Hugh Massingberd, obituaries editor of The Daily Telegraph of London from 1986 to 1994, turned the pomp and solemnity of traditional tributes for the recently deceased into humorous, candid and sometimes vicious profiles of the dearly departed.
Massingberd died Dec. 25, 2007, and quickly became the subject for the Telegraph's featured obit.
In his obit, Massingberd was quoted as saying of his craft:
"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.
Per the Telegraph story, when Massingberd took over the obits desk:
Immediately, Telegraph readers found themselves regaled by such characters as Canon Edward Young, the first chaplain of a striptease club; the last Wali of Swat, who had a fondness for brown Windsor soup; and Judge Melford Stevenson, who considered that "a lot of my colleagues are just constipated Methodists".
A tip of the hat and undying thanks to the master from fellow obit writers everywhere.
A sad loss. But no doubt he would have relished the prospect of leaving us on Christmas Day. The Independent, which holds a rival claim to have 'invented' the modern obituary also has a piece on him by Hugo Vickers and James Fergusson (Fergusson was the Indy's founding obits editor and retired this year):
Silly me. Calling Massingberd THE father of contemporary British obits.
If I had a good editor for this blog, that editor would have reminded me that it would be better to call Mr. M. "one of the fathers."
This is the pit we - and by "we," I mean we human beings - fall into when we hear the same information over and over again. Massingberd's name has been repeated to me so often and associated so strongly with what some call the revolution in obit writing in the UK that I ran with the first thing that popped into my head.
My apologies to James Fergusson and The Independent.
One more thing. In case the link to The Independent's obit for Massingberd doesn't work for you, I'm going to attempt to give that link to you here:
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