Obituary: Oscar Moore

Justine Picardie
Tuesday 17 September 1996 23:02

If ever a boy was aptly named, it was Oscar Moore: he was handsome, bright, witty and gay; an iconic cult figure to his generation at Cambridge, and then to the readers of his novel and journalism. He wrote more; danced more; ate more; drank more; loved more than anyone else I know. One of the many tragedies of his death at 36 is that he did not have more time to finish his second novel.

His first, the story of a clever young man who grows up gay in suburbia and eventually contracts Aids after working as a part-time prostitute, was published in 1991 to exceptionally good reviews. "A Matter of Life and Sex shows a modern kind of rake's progress," wrote Marina Warner. "It is a profoundly fatalistic parable for the end of the millennium." Adam Mars-Jones, meanwhile, described him as "an Orton of the Aids era".

Moore was born in Barnet, north London, the second of three children. His father was a technical author; his Dutch mother was a housewife. The family attended Quaker meetings, which may go some way to explaiing Moore's later capacity for restraint and hard work. He had a steely, fierce self- discipline which enabled him to rise at six every morning to write, even if he had been partying until late the night before; and indeed, which kept him working even when he was almost blind and suffering terribly from the effects of the HIV virus.

He was educated at Haberdashers' Aske's School for Boys in Hertfordshire, where his academic brilliance was, characteristically, mixed with an occasional propensity for bad behaviour (on one occasion he set fire to the sixth form common room). Both at school and later at Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he read English, he became a magnet for a large group of friends and admirers. Men and women alike fell in love with Oscar - and, though he was clearly homosexual, he had an adoring group of female friends, including the actresses Emma Thompson and Imogen Stubbs.

His own talent for drama emerged at university, where he appeared in many plays, and wrote a number of his own. One, a deft series of sketches entitled Happy, Happy, successfully transferred to the Edinburgh Festival. It was therefore a natural move, after he graduated from Cambridge in 1982, for Moore to start working as a theatre critic for Time Out and Plays and Players magazine. This career soon subsumed his occasional work for a male escort agency; but his experiences in that seedy world provided Moore with a wealth of material for his own, increasingly mature writing - and for the stories with which he regaled his friends. (On one occasion, he found that he had been hired for the evening as a birthday present for the television presenter Russell Harty.)

Yet his practical, business-like side contined to play a part in an otherwise flamboyant life. An early interest in film grew to encompass an encyclopaedic knowledge of the industry, and in the mid-Eighties he became the editor of the Business of Film magazine. In 1990, he was recruited as deputy editor of Screen International and, a year later, he was made editor. It is a testament to his capacity for hard work that he contined as editor- in-chief of the magazine right up until his death.

But it was, poignantly, his own ill-health that drove Moore to create his best work: a column for the Guardian entitled "PWA (Person With Aids)", which he wrote for the last three years of his life. In it, with unflinching honesty and a wry, black humour, he charted his physical descent.

What is perhaps most remarkable about this short, brave life is that he had HIV for more than a third of it; 13 years - his entire working career - spent writing despite (and also partly because of) ill-health and anguish. Oscar Moore had a fierce will to live - which surely kept him alive long after many of his peers had died of Aids - but he never avoided contemplating his death. In fact, he wrote about it in the final scenes of his novel. Hugo, the hero, has lost the sight in one eye and is losing it in the other: just as Moore was to do five years after imagining this conclusion.

"He wanted to be alone. He had always hated saying goodbye. How much better to just leave a note and slip away. Slip into the night . . . He was tired of this now. So tired. He spent less and less time awake. But all the time he dreamed his own death."

Oscar Michael Moore, writer and journalist: born London 23 March 1960; died London 12 September 1996.

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