Obituary: Paul Oswald

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)

Suggested Topics
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

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
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