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Amol Rajan: I'm hacked off by being a hack with a hacking cough


In the age of instant news, history is easily forgotten.

Those of us paid to keep up with Twitter, news feeds, and live blogs are thus deprived of the chance to read both about grand events long ago, and the lives of those who experienced them.

Three years ago, I decided upon a strategy to counter this difficulty. The first thing I now read in the papers each morning is the Obituaries section of The Independent. That newspaper has long been established as the producer of the best obituaries in Fleet Street, but under the quizzical and erudite editorship of Chris Maume has pulled even further away from its rivals. For example, this week he produced one of the finest sentences I have ever seen in print.

Under each obituary is a sub-headline – sometimes called the H2 or standfirst – which pithily describes the contribution of the deceased to history. I have often thought writing this sub-headline one of the heaviest burdens a journalist can have, much heavier than writing a front-page headline, for instance, because the dead cannot answer back.

Chris and his ilk are tasked with defining how people are remembered. And this week, above a splendid picture of Francis King wearing a panama, his obituary declared: "Novelist and man of letters who specialised in depicting people thrown together but longing to break free".

Has Fleet Street ever produced a more charming and thoughtful sentence of praise? Perhaps not. The better question is: what would yours be? I have always been enamoured of how VR Krishna Iyer, one of India's most senior judges, described K Kamaraj, the great Tamil reformer, "a common man's man with uncommon common sense". I know that's fabulously vain, but then I am a hack at heart.


Hacking latest: there's not a dry cough in sight. As explosives shake the very foundations of Rupert Murdoch's business, and David Cameron is enveloped in the debris, I am detained by the much more significant issue of variants of cough. I thought there were only two: chesty and dry (whooping being a separate, more serious problem with the real name Pertussis). Imagine my surprise, then, to hear not one or two but six people this week refer to their "hacking cough". I had never heard the phrase. Is this an abuse of language, or am I just antediluvian? More crucially, have I a right to be hacked off about it?


This, I suppose, is the week of all weeks to confess that I have an irrepressible crush on Rebekah Brooks. I can trace its origins very precisely. In April last year, I found myself approaching the Foreign Desk about some trivial matter. A flash of light momentarily blinded me, and when I came to I deciphered in the blur the most extraordinary, flame-haired vixen I have ever seen, hovercrafting towards me. Her voice was exquisitely mellifluous. She was in our office with James Murdoch, to upbraid our Editor for having the temerity to question Rupert Murdoch's power.

Alas, her good fortune in having sexy hair has this week helped to maintain her presence on the front pages, because red comes out so well in colour photos. And knowing what we now know about her, while thinking of hundreds of journalists jobless on Monday, I'm convinced Murdoch has ditched the wrong red-top.


I was pleased to see Chris Huhne and his partner, Carina Trimingham, at a party on Wednesday night. For all the fuss over his driving record, he is easily one of the most impressive MPs around. And, in the words of Nick Clegg, say what you like about Huhne, but no politician is better at getting his points across.