Obituary: Brian Inglis

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The Independent Online
Brian St John Inglis, journalist, born Dublin 31 July 1916, Lecturer in Economics Trinity College Dublin 1951-53, Assistant Editor Spectator 1954-59, Editor 1959-62, television commentator What the Papers Say 1956-93, All Our Yesterdays 1962-73, married 1958 Ruth Langdon (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved), died London 11 February 1993.

BRIAN INGLIS, the author, broadcaster and one of the greatest editors of the Spectator, was one of a long line of distinguished Irishmen who, rather against their own inclinations, made their career in England. His own ironic awareness of what it is like to be both a Protestant and an Irish patriot comes out in one of his most perceptive books, West Briton. This was published in 1962, before the latest troubles in Ireland moved Inglis increasingly against John Bull.

Born in 1916, the year of the Easter Rising, and spending his early childhood during the Irish troubles, Inglis went to school at Shrewsbury in England, and later to Magdalen College, Oxford. He served in the war with RAF (Coastal Command), flying from West Africa on patrols to spot and attack German U- Boats. After academic and journalistic work in Dublin, he went to London in 1954 to be, first, assistant editor, then the editor of the Spectator, a job he relinquished in 1962.

Under the guidance of Inglis, the Spectator became for a time by far the most lively and readable of the weekly papers, as it was once more to be 20 years later. Like the proprietor, Sir Ian (now Lord) Gilmour, Inglis belonged in politics to the centre, critical of the extremists in Labour and the Conservatives, without enthusiasm for Liberals either, at any rate not with a capital letter. Under Inglis's guidance, the Spectator championed during the 1950s most of the causes that came into law in the 1960s - easy divorce, the relaxation of censorship, the toleration of homosexuality.

Although himself a shrewd and amusing writer, Inglis's special gift was to find and encourage a team of regular star writers. These included Alan Brien, the theatre critic and columnist, Cyril Ray, praising wine and denouncing public relations men, and Katharine Whitehorn, first in a long line of outspoken and controversial women journalists. Inglis was one of those who spotted the talent of Bernard Levin and made him the Spectator's political commentator under the pseudonym 'Taper'. The jibes and abuse by 'Taper' at politicians like Harold Wilson ('Marshal Bigmouth') and Selwyn Lloyd went back to the savage style of the 18th- century 'Junius' and caused a sensation. When satire came into fashion during the 1960s, it was the Spectator that led the way in robust, though never scurrilous, journalism.

Under Inglis, the Spectator returned to the style of the early 18th century, written largely by Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, rather than to the more earnest 19th-century magazine of the same name. As Inglis was first to acknowledge, much of the popularity and circulation of the Spectator under his editorship was due to the concurrent excellence of its left-wing rival, the New Statesman, a revamped Time and Tide, and the Listener. During those glorious years for the British weeklies, a literary form that scarcely exists in other countries, Brian Inglis was the acknowledged ace as an editor.

On quitting his editorial post in 1962, Inglis started a second and very successful careeer as a television presenter. This astonished his friends, for Inglis, though charming and eloquent, was a diffident and almost retiring man, with none of the flamboyance and idiosyncrasies that we connect with the box. As he himself used to joke, he was the only man who constantly went on television but never was recognised in a public place.

Perhaps this mild manner lay behind his success, for Inglis enjoyed a long and brilliant career with What the Papers Say and All Our Yesterdays. In both these programmes, Inglis worked with the extrovert and often outrageous Bill Grundy, who also died this week. In fact Inglis died after writing Grundy's obituary.

For the last 20 years, Inglis had taken an interest in, as he entitled one of his books, 'Science and Parascience', including extra-sensory perception, homeopathic medicine and spontaneous combustion. This got him into furious rows in the correspondence columns with scientists of a traditional nature. However, Inglis never became obsessed with such matters and seldom introduced them into his conversation with friends, which was always gossipy and amusing.

To the end of his life, Inglis remained an eager attender of lunches, parties and the Academy Club, a gregarious, funny man in the great Spectator tradition of Addison and Steele.

(Photograph omitted)