A heart-warming story from the golden age of irritating interruptions

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The Independent Online
I BRING YOU a story today which is very modern in its flavour but very traditional in its lessons, a story which is bang up to date yet timeless, a story which is for now yet for all time, post-modernist yet old-fashioned...

A reader writes: Why don't you just tell us the story and let us make up our own mind about all that?

Well, perhaps I will, at that. The story I am about to relate concerns a man called Martin Trapp, who was an expert on showbiz history. You know how these days it has became very fashionable to be an expert on showbiz history without actually being a showbiz person?

A reader writes: Is that a real question or a rhetorical one? Do you want us to answer it, or just to accept it as a trick of style?

No, it's just a trick of style, or a stylistic device, as I would prefer to call it. The fact of the matter is that we have now come to look back on the golden era of showbiz, especially American showbiz, as a, well, a golden era, and therefore the era of George and Ira Gershwin, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee, the Boswell Sisters and the Marx Brothers, has attracted copious historians who have dubbed the whole showbiz world as...

A reader suggests: The Land of Hope and Crosby?

Very nice. I like that. I'll remember that and maybe use it. Now, will you shut up?

A reader writes: No.

This showbiz world, which has become known as the Golden Age of Showbiz, has attracted its own gang of chroniclers and experts. To be an expert on the history of musicals might once upon a time have been considered a sign of effeminacy in a man. Nowadays it is considered almost as respectable as being a chef or a hairdresser. You get people who are experts on the history not just of musicals, but of animated cartoons, of comedy scriptwriting, of film musicals, of songwriting, of silent films and...

A reader interrupts: Yes, yes, we get the point. Benny Green, Mark Steyn, Gerald Kaufman, Sheridan Morley and so on. None of them can sing a note but they can all tell you which song comes from which musical.

Don't forget Larry Adler. Larry Adler not only knows all those things but he was there as well.

A reader contributes: And George Gershwin was usually on hand to say, "Only you could have said that, Larry!"

Be that as it may, there was a man called Martin Trapp who was one of the best all-round historians of the era. He had written a life of Harold Arlen, done a history of Jack Benny and compiled a glossary of musicals which had never made it to Broadway. He was in short a walking encyclopaedia and a pain in the neck to sit beside at mealtime. He was also much in demand on places like Kaleidoscope...

A reader starts losing his nerve: For God's sake get on with it! We're over halfway through and you haven't started the story yet!

But most of all Martin Trapp was in demand for obituaries and death notices. Whenever a survivor from the golden age of showbiz died, Martin Trapp could be called on to supply a glowing tribute, a reasonable but radiant resume, a heartfelt hymn of praise for someone whose like we shall not see again, a last icon from the great days of whatever it was. Martin's trade was in other people's demise.

A reader starts getting pedantic: Shouldn't that be "demises"?

No. Well, maybe it should be, but who cares? In any case, Martin Trapp may never have known the golden age of showbiz personally, any more than A L Rowse had personally known Shakespeare's epoch or... or...

A reader tries to help out: ...Or Shakespeare had known A L Rowse's times?

Quite so. But Martin Trapp did at least live in a golden age of obituaries. And one day he became possessed by a tremendous desire to know what people would say about him when he died. He longed to know what HIS obituary would look like.

A reader writes: But surely he could only know that if he died?

Yes, indeed. Or, of course, if he faked his own death.

A reader writes: And did he?

Find out tomorrow. And try to keep quiet next time.