Archive for the ‘Obituaries & In Memoriam’ Category

Margaret Hilda Thatcher (13 October 1925 – 8 April 2013)

April 9, 2013

A staff blogger, writing in The New Statesman just over four years ago came close to writing, a near perfect summary of what I believe Margaret Thatcher’s  legacy to be.

 Margaret Thatcher: still guilty after all these years

 It is 30 years since Margaret Thatcher entered No 10, setting in motion a revolution that would destroy the quasi-socialist political consensus of the postwar decades and, after much strife, turn Britain into the country it is today: riven, atomised, debt-stricken, hugely unequal, its prosperity excessively dependent on financial services, its public spaces degraded, and its towns, at least at night, the preserve of the binge drinker and the brawler.

Many of us may have grown more wealthy during the Thatcher and the New Labour years but, somehow, we seem as a society more spiritually bereft, more restless, unhappier even. This is not to deny that Britain, at the end of the 1970s, was dismal. We had a failing Labour government, which had already begun to experiment with monetarism and to cut public spending; a union movement that had become too complacent and too powerful, a huge obstacle to reform; a punitive taxation system that served as a disincentive to enterprise; a wider culture that was largely racist, homophobic and misogynistic. The political and social cultural consensus had to be broken, one way or another. And, in retrospect, the necessary transformation, or counter-revolution, could only have come from the right. The Labour Party was too exhausted, and soon, irresponsibly, it would split in defeat and self-hatred, opening the way for 18 years of Conservative rule.

Yet how brutal and destructive that counter-revolution proved to be, as whole communities were destroyed, especially in the industrial heartlands of northern England, Wales and Scotland, communities that have not recovered to this day. And how unbending was the doctrine that came to be known as Thatcherism.

Thatcherism, as our columnist Martin Jacques reminds us on page 10, was akin to a Bolshevik movement: a group of ideologues emerged from the margins to seize control of the very centre and effect radical change. The path was fixed. There could be no turning back. All opposition had to be crushed. The human casualties were as necessary as they were inevitable. Mrs Thatcher may have purported to believe in the High Tory, Burkean values of tradition, organic hierarchy and the accumulated wisdom of past generations, but she was no pragmatist or gradualist. “Economics are the method,” she said; “the object is to change the soul.” No Marxist would have disagreed.

And Mrs Thatcher did change the soul – of the country, of its people and of the Labour Party. New Labour was as much her creation as it was Tony Blair’s and Gordon Brown’s. Today, her shadow still looms large over British politics: it is to the fury of at least 125 Labour MPs that one of her most lasting legacies – that of privatisation – is now threatening the Post Office. Remarkably, on its return to power, not only did New Labour refuse to reverse any of the utility privatisations, it extended them with the selling of air-traffic control.

Mrs Thatcher herself was a moralist. She believed in probity, thrift, personal responsibility, the family. At the beginning of her premiership she spoke of the need to bring harmony where there was discord and of the need to heal. At the end of her premiership, however, after three general election victories and 11 years in power, she had created, with bloodshed and war, a thin-spun, debased consumer society, the engines of which were vacuous acquisition and an obsession with celebrity. That remains the case today.

Yet we should never forget that Mrs Thatcher was adored by millions, not least because of her resolution and courage. She was a conviction politician; you knew what she believed in and, because of this, she was trusted. She demonstrated that ultimate power could be gender-neutral. And encouraging working people to buy their own council homes was hugely popular, as was her brand of English nationalism.

A theme of this special issue of the New Statesman is forgiveness. Writing on page 12, Oona King asks, rhetorically, if she can forgive Mrs Thatcher for all that she did and said. For Paul Routledge, whose article begins on page 26, there is no such self-questioning. There is only certainty – Thatcher is, and always will be, the unforgiven.

Our view is more nuanced. We recognise that the Labour Party was defeated at the end of the 1970s and that a social transformation was necessary. Our final verdict, however, must be this: Margaret Thatcher is guilty as charged

 As long as her shadow looms over British Politics – and it does and will for some time to come – we must let that verdict stand.


Peter Porter (1929-2010)

May 14, 2010


© Image by Richard H Smith

Clive James pays tribute to his friend the poet Peter Porter (1929-2010) in an obituary that appears in the current Times Literary Supplement

Rita Keane (1923-2009) R.I.P. 2

July 1, 2009

A tribute to Rita in the Irish language, the only one I have seen, from An Druma Mór (The Big Drum) news service. Even though it’s not especially original, I thought, because it’s the only one I have seen in Irish, it worth including here.

Tá ómós á gcarnadh do Rita Keane, duine de mhórcheoltóirí traidisiúnta na tíre le fada an lá, a cailleadh inné in aois 86 bliain.

Bhí cónaí uirthi in oirthear na Gaillimhe.

Bhí an ceol sa dúchas ag muintir Keane agus bhí Rita is a deirfiúr Sarah ar na baill den teaghlach a bhí i ceilí band clúiteach mhuintir Keane a tháinig faoi aird an phobail ó na 1950í ar aghaidh. Bhí clú agus cáil ar an albam a chuir Rita agus Sarah le chéile in 1968, Once I Loved, bailiúchán d’amhráin i nGaeilge agus i mBéarla.

B’aintín le Dolores agus Seán Keane í Rita.

3 bliain ó shin bronnadh Gradam Ceoil TG4 ar Rita agus ar Sarah.

Dúirt Ciarán Mac Mathúna gur mór an chaill don phobal Fodhlach bás Rita agus go ndearna sise agus a clann eachtaí chun an ceol traidisiúnta a choinneáil beo an t-am a ba laige é.

Rough translation

Honour is due to Rita Keane, a mainstay of traditional music for a very long time, who died at the age of 86.

She lived in east Galway.

She was a member of the Keane family ceile band in the fifties,  and in 1968 she and Sarah recorded an album Once I Loved, on which there were tracks both in Irish and English

That three years ago she and her sister were awarded Gradam Ceol TG4 (an award that the Irish Gaelic language broadcaster gives to honour contributions to music)

She was an aunt of Dolores and Seán Keane. (popular Irish folk singers) 

The broadcaster Ciarán Mac Mathúna acknowledged the great service she and her family’s had given inkeeping the music alive at a time when it was in danger of dying out

Rita Keane (1923-2009) R.I.P.

June 30, 2009

I wish that my great enthusiasm for the art of Irish traditional singing were matched my by an ability to talk knowledgably about the genre and its practitioners. If it were, then I’d still not be waiting to see in print a considered obituary for the great Irish singer Rita Keane who died in the early hours of Monday morning. I’d be writing it myself.

 In the meantime, and until something better comes along here is how The Irish Times has marked the passing of this remarkable singer.

 RITA KEANE, an internationally acclaimed traditional singer and member of one of Galway’s best-known musical families, has died. She was 86.

Ms Keane, an aunt of singers Seán and Dolores Keane, was regarded as one of the most influential traditional singers of the past half century or more.

Three years ago Rita, along with her older sister Sarah, were awarded the TG4 Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of their outstanding contribution to traditional music and song.

Sarah Keane continues to live in Galway.

Their careers began more than 60 years ago in a céilí band which involved the wider Keane family.

The pair came to national and, later, international prominence through their highly acclaimed album, Once I Loved, a collection of songs in Irish and English recorded in 1968.

It took almost 20 years before their second collection of songs was released in the mid-1980s, At the Setting of the Sun.

Several well-known musicians and singers have paid tribute to the Keane sisters for having a major influence on them, including Paddy Maloney of the Chieftains.

Natasha Richardson (1963-2009)

March 19, 2009

Stephanie Zacharek has written a good early obituary in today’s newsletter


Remembering Natasha Richardson, 1963-2009

A tribute to the talented actress, whose unpretentious presence perhaps masked how good she really was.

By Stephanie Zacharek

March 19, 2009 | You don’t have to be a celebrity-obsessed culture vulture, or a movie critic, to be upset and saddened by the death of Natasha Richardson, who on Monday suffered a seemingly minor skiing accident just outside of Montreal and died on Wednesday in a New York hospital at the age of 45. The story is compelling for lots of reasons, not least because it reminds us of the always present possibility that the people we love best could be taken away from us in a heartbeat.

Most of us haven’t thought much about Richardson in recent years, largely because she hasn’t had that many starring roles in Hollywood. But anyone who’s seen Richardson perform, either in the movies or, I’m certain, on stage, knows that’s not for lack of talent or dedication on her part. The reality is that Richardson — the granddaughter of Michael Redgrave and Rachel Kempson, and the daughter of Vanessa Redgrave and director Tony Richardson, and thus part of a multigenerational show-business family — was the sort of actress who’s too good, and too unusual, for Hollywood to reckon with. For every Julia Roberts or Michelle Pfeiffer — for every gifted actress who finds her footing as a star, at least for a time — there are dozens more whose gifts are just as great if not greater, but who perhaps are too subtle for Hollywood to know how to sell. Richardson, I think, fell into that latter category, and the fact that she was such a consistently likable and unpretentious presence perhaps masked how good she really was.

The many hastily collected biographical writeups on Richardson that have been streaming out in recent days generally list the roles that are most familiar to moviegoing audiences, like those in “Nell” (1994), “The Parent Trap” (1998) and “Maid in Manhattan” (2002). They also note, as they should, that she won a Tony in 1998 for her role as Sally Bowles in the Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival of “Cabaret.” (She had made her Broadway debut in 1993 in “Anna Christie,” playing opposite Liam Neeson, who would later become her husband.)

I never saw Richardson on stage, but my favorite among her film performances is that of Patty Hearst in Paul Schrader’s 1988 film of the same name. “Patty Hearst” is a challenging and difficult picture, a stylized window into a particular kind of horror story. ………..

Danny (Horace Eldred) Dill, Sept. 1924 -23 Oct. 2008

January 19, 2009

More than two months have elapse before The Guardian printed an obituary for the Danny Dill, the country performer and songwriter, whose best known song, Long Black Veil, composed with pianist Marijohn Wilkin, has become something of a standard, especially with country and folk performers.

 When he set out to write what became his best-known song, Danny Dill, who has died aged 84, had it in mind to create “an instant folksong”, somewhat in the idiom of Burl Ives. He succeeded so well that many people, in the 50 years since it was written, have taken Long Black Veil to be just that: a page from the great authorless volume of traditional American folk balladry.

Johnny Cash and Joni Mitchell  sing Dill and Wilkin’s Long Black Veil

(Johnny Cash TV Show – 1969-1971)

Pat Kavanagh (Jan. 31, 1940. – Oct. 20, 2008) 2

October 21, 2008

This Ben Leto blogged ’tribute’ to the recently deceased literary agent Pat Kavanagh says a great deal more about the woman’s character than many of those that were written by those whom she represented.

Right to the very end, and at a time when she probably she had had a starry enough band of literary giants to take care of, she, if Leto’s blog is to be believed, was taking an active interest in newcomers, doling out advice with the no-nonsense generosity she’d been showing to writers for the last thirty of so years.

Pat Kavanagh, the noted UK literary agent, has died aged 68 from a brain tumour.

There are a great number of authors currently paying tribute to her no-nonsense, informal and direct manner. I encountered this first hand when I submitted my novel to her earlier this year, kindly referred by my university tutor who she had represented for several years. She responded within a matter of weeks, praising the submission having evidently actually read it, and though she did not take it on, explained quite clearly why and recommended in a not at all general way how I could proceed.

For a first time author trying to get published I can’t tell you how surprising it was to encounter a prospective agent who had not only demonstrably read at least most of what you’d sent them, but congratulated you on it as well, taking the time to write to you personally. Her advice and encouraging tone, in only a brief letter, gave me a huge confidence boost for something I was increasingly losing all hope and interest in. It was enough to carry on, refreshingly different from the usual nameless template rejection letters, exactly three months since submitting each and every time, my manuscript always returned as pristine as I had sent it without so much as a dogeared page.

I find it an uncomfortable thought that at the time she replied to me, she was entirely unaware of the condition that would take her life in only six months time. It’s very sad to think that there is one less individual in the world of that character, and particularly in an ‘industry’ more and more orientated towards its ‘market’ and less towards the individual people that make that market up.

Stuff no longer posted to the Pete Atkin Web Forum.

Pat Kavanagh (Jan. 31, 1940. – Oct. 20, 2008)

October 21, 2008

The cream of literary London has turned out to pay tribute to Pat Kavanagh, the literary agents and wife of the novelist Julian Barnes, who died from a brain tumour yesterday at the age of 68.


Kavanagh had a diverse and fiercely loyal clientele who admired her for her no nonsense approach to the whole business of publishing.


The former editor-in-chief at Weidenfeld & Nicholson, Ion Trewin, who had many dealings with her and whose son, Simon, is head of the books department at United Agents, a breakaway agency Kavanagh founded,  has said the she that she ” had exceptionally good taste at all levels of literature:

“Most agents are known for one author or style of writing but she represented a phalanx of authors from Ruth Rendell and Joanna Trollope to Andrew Motion. As an editor if she came to you, you took her seriously immediately because she never wasted your time with rubbish.”

 Clive James, writing in The Guardian today ,says:

I can’t speak for her other clients – she never spoke about them either – but in general I would be surprised if there were any who were spared a close encounter with brute reality when she first explained to them why it would be unwise to start living like Donald Trump on the assumption that the next advance would be as big as the last one.


Such bluntness could be daunting but it was also reassuring because the client guessed, correctly, that his new mentor wouldn’t be pussyfooting with the publishers either


 Pat could make publishers shake in their handmade shoes. On the appointed day to have lunch with her they always dressed with extra care.


Some of the awe she inspired at all levels of the business may have come from the fact that she had a self-assured hauteur and yet was hard to place.


Stuff no longer posted to the Pete Atkin Web Forum.

Paris Blues (1961) & Paul Newman (1925-2008)

September 28, 2008

Paris Blues may not be the greatest jazz film ever made, but it remains for me a good deal more interesting many of the film critics I have read will allow. Of course, I may well say that, as it is the film sparked my interest in jazz, I like it a lot more than it deserves to be liked.

 A few films I saw around the same time as I saw Paris BluesAnatomy of a Murder and Sweet Smell of Success come readily to mind –  had, I thought, wonderful jazz scores, but I considered the scores first and formost and the jazz afterwards. They. for me, happened to be either in the jazz idiom or underpinned by what wre jazz riffs. 

As soon  Paris Blues came along I began to think of the jazz first. In fact, so besotted was I with the film, that I attended three of of the four showings it got when it came to my home town in the west of Ireland. I should add, by way of explanation, yhat even if you did like jazz, the opportunities one would have of hearing it were few. A friend of mine who owned a record shop did stock a few jazz recordings, but they were, as I recall it, of jazz singers rather than of jazz music. 

 The plot of Paris Blues wafer thin, in all probability deliberately so. Trambonist Ram Bowen (Paul Newman) and saxophonist Eddie Cook (Sidney Poitier) live in Paris and play in the same jazz band. Ram is studying music and  attempting to become a “serious” composer, whilst Eddie is escaping American racism by living in a city which ignores the colour of his skin and admires him as a musician. American tourists Connie Lampson (Diahann Carroll) and Lillian Corning (Joanne Woodward ) are on a two-week holiday in Paris and begin a casual romantic fling with the two jazz men. Things begin to take a  more serious  as the days go by and the two couples get to know each other. The  plot hinges on the question whether or not Ram will leave his music to return home to be with Lillian and whether or not Eddie also return home because his love for Connie is so great. And that’s about it as far as plot goes. This drama never quite gets off the ground, but the players Newman, Poitier, Woodward and Carroll, all in their prime at the time, make this slight plot convincing.

 The big pluses are a wonderful score by Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong’s amazing rendition of “Battle Royal”, a nicely used version of Ellington’s  “Mood Indigo”, Christian Matras‘s luminous black and white cinemaphotography and a perless cast  that brings to the project the needed bite that the script may occasionally lack.

Matt Zoller Seitz’s Jazz on Screen: The Sparks are Electric article (April 13, 2008) for The New York Times sums up the film’s strengths and weaknesses as well as any I’ve seen.

…. less daring features have their lyrical, pure-jazz moments. Martin Ritt’s Ellington-scored 1961 movie, “Paris Blues” — a nearly plotless account of two American musicians (Sidney Poitier and Paul Newman) in Paris that is essentially an advertisement for jazz and French tourism — would rather marinate in cool than hustle toward catharsis. Good thing too. No moviegoer in his right mind would take a drum-tight plot at the expense of a dreamy-slow cover of “Mood Indigo” that could be hold music for an opium den, or the shot of Mr. Poitier and his lover (Diahann Carroll) strolling arm in arm toward the Arc de Triomphe at dawn, Ellington’s score imploring them to get a room.

Paris Blues, as I’ve already said, may not he greatest film ever made about jazz, but it is, I believe, a gem that has been all too often unfairly dismissed.


ThThe Canadian born trombonist Murray McEachern dubbed Paul Newman and the Boston born sax player Paul Gonsalves dubbed Sidney Poitier.

Louis Armstrong’s “Battle Royal” in Martin Ritt’s Paris Blues


During the time I was writing this it was announced that one for the stars of Paris Blues, Paul Newman, had passed away.

The Observer’s film critic sums up Newman’s contribution to cinema whenhe says:

James Stewart once said that film actors give their audiences ‘pieces of time’. While Newman’s best pictures hang together as creative entities (there is a kind of perfection to The Hustler and to the western Hombre), as with other actors it is unforgettable moments and sequences that come to mind and revive memories of being moved to laughter, tears, reflection, self-examination. We recall the illiterate Billy the Kid learning to read in The Left Handed Gun (a film based on a TV play by his close friend and fellow liberal, Gore Vidal); the wounded pool player’s tragic interlude with the crippled alcoholic (Piper Laurie) in The Hustler; the eponymous anarchic outsider in Cool Hand Luke engaging in an egg-eating contest with his fellow prisoners on a southern chain-gang; Newman and Redford pausing on the cliff, a posse breathing down their necks, in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and the freeze frame of them running out to confront the Bolivian police in the same picture; Newman and Redford shaking down Robert Shaw on the train from New York to Chicago in The Sting, that necklace of cinematic pearls; his heartbreaking scene with the treacherous old friend played by James Garner in Robert Benton’s undervalued elegiac thriller Twilight.

Geoffrey Perkins (Feb. 1953 – Aug. 2008)

September 1, 2008
All the major titles carry obituaries Geoffrey Perkins. who, as producer, writer and performer, played a central role in the development of radio and television comedy  over the last three decades.
Perkins, 55, who died on the 29th of August of injuries sustained after being hit by a flatbed lorry on Marylebone  High Street in London, had his first major success on radio with the then groundbreaking The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy , but it is for his contributions to such Television shows as Spitting Image, Saturday Live, Harry Enfield’s Television Programme, Ben Elton: The Man From Auntie, Game On, Father Ted, The Thin Blue Line, Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, My Hero, My Family, Happiness, The Catherine Tate Show, The Fast Show that he will be best remembered.

The Times

 The Telegraph

 The Guardian


Stuff no longer posted to the Pete Atkin Web Forum