Moreover (with regard to yesterday's obituary notice) . . .

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The Independent Online
YESTERDAY I wrote a short tribute to the late Edwin Vavasour-Smith, chiefly known for adding afterthoughts to other people's obituaries, usually beginning 'JKW writes: May I just add a few words to your excellent notice of . . ?'. Many people, of course, write these afterthoughts and postscripts; what made Vavasour-Smith's different was that they were almost invariably completely fabricated.

Just how highly respected his artistry was is shown by the number of further tributes and anecdotes about Edwin which have flooded into the office since I penned my tribute, and I am glad today to print a few of them.

HLM writes: 'When I was the obituary editor of one of Fleet Street's finest national newspapers I often crossed swords with Vavasour-Smith, or May-I-Just as we came to know him, after his favourite opening words. I soon realised that some of afterthoughts we received were from his hands, as they were patently so unlikely as not have come from anywhere else. I remember on one occasion he sent an afterthought on Lord Rosburgh, which we printed in good faith. It said that Lord Rosburgh had taken a great interest in the ballet and had even set a good many young female dancers on the road to success. This seemed harmless enough to me, so we published it. What we didn't know was that Lord Rosburgh in his youth had made a complete fool of himself over one or two members of the corps de ballet, creating scandals which had only with difficulty been hushed up. Unwittingly we reopened a good many wounds that day.

'I also remember an occasion on which we received an afterthought which I thought immediately was the work of Edwin Vavasour-Smith. We had just published the quite long obituary of some top Japanese businessman of whom I had never heard - Tajimoto was his name, I think - and we received a note saying that we should have mentioned Mr Tajimoto's work in introducing cricket to the Japanese public. Apparently he was an ardent fan and also invented a cricket stump made out of rice papier-mache which shattered when the ball hit it, thus ending all disputes with the umpire. I smelt a rat here and investigated Mr Tajimoto's life further. To my chagrin, I found that not only had Vavasour-Smith written the afterthought - he had also written the original obituary, for there was no such person as Tajimoto at all] I always respected him for that.'

AK writes: 'At one time I knew Vavasour-Smith well, as we were in the Army together and he had declared his intention of going into civvy street to write fake obituary notes, which were to be either as boring as possible or as unlikely. I happened to be reading the obituary column of the Telegraph at the time, and I pointed one such afterthought which said: 'Although Lord Rivers was too modest to draw attention it himself, I am sure his passing should not be unmarked by reference to his invention the self-righting soap-dish . . . .' There followed five paragraphs of description of this invention. 'If you can write something as boring and as unlikely as that, Vavvy, and get it in the papers, I shall think you are a genius.' He smiled and said: 'Dear boy, I did write that. Not only that, but I have placed it in several different papers attached to several different deceased notables. When the history of the self-righting soap dish comes to be written, the historian responsible will have a hard furrow to plough . . . .'

Mrs BVM writes: 'As an old friend of Edwin Vavasour- Smith, I once asked what, if anything, he wanted to be said about him in his obituary. 'Anything but the truth, my dear,' he told me. 'There is nothing like the truth to kill an obituary. In their lifetimes there is nothing like gossip and tittle-tattle to keep people interesting. Why should it be any different when they are dead?' What particular piece of gossip, I asked him, would he like attached to his memory? 'I would like it to be known,' he said, 'that I had once been disqualified from an Olympic event for some form of cheating.'

'However, this idea must have been too attractive for him to ignore, because after our conversation I began to notice a spate of afterthoughts to famous people's obituaries saying they had been disqualified from various Olympic events. One of them was disqualified for refusing to take a sex test. Two or three were supposed to have been disqualified for insisting on taking a sex test. All were the work of Edwin.

'Shortly before his death, I taxed him with this, and said that there were no more afterthoughts possible. He winked and said: 'Why not say that in my youth I failed an Olympic drug test, after copious amounts of cocaine and Ecstasy were found in my locker?' '

Miles Kington writes: 'Keep those tributes rolling in]'

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