Obituary: Paul Oswald

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The Independent Online
Paul Alexander Oswald, writer, born Dublin 28 January 1958, died London 15 July 1992.

PAUL OSWALD was well-known to readers of the Independent Magazine as the man who usually won the magnum of champagne in the weekly writing competition. He was the Comper's Comper.

He led the unofficial championship because he was the best. Not just highly intelligent (he was a member of Mensa), but a man of encyclopaedic knowledge who was deeply and genuinely interested in the world around him. He listened, observed, soaked it up, then drew on it as raw material for the little gems that were his trademark. Rambo in the style of Rimbaud, Trappist telephone messages, anthropomorphic political cartoon animals: all were grist to Oswald's mill. Unsurprisingly, his modern literary heroes were Martin Amis and Craig Raine, cerebral technicians both. But he loved Dickens and Donne too, for their reckless humanity. Paul Oswald was a perfectionist himself, but he knew the dangers of letting the best be enemy of the good.

His weekly writing competition entry was a form of literary light relief from the hurly-burly of churning out advertising copy. After graduating in English from the University of Kent, Oswald began his career with the advertising agency Wethey Scott Pocock, later moving to Bastable-Dailey, and then, following an unhappy year writing copy for the Sheraton Hotel group in the Middle East, to Senior King, where he worked from 1988 until his death. He also freelanced writing Sun-speak blurbs for video covers, something of a labour of love since he was a film-buff extraordinaire. He was also a talented amateur photographer, and his photographs were exhibited. But writing was what he lived for.

While he earned a good living as an ad-man, the trade in which he honed his craft, a puritanical streak within him constantly nagged him not to squander his talents on commercial ephemera. So, aching to write something worthy of comparison with the work he admired, he composed a number of elegantly written screenplays. Unfilmable, alas. Cinema is a collaborative art, and the downside of Oswald's fierce dedication was a stubborn unwillingness to compromise - or as he saw it, distort - his artistic vision. This vision was dearly bought. What he saw when he looked deeply into himself, we do not know. But it brought on a deep depression for which he was still receiving treatment when he died.

If all this suggests a solemn, serious man, that's not how most people remember him. He was a delightful person, thoughtful and generous - he drank very little of his Independent champagne himself - gregarious and as humorous in company as his competition entries might suggest. He enjoyed the good life. He travelled widely, particularly in the US, he ran half-marathons, swam in charity swimathons and played a mean game of tennis. He was a man who made the most of life.

'The Comper's Comper': Oswald and two of his competition entries

'You were invited to write a poem honouring a fruit or a vegetable:'

O pomegranate, pomegranate]

Made in heaven or near as dammit,

Most beauteous fruit upon the planet.

'Twould be gross infamy to can it.

What loon would ever dare to ban it?

O pomegranate, pomegranate]

My ardour's so strong none can fan it]

Ace love token for my bird Janet.

'You were invited to write a radio advertisement for the religion or cult of your choice:'

Twenty-second silence:

'To find out more about becoming a Trappist monk, please call our answerphone on 081-962 0016. Do not speak after the tone.'

(Photograph omitted)