Obituary: Robert Tewdwr Moss

Philip Hoare
Tuesday 27 August 1996 23:02 BST

Robert Tewdwr Moss was a consummate journalist who would appreciate the finer details of his own obituary. Like some ghost of the fin de siecle past, he moved through literary, journalistic and cafe society, clad in velvet and brocade, surreptitiously passing on a morsel of gossip here, imparting some arcane piece of knowledge there.

John Walsh, who employed him on his long stint as diarist on the Sunday Times books section, recalls him "cooing into one's ear as one sat at the computer terminal . . . surrounded by a volcanic cloud of Parma violets".

Tewdwr Moss's charming ways talked him into all manner of journalistic coups. He recently managed to persuade the Royal Academy to allow him unprecedented access to their Summer Show adjudication for a Telegraph piece. Occasionally his intrepid fearlessness and love of gossip led him into trouble: indiscreet pieces on the Waldegraves and the St Germains in Tatler caused certain furore.

Such qualities inform his travel book, Cleopatra's Wedding Present: travels in Syria, which Tewdwr Moss was revising for February publication by Fourth Estate the night before he died. Christopher Potter, his editor, was delighted with the book, "full of life . . . written just as he told his anecdotes . . . of stories and scrapes." Indeed, he had just received proofs of the dust jacket when I last met him, at his friend the publisher Robin Baird-Smith's birthday party, at the Traveller's Club last month.

It was Tewdwr Moss's natural environment: a roomful of personalities, each of whose Achilles' heels he had long ago logged for future reference, and through whom he swam slyly, his neck unseasonally swathed in velvet, his close friend and muse Afsaneh Wain at his side.

He had a certain magnetism for glamorous women: another friend at one time was the actress Joely Richardson, while at the other end of the age scale (he was no upholder of ageism), he often took friends to visit his confidante Elaine Robson-Scott, to hear tales of Christopher Isherwood.

It was through the Iranian-born Mrs Wain that Tewdwr Moss acquired his passion for the Middle East, on which subject he became extraordinarily knowledgeable. He had already gained a First in English from Bedford College, London, after which he modelled at St Martin's and taught Italian at a Belsize Park crammer (he had himself been educated at a girls' boarding school): "I didn't know a word, and had to mug it up on the number 13 bus en route."

His writing career had up until then consisted of contributions to the quarterly magazine West Africa. In 1988 he wrote (on yellow notepaper) to the editor at Woman's Journal, seeking employment.

Victor Oliver and his deputy editor, Christie Hickman, recall Tewdwr Moss's first entrance into the IPC offices: a whiff of trademark carnation, then Robert himself, "in a greenish suit, wing collars and flowery bow tie", his hair in a pony-tail, looking "extremely beautiful". He was much too extraordinary to write under mundane "Robert Moss", declared Oliver, and after a trawl through the Plantaganets, his new byline was born. Christie Hickman praised his "ear for the bizarre": he once conducted a vox pop on the contents of women's handbags, and returned from an interview with Roy Strong with a piece dwelling inordinately on the man's cats (no greater lobbyist for the Cat Protection League than Tewdwr Moss, his coat tails hung with moggies' hairs).

Sacked from Woman's Journal - his style too byzantine for the new regime - Tewdwr-Moss worked his way through DX, the Express magazine, to the Evening Standard's "Londoner's Diary", a post in which he excelled, bribing disgruntled sources with trips to the opera. His stint on The People with Jane Preston redefined the tabloid diary as paid leisure. More serious pieces for the Sunday Times and the Independent were characteristic: Victor Oliver recalls a profile of Beryl Bainbridge as quintessential Tewdwr Moss, "arch, precise and hysterical".

Tewdwr Moss was naturally attracted to colourful personalities. "He had all these freaks in love with him," recalls Oliver, "and when he wrote about family scandals he found himself pursued by men and women and mad countesses". In between jobs, he "really struggled - he was penniless quite often".

Indeed, Oliver discerned a deep streak of melancholia in his life latterly: "He was very bleak about his lifestyle". Tewdwr Moss's turbulent and adventurous emotional life had become self- destructive, and it was often left to his long- suffering landlady, Leonora, to get him out of scrapes.

His final scrape came last Saturday. The exact circumstances of his death have yet to be ascertained, but he was found bound and gagged in his Paddington flat, having choked to death. His flat had been ransacked, and the word processor containing his final revision of Cleopatra's Wedding Present taken.

It is an undeservedly ugly end to an elegant life, and no one who knew Robert Tewdwr Moss will entertain any memory other than that of a handsome, willowy young man with a quizzical, innocent look on his face as he told you something so louche, surreal, and hilarious that you had to laugh out loud. He was kind, generous and witty, and London will be duller for the lack of him.

Philip Hoare

Robert (Tewdwr) Moss, writer: born Congleton, Cheshire 29 December 1961; died London 24 August 1996.

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