Fond farewell to the genius of Miles Kington

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The Independent Online

The difference between wisdom and knowledge, according to the late, great humorist writer Miles Kington, is that knowledge consists of knowing that tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

Yesterday relatives and friends said their final goodbye to the writer whose elegant, whimsical and humane humour graced The Independent for 21 years, and before that The Times, and Punch magazine. He died this month, aged 66, from cancer of the pancreas.

His widow, Caroline, opened the service in Bath, near his home village of Limpley Stoke, with a warning that it was not going to be a conventional ceremony. There would be no prayers, and no hymns. "I want you to feel free to laugh, and free to cry if you want to."

A few people cried. A much larger number, probably every one of the dozens of mourners, ended up laughing. It was difficult not to, as an old school friend from Scotland, Laurence Blair Oliphant, told the story of the day Kington was roped in to judge a dog show during a Highland Games.

He compensated for his patchy knowledge of dog breeding by dreaming up new categories. Kington awarded a prize for "the most disobedient dog". Another went to "the dog that looked most like Anne Robinson". He had to be persuaded by Caroline not to give first prize to the dog that hadn't won any other prizes.

Mr Oliphant, an engineer, added that he marvelled at how Miles Kington would turn out for The Independent five columns of peerless quality every week, something that also mystified professional journalists.

Joanna Lumley, the actress and a friend for 36 years, said after the service: "He had a matchless way of writing. It was so light. I think he was a genius."

The main contributor to yesterday's funeral service was Kington himself, since most of those who paid tribute to him preferred to use his words rather than their own. His stepdaughter, Isabel Russo, delivered a speech in "Franglais", the mangled cross-channel language Kington made famous. "Merci Miles du bottom de ma coeur," she said.

Terry Jones, formerly of Monty Python, read a long whimsy about 18-year-old Kington being handed a £2,000 bill by his father to cover the cost of his childhood. But Miles beat him down, first by protesting he shouldn't have to bear the full cost of a Halloween pumpkin when its innards had been used to make pumpkin pie for the family.

Simon Kelner, editor-in-chief of The Independent, read out Kington's epic poem on the life of TV presenter Melvyn Bragg. "Lord Bragg of Cumbria by the nine gods he swore/ that the people of England would be ignorant no more." Mr Kelner also relayed a tribute from The Independent proprietor, Sir Anthony O'Reilly, to the man who wrote "with the vivid and consistent wit that could only come from a man born on the island of Ireland".

Kington had toyed with making a video of himself delivering his own funeral speech, which was going to open with the words: "I am sorry I can't be with you."

Instead, the opening page of the order of service yesterday contained the announcement that "Miles Kington is on holiday". Sometimes when this appeared in The Independent it was not quite true. He might be, for example, appearing at the Edinburgh Festival, which was his idea of a break. Nor did he ever write the bestseller he playfully considered writing, modelled on John Diamond's Cowards Get Cancer Too. He protested at any inference that this could be called "cashing in on cancer". As he told Gill Coleridge, his long-serving agent, it was more a case of "making cancer work for its living".

She told the mourners that when she first met him, he was already talking about writing a bestseller, a compilation of humour across the world. "Sixteen years later, he decided that as all the jokes of all the nations were the same, he wasn't going to write it."'

What she wished she had told him, Ms Coleridge said, was that anyone who wrote five columns a week for 21 years, read by thousands of people, was already a bestselling author.