Obituary: Brian Inglis

Click to follow
The Independent Online
A WEEK ago, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards, Brian Inglis was with an old and dear friend who asked, 'Inglis, what am I going to do when you turn up your toes?' 'Drink a lot of fucking champagne,' he advised. As the news of his death spreads around, London is full of weeping women (and some men) prescribing each other champagne.

At various stages during his career, Brian Inglis was a squadron leader, an academic historian (his Ph D was on the press in Ireland), a lecturer in economics at Trinity College, Dublin (keeping one step ahead of his students), a biographer (Roger Casement), a parliamentary reporter and diarist for the Irish Times, an editor of the Spectator, a television commentator, a propagandist for alternative medicine, a writer on the paranormal and a worker for better Anglo-Irish relations. He was a founder member of the British-Irish Association.

Although he had considerable success in most of those occupations, what was most important about Brian was his private life. Having had an often unhappy and largely loveless childhood (parents in India, Sussex boarding school at five, holidays with a frightful, snobbish, Catholic- despising grandmother in Malahide, one of the last Protestant enclaves in Dublin), he emerged with a capacity for the giving and receiving of affection that matured into a genius for friendship. He was greatly loved in England and Ireland, his two countries, though his tentacles spread far wider. There is great sorrow today in Alba, in France, where he had a home and was part of a community, in Australia, where live the family of Margaret Van Hattem, the young Financial Times journalist who was his lover and who died in 1989 after a long and dreadful illness which Brian made bearable, and in pockets throughout the globe.

Brian had a salon in his basement flat in Belsize Park, where one ate the dips and stir-fry off plates on one's knees and where the company would be a mixture of relatives, neighbours, ex-lovers, and old and new friends. Leaving out grandchildren, ages might vary from 30 to 80. Women were always vastly in the majority, for though Brian had close male friends, he was one of those unusual men who both liked and loved women. He understood his friends, made them feel they were of central importance to him, rejoiced in their triumphs, encouraged them to get on with whatever they should get on with, laughed at their foibles and accepted them - simply - virtues, vices and all. He might occasionally shake his head, but he never lectured.

The first volume of his autobiography was called West Briton, a contemptuous nationalist Irish term for people of his background. He was, in fact, Anglo-Irish, in the best sense of the phrase. His English education, his many years living and working in London, sat very happily with Brian's intense sense of Irishness. He loved the fun, wit and irresponsibility of Irish company and mingled the Irish and English as much as possible. Without prejudice as between nationalists and unionists, he had concluded that independence for Northern Ireland might be pragmatically the best solution. He wanted the Irish of all varieties, like his friends, to get on with each other and enhance each other's lives.

That English voice asking 'How about a jar?' brought to us all a lifting of spirits. There is no compensation for his loss.