A missed opportunity

There were occasions when Philip straightforwardly set out to be rude; because he could. When he met the Labour MP Parmjit Dhanda in 2002, he asked him what he had done before entering parliament. He had been a student and a trade union official, he replied. “You didn’t do anything then,” Philip said.

True, but, when Dhanda tried to turn the tables and ask, well, what did you do before you became the consort?

“Oh, I fought in the Second World War.”

Not including that part is indeed a missed opportunity.

Not a bad ending

In the end, it happened exactly as the Iron Duke would have wanted it – as ever, with his beloved wife by his side.

Determined to die at home rather than in hospital, Prince Philip was able to pass away “peacefully” at Windsor Castle, where he was Ranger for more than half a century, very much on his own terms.

As his frail condition worsened overnight on Thursday, with insiders warning that he was “gravely ill”, any talk of whisking the 99-year-old back to hospital was quickly dismissed by the Queen.

According to one well-placed source: “He spent most of the four weeks he was in hospital trying to get home. They operated on his heart in a bid to give him a little longer, maybe with the 100th birthday in mind. But he didn’t really care about that. He just wanted to be back in his own bed. There is no way he would have wanted to die in hospital.”

Aged 99, in your own bed, in your own palace, with wife by your side?

There are worse endings…..


Hans Küng obituary
Rebellious and controversial theologian censured by Pope John Paul II and regarded as the enfant terrible of Roman Catholicism


An inveterate rattler of cages, Hans Küng spent more than half a century calling for a grass-roots revolution in the Catholic Church. Even his last book, Can We Save the Catholic Church? (2013) published when Küng was 85, exhorted the faithful to rebel against papal authority.

Right about now he’ll be finding out who was right then….

It is to giggles

Hal Holbrook obituary
Actor best known for his acclaimed portrayal of Mark Twain and a memorable turn as Deep Throat in All the President’s Men

Which is what all the obits – I’ve seen anyway – say. And they all use piccies from the Clint Eastwood movie, one of the Dirty Harry series. In the Telegraph obit they don’t even mention he was in the movie while still using that pic.

I’m really unkind here

But there’s something funny about this:

but at the time of her death was in Athens. Transgressive, her record label, said: “True to her spirituality she had climbed up to watch the full moon and accidentally slipped and fell.”

Well, yes

King was an inveterate better on horses. The charges were eventually dropped, but he spent several years scraping a living as a freelance writer and doing public relations work for a race track. In 1972, nearly destitute, he put his last few dollars on a horse at 70-1 and won $11,000.

To make $11 k at 70 to 1 you’ve got to bet about $160. Which, back then, was a week’s wages or so. Inveterate is one way to describe that.

You can see the joke forming

They often joined him at sea, where Lucy taught passengers to hold on to their champagne during heavy seas and Perkins, who kept his faith, led interdenominational Sunday services for passengers and crew.

Times obit writers can be very good indeed but apparently claiming his favourite hymn was “For those in peril on the sea” was a step too far.

Well, OK, that’s the joke I would have tried to smuggle in there which is probably why I don’t get to write Times obits…..

Dear God, did he really say this?

Soon afterwards he met Susan Senior, daughter of a director of the Cunard shipping line and granddaughter of Lord Joicey, a wealthy Northumbrian coal-owner. “I probably met her at a party,” he told an interviewer. “As long as you had a dinner jacket and a pair of white tails you had a good time in those days. There were a lot of parties and a lot of girls around.”

White tails? What was he, a band leader?

Now begins the more complex task. What is it that the Times obituary writer has managed to mis-transcribe?

I think it’s “white tie tails” that is meant, such tails, of course, being black.

The other explanation is that I’m too far out of that world – which I am – and so have missed that the with it drop the word tie in the phrase.

This, I like

There’s an old story – apocryphal, of course – that a guest at a State Banquet takes a drink out of his fingerbowl. So Brenda does too. You know, just to not show him up.

Margaret Tebbit, paralysed by the IRA bombing:

At a banquet at Buckingham Palace, Margaret, struggling with a salad, asked a member of the Royal Household whether he minded if she ate with her fingers. “Not at all,” came the reply, and he quickly imitated her.

And I think better of the One Eyed Viking for this too:

Margaret never forgot a kindness, whether that was Gordon Brown bringing food, wine and guests to her side at No 10 when her wheelchair failed to fit into the lift,

Great stuff

Yeager had met Glennis before leaving the US for Europe. He had been tasked with organising a dance for his fellow flyers in a gym in Oroville, California, and dumped the task in the lap of a “very pretty brunette” he came across sitting in a small office next door to the gym. His chat-up line proved decisive.

“You expect me to whip up a dance and find thirty girls in three hours?” said the exasperated 18-year old girl.

“No, you’ll only need to find 29 because I want to take you.”

The line worked and they were a staunch couple through thick and thin until her death from cancer in 1990.

It’s the details of the regulations that matter

On VJ Day he was based in Sydney and as “officer of the day” instructed not to leave the base. Disappointed at being unable to join in the celebrations, he discovered, on perusing the regulations, that part of his duty as “officer of the day” was to investigate any “disturbances in town”. He set off to do just that, and so briefly experienced some of the jubilation of the hard-won victory. His displeased commanding officer, hearing this explanation, said: “And I suppose when you get back to civvy street, you’ll be a bloody lawyer.” Which is what he did.

Now that is a damn good comment

There was more misery when the family was bombed during the Blitz. “Our house had a direct hit and it took four and a half hours to dig us out,” he recalled. “My mother was crying. I remember the skies were red with fire and my mother said to my father, ‘We’ve lost everything.’ He said, ‘No, I’ve just done a head count. We’ve got everything we’ll ever need’.”

Is this right?

A cartoon always hung in the study of Jonathan Sacks. It showed him with two heads, one wearing his rabbinical barretta-type hat, the other the small skullcap or “kippa” that he wore when he was not conducting services.

Barretta is a type of hat? Not berretta?

Reading obituaries

As time passes on I find myself reading the obituaries, something I never did do a couple of decades back. I’m sure there’s an explanation for that.

But one bit that amuses/puzzles. The number of people who leave comments “RIP” underneath an obit. I mean, yes, OK, it’s that announcement of the life passed and so on so RIP seems reasonable enough. But on the other hand, well, it’s a damn obituary. RIP seems a bit superfluous.


In 1991 Geller sued Randi and his group for $15 million for slander after Randi told the International Herald tribune that Geller fooled quite reputable people with the sort of cheap tricks that used to be found on the back of cereal boxes. The judge threw the case out when Randi produced in court a cereal box with instructions for performing the spoon-bending trick.

Had some interactions with Randi 15 years back. Good man who had a good run.

James Randi obituary
Stage magician and escapologist who performed as “The Amazing Randi” and who devoted himself to debunking psychics

Well, yes, but……

Davis might have fared better if he had not rejected a young hopeful named Reg Dwight, who auditioned to replace Winwood.

The impression I get is that Reg auditioned for everyone and everything back then. Undoubted skill and talent etc but no one was really quite sure where it was going to fit in….

Yes, that’s a comfort to take into the night

What pleased him the most was the knowledge that “somewhere in the world tonight, some mum or dad is going to be reaching down a copy of a book that I wrote and reading it to the most precious thing they have in the world. For writers that’s the holy grail. And that gives me enormous pleasure.”

Sam McBratney, children’s author, was born on March 1, 1943. He died after a long illness on September 18, 2020, aged 77