Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Hugh Massingberd and Daily Telegraph obituaries

By common consent the finest obituaries are those that appear in the Daily Telegraph. And the man who made the paper's obituaries what they are today was Hugh Massingberd.

He died on Christmas Day aged only 60, so the Telegraph carried his own obituary:

Before his arrival at the Telegraph, obituaries had been regarded as an inferior branch of News, and afforded minimal space.

As far back as 1969, however, Massingberd had discerned the immense potential that lay in this disregarded cranny of journalism.

The moment of illumination had come when he went to see Roy Dotrice's rendering of John Aubrey's Brief Lives at the Criterion Theatre.

Picking up a dusty tome, Dotrice/Aubrey read out a dreary entry about a barrister (Recorder of this, Bencher of that, and so on). Suddenly he snapped shut the volume with a "Tchah!" and turned to the audience: "He got more by his prick than his practice."

There and then, Massingberd later wrote, "I determined to dedicate myself to chronicling what people were really like through informal anecdote, description and character sketch." Laughter, he added, would be by no means out of place.

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