom excess and malfeasance in America (Stephen Foley)


With the West still in shock, Litvinenko attended a panel discussion on 19 October, "The Killing of Anna Politkovskaya - Russia's dirty secrets", held in London at the Frontline club, a journalists' forum. Towards the end he stood up and said: "I don't want to hide anything. Somebody asked who is guilty of Anna's death. I can directly answer you: it is Mr Putin, the President of the Russian Federation. She was a political opponent and this is why she was killed." Exactly 13 days later, he was himself the victim of a mystery poisoning (Anne Penketh)


Some of his most vivid and funniest writing was to do with the gardener's constant battle against predators. In a 1974 Country Life column, despairing about the damage caused by slugs, caterpillars and the rest, he declared: "Of course gardening is not for enjoyment. No, no, indeed not. It was never intended to be. There is no virtue in enjoyment. The hard grind, the solid slog, these are the character-forming attributes of our - I nearly said hobby - of our mission" (Michael Leapman)


Like Heaney, or Patrick Kavanagh, or Raymond Carver, or Joyce, he was able to take the stuff of ordinary lives and create of it the highest art. His work spoke to readers about their own lives - its silences were also ours. It crackled with a kind of hopefulness (Joseph O'Connor)


Although he spoke perfect English and this lady did not, he insisted for some reason on questions' being addressed through the chair in English and conveyed to him in Arabic. This suggested that he had a mischievous side, and so it turned out. The first obvious question to ask the first Arabic Nobel laureate was how he felt about the enormous interest now being shown in his work in the West. Mahfouz looked baffled. "My books reach England?" he shyly enquired (D.J. Taylor)


He thought that the difference between the Home Office and the Northern Ireland Office was like the difference between commanding a battalion and commanding an army group. He was the first one to tell me that his Permanent Secretary on his first day had said: "The trouble is that you think there is a blue sky, and then you get a bolt from the blue, a huge political thunderstorm" (Tam Dalyell)


Milosevic had adopted several poses in his political lifetime. Initially putting himself forward as a technocrat, he then presented himself as a man of iron who would save Yugoslavia. When Yugoslavia declined salvation on the terms he offered, he reinvented himself as the godfather of a new, greater Serbia. He failed miserably in all three guises (Marcus Tanner)


Adrian Street, who rose to fame by playing a mincing queen in the ring, was convinced that Pallo only made it as a wrestler because he once mistimed a dropkick during an early televised contest, his legs flying either side of a corner post. "He mashed his Christmas crackers," Street recalled. "Nobody had ever seen that on television before" (Simon Garfield)


His name will live on in the history books for an achievement which even his prescience could scarcely have foreseen: his capture on an extradition warrant and the ensuing legal battle has provided a locus classicus in the development of international human rights legislation and the global fight against the use of torture (Hugh O'Shaughnessy)


In her 2004 book Putin's Russia, which lifted the lid on the subversion of Russia's nascent civil institutions by Putin, she assailed the West for turning a blind eye to what was going on. "Why is it difficult to sustain the rosy point of view when you are faced with reality in Russia?" she wrote. "Because Putin has failed to stop behaving like a lieutenant-colonel in the Soviet KGB" (Anne Penketh)


Party managers and law officers raised Profumo from his sleep and advised him that a unique opportunity had arisen for him to quash the rumours that had been circulating about him, by making a personal statement to the House. He agreed and with his solicitor a statement was prepared for him to make in the Commons the next day. In this, he denied any improper relationship with Christine Keeler and threatened to sue if the allegations were repeated outside the House of Commons. That was the fatal step (Professor Dennis Kavanagh)


As Zoltán Czibor's dispatch came in from the right, the Hungarian skipper was lurking on the near corner of the six-yard box but was marked by the England captain Billy Wright, who lunged forward to clear. But he kicked air as, in one sumptuous movement, Puskás had dragged the ball back with the sole of his boot, then pivoted on the spot before thundering a savage drive into the net. It remains one of the most famous of all goals (Ivan Ponting)


She didn't like looking back and couldn't imagine that anyone would want to read about her life. Her performances were what counted and those could not be recreated. One of her daughters told me that when she and Ludovic Kennedy moved house for the last time she threw away a couple of sacks of photographs and other memorabilia, claiming they were of no interest to anyone (Richard Calvocoressi)


The remainder of Sherman's life seemed a long diminuendo, punctuated by efforts to find a new political patron. He found himself increasingly ignored by former colleagues. Asked in 1987 whether Sherman still had the Prime Minister's ear, Norman Tebbit replied, "Not if she sees him coming, he doesn't" (John Barnes)


In 2002, Radio 4 held a poll to see who their listeners felt was the "wittiest person on the planet". The overwhelming winner was Linda Smith. Her everyday conversation contained more jokes than most comedy scripts and more social comment than most dramas (Mark Steel)


I only saw Tony Banks get his come-uppance once on the political hoof, and that was at the June 1994 by-election next to his own constituency. A huge man came to the door, and, as soon as he recognised Banks, launched into a tirade: "You have a damn cheek, Banks, coming here. You are a bloody Chelsea supporter. I see you on the telly, on the terraces at Stamford Bridge. Why is the club of Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters not good enough for you?" (Tam Dalyell)


With immense delicacy, Strawson demonstrated that the very idea of starting with the contents of our minds and building a world by inference from them could not withstand analysis. It is only because we are embodied beings in a world of objects that can be located in space and time that we can come to think of ourselves as creatures that have sensations, emotions, and the rest of our mental lives. Our understanding of ourselves comes from the outside in (Professor Alan Ryan)


Stroessner could lay claim to several records: the longest-serving president of Paraguay; for several years the longest- serving uninterrupted head of state in Latin America in the 20th century (Fidel Castro has now overtaken him); and the longest-serving political leader in the Western hemisphere in the post-war period. Too easily dismissed as an absurd dictator lifted from a García Márquez novel, Stroessner was in fact a consummate political strategist (he was a keen chess player), able to combine decisive action and masterful inactivity (James Painter)


The 180th meridian of longitude passes through the Fiji island of Taveuni. It is 400 miles west of Tonga, which should accordingly have been in the western hemisphere. This would not do for the people of Tonga, Taufa'ahau had early concluded. He decreed that, geography notwithstanding, the 180th meridian would be stretched eastwards to embrace his kingdom and thus enable Tongan time to be 13 hours ahead of Greenwich instead of 11 behind it. It was always a satisfaction to the King that his people were the first in the world to greet the new day (Kenneth Bain)


Ali Farka Touré was the greatest guitarist ever to come out of West Africa - the King of the African Blues. His ascent to global fame at the end of the 1980s coincided with a sudden explosion of interest in what came to be known as "world music". Hailed as the missing link between West Africa and the Mississippi Delta, he let the world analyse and speculate but in his own mind there was no doubt who had influenced whom: "I am the root and the trunk. All they have is branches and leaves" (Andy Morgan)


It seems that there was never a time when Jack Williamson, who has died at 98 after an active career extending from 1928 until late last year, was not the father of American science fiction. "If your father read science fiction," the editor and novelist Frederik Pohl once wrote, "he very likely counted Jack Williamson high among his favorite writers." What now seems remarkable about this statement is that it was made in 1953 (John Clute)