OBITUARY : Richard Whitelegg

A few years ago Richard Whitelegg sent out a neat, white, informative visiting-card bearing the usual motifs. The occasion for the card was a change of address. Intending to settle in the Trossachs, he and his late wife Cathy (who had been diagnosed as having a "lung condition") had decided to move south, meaning to live closer to a medical centre in the Midlands. They had stayed at a rambling house in the Staffordshire countryside, a composite of four ancient cottages, offering B&B accommodation; and, by a chance remark, found it was for sale.

It reminds me of the serendipity for which cruciverbalists and wordsmiths thank their lucky asterisks. That card also carried a tag: "Professional Crossword Compiler". Without the least hint of self-hype, it gave the impression of a gentle business mind that means what it thinks and says. Plainly, it proclaimed a commitment and declared a devotion that occupied him for 30 years, as a part-time activity at first and, latterly, in a full-time prolific way.

Whitelegg was born in Sale, Cheshire, and educated at Manchester Grammar School. Clare College, Cambridge, followed, where he read Classics in the early 1960s - and was, unknowingly then, an exact contemporary of Jonathan Crowther ("Azed" in the Observer). After university he joined the industrial firm of Courtaulds, eventually taking premature retirement in the late 1980s. As for his early puzzles during these years he appeared twice in 1960 (as "Albipedius") in the notoriously challenging Listener crossword column; but his main contributions, assuming the mask of "Mephisto", were weekly puzzles for the Sunday Times, many of them sent from South Africa.

Now, crosswords are among his memorials, and there are many of them. "Up to the gunwales" was a phrase he would use, engrossed in a formidable routine producing cryptic puzzles for Today (six every Wednesday, representing an average of 180 cryptic clues) and the Daily Express (five every Thursday); and, in addition, a weekly Jumbo for the Daily Star, not forgetting numerous "Quicky" crosswords and Target Word puzzles throughout the year.

Then, in the Independent in the late 1980s, "Albipedius" made a comeback, together with "Lucifer" and (every Sunday) "Beelzebub" - who else, with Whitelegg's playful devilish detachment? People have noted the good sense in his clues, the humour, a certain newsy edge and touches of satire. He sustained an engaging cryptic sense, and I sometimes thought of him as The Man In The Ironic Masks who misled in order to lead, an essential paradox in cryptic cluemanship.

He was also the checker for the Independent Magazine where at least two maiden puzzles have appeared of late - by "Loda" and "Monk", who have told me of their gratitude for Whitelegg's encouragement. "Monk" also provides a remark from Whitelegg - "the next generation of setters should be prepared gently, since the existing one didn't know how long it would be around" adding, "rather poignant sentiments in the light of recent events". The sheer activity of crossword compiling was a source of solace to Whitelegg after his wife's untimely death, less than two years before his own.

The house in Staffordshire became Whitelegg's last home. The family threw a house party: according to a colleague, it was apparently an attempt to form a circle of friends, but Richard (described by his wife as "a bit of a workaholic") always seemed too busy for social life and holidays. Indeed, he seemed an amiable spirit with a very private disposition. However, a party there was: Richard, Cathy and their bright affable children, Peter and Nicola, hosted a houseful of people in an atmosphere of informal charm, conviviality and abiding goodwill, not to mention the wonderful food and the very good wine. It was a memorable, and very happy, occasion.

Harold Massingham

and Chris Feetenby

John Richard Whitelegg, crossword compiler: born Sale, Cheshire 1 January 1943; married 1967 Catherine Rowland (deceased; one son, one daughter); died Butterton, Staffordshire 5 April 1995.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn