The man who came back from the dead - and sued

Share
Related Topics
YESTERDAY I began telling you the story of Martin Trapp, an expert in the history of American showbiz, who was kept fully employed writing obituaries of, and tributes to, the aged survivors of the golden age of American showbiz. Indeed, his obituaries were so well thought of that he was induced to publish a book composed entirely of the death notices he had written of other people, which sounds ghoulish but is no more so than any biographical encyclopaedia, which after all is no more than a collection of glorified obituaries...

A reader writes: Just spare us the catchpenny philosophy and get on with the story! Yesterday you said that Martin Trapp was going to die in this episode.

That is not quite what I said. What I said was that Martin Trapp became so obsessed with obituaries that he conceived a desire to know what people would say about him after he died. Now, there was one easy way to find out and that was to sneak a look at his obituary in the newspaper offices where he worked. He was an habitue of several obituary offices, and thought he would be able to get access to forthcoming death notices, and see what had been written about him; in which he was wrong, because security is very tight in these places, on the principle that nobody must ever know what is being written about him before he dies.

A reader writes: Of course, Martin Trapp may have been unable to find his obituary because they hadn't written one about him. Maybe they didn't think he was worth obituarising.

Quite possible, but that wouldn't have occurred to Martin Trapp. Everyone who is in the habit of reading and writing obituaries believes deep down that he too is worth having an obituary written of him.

A reader inquires: So he faked his own death?

Well, he thought about it. He toyed with the idea of faking his own disappearance...

A reader asks: Would that have been enough? To disappear? I mean, Lord Lucan disappeared pretty comprehensively, but I have never seen his obituary anywhere.

That was probably because Lord Lucan was a feckless layabout who never did anything interesting or worthwhile. The only thing that Lord Lucan did of note in his life was the very last thing he did which was to disappear before he could be arrested after he had murdered his nanny... No, Martin Trapp decided to fake his own suicide, but before he could decide on a method of suicide which would suggest his death without actually involving a corpse, the matter was taken out of his hands. He was due to fly on a plane to Edinburgh. He missed the flight. The plane crashed. Nobody knew he was not on it. All his friends assumed he had caught the flight, and the airline also assumed that he was on the passenger list. Nobody survived the crash. Ergo, Martin Trapp was dead.

Well, Martin Trapp delayed the announcement of his survival long enough to buy the next day's papers, and sure enough there were several long pieces on him. They paid tribute to his encyclopaedic knowledge of showbiz history, which pleased him, but there were other things which pleased him less well. He was accused by several of his rivals of shameless plagiarism and unoriginality. His private life was raked over ( Martin had been married once, and had then come out as gay and some of the details made racy reading ) and the smell that was left behind by these obituaries was scandalous and sulphurous rather than saintly.

A reader writes: He should have sued them for libel.

And that is exactly what he did! He came back to life and sued the lot of them for libel. He took the view that he was bound to win, and that even if he didn't get substantial damages, he would make history by being the first person to sue an obituary for libel. You cannot libel the dead, you see, but if the dead come back to life, then it's rather different. Now, normally the defence in a libel case is either that the libel is true or fair comment, but in this case all the obituarists pleaded that Martin Trapp was deemed dead at the time and therefore was de jure if not de facto dead, and therefore they were justified in being as frank as an obituary would allow, because it was up to Martin Trapp to reveal that he was alive, which he had failed to do.

A reader writes: And what was the outcome?

Lord Lucan writes: I must warn you, Mr Kington, that I fully intend to sue you for libel for saying earlier on that I was a layabout and murderer and that I never did anything worthwhile in my life.

A solicitor writes: I would advise you, Mr Kington, to say no more on this matter and end the article right here.

Miles Kington writes: Righty ho.

React Now

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

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Members of the House of Lords gather for the state opening of Parliament  

Peer pressure: The nobles in the Lords should know when to go

Jane Merrick
Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s dictator, and the subject of the spoof Sony film  

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Joan Smith
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick