Miles Kington: Still missed, five years on

On the anniversary of his death, our writer, who had the privilege of editing Kington's columns for many years, reflects on his time at The Independent

Share

Today is the fifth anniversary of the death of Miles Kington - the humourist, if that is not too inadequate a word for him, who wrote a daily column in The Independent for more than 20 years.

As far as I know, journalism has never had the equivalent of Bill Frindall, the great cricket statistician. More’s the pity because it would be nice to know exactly how many columns Miles wrote. It would have been about 5,000 for The Independent, closer to 10,000 if you include his work for other titles. If that didn’t make him the most prolific columnist in newspaper history, I can’t think who might have exceeded him. (I don’t include diary columns such as Dempster in the Daily Mail).

Quantity was one thing, quality quite another. And the quality of Miles’s columns never wavered. They say that when it looks easiest that’s when you’re working hardest, but maybe those pieces really did come to Miles as easily as it looked.

What did Miles write about? Everything and nothing. Especially nothing. Writing about nothing – or almost nothing – was I think where his real genius lay. He wrote about words, about motorway service stations, about being out and about on his bicycle. He was a spoof agony uncle. He noticed things no one else noticed. He wrote wonderful “list” columns, like the one about how there are always two types of people.

I was one of those on the comment desk who dealt with Miles’s copy, and the last time I spoke to him was three days before he died. It was a Sunday, about six in the evening. The pages were due off in an hour, and he still hadn’t filed. For Miles, this was unheard of. His stuff was usually in by mid-afternoon. Day in, day out, he was 100 per cent reliable, and 100 per cent brilliant. An editor’s dream, in other words.

“Nearly there, so sorry, been a bit delayed.” He sounded terrible – bad flu, I thought – and I told him he mustn’t worry about filing the next day. “Oh no, you’ll get the piece, it’ll be fine.”

Fifteen minutes later, Miles’s copy arrived. It did so the next day, and the day after that. Then it stopped. Miles was dead. He was only 66.

Miles, we learnt, had pancreatic cancer, but he’d kept everyone at The Independent completely in the dark about it. If he had been in the habit of coming into the office, he wouldn’t have been able to hide the truth from us. But he lived in Somerset, and London was anathema to him, as regular readers of his column knew all too well.

As for the idea of writing about dying, as other columnists have done – well, forget it. Though if he’d wanted, I daresay Miles could have been as funny about that as he was about everything else. His last column, composed within 36 hours of his death, was a typically Kingtonian piece of nonsense in which he managed jokes about, among other things, Didier Drogba, the spelling of Gstaad, and not wearing a blue shirt.

Miles joined The Independent in March 1987, six months after the paper launched, bringing to us the column that he been writing for some years for The Times. He was one of dozens of Times people who made the switch – a reaction to the Murdoch title’s move to Wapping in early 1986, and the undoubted prospects enjoyed by the fledgling Independent. We became his last long home, the place you could always find Miles when he wasn't appearing on the radio, or playing in his jazz band Instant Sunshine, or producing another volume of Franglais.

The care Miles took over his pieces was matched only by the geniality of his dealings with the desk. No writer was more important to the paper – yet none showed less inclination to self-importance. The little notes Miles wrote at the top of his copy were a delight in themselves. On Boxing Day one year, not knowing who was chief-subbing, he wrote: “Dear Recipient - Congratulations! It's a bonny bouncing braw article, born on Dec 26, weighing in at about 736 words. All yours to name and launch.”

Here’s another note: “Today’s talking point is Stephane Grappelli and the piano. I am wagering that nobody else in the paper has bothered to tackle this burning topic.”

Years ago, when I was sports editor of The Independent on Sunday, I commissioned Miles to write a piece about Wrexham FC – the team he had supported as a boy and which he retained an abiding affection for. To my horror, when the piece went in, we managed to byline him Miles Kingston. I wrote to him and apologised, and got a letter back that was so funny and so forgiving that I decided the cock-up had been worth it. Miles told me how he had just had to renew his passport and that it had come back made out to MB Kingston. I was, he assured me, in good company.

As Independent readers knew, there was no one's company quite like Miles Kington's.

Lots of Miles’s columns are here. They more than stand the test of time.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: A widow’s tale with an unexpected twist

John Rentoul
 

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss