Here's my take on some of those who left us these last twelve months. It's not a comprehensive list, because, as the late Diana Mosley used to say to me with rueful weariness, "People die non-stop", which is very true. But here's some of the passings we noted, with more at the links - from furniture salesmen to superhero godfathers to make-believe presidents, first ladies to Bond girls to Pigeon sisters:
CHARLES AZNAVOUR, troubadour
On September 19th the 94-year-old Charles Aznavour was on stage at the NHK Hall in Osaka, Japan. After a triumphant concert he returned to his home in Mouriès, the lovely olive-oil town in the south of France, and died there suddenly last Monday. It was a spectacular run for a man who outlived all his contemporaries, and indeed an entire musical tradition.
RICHARD BAKER, BBC survivor
In contrast to Baker's smooth purring middlebrow equanimity, his sidekick Kenneth Robinson was prone to get carried away. Mention of a dating agency for the disabled, for example, prompted Robinson to sigh (to Baker's horror) that in some parts of the country "you can hear the wheelchairs banging together all night long". His days were numbered... One morning, Robinson turned up to be told his services would no longer be required, and, to add insult to injury, then had to sit through Richard Baker's bland perfunctory thank-you at the end of the week's show. From off-mike, Robinson raged, "It's a bloody disgrace after seventeen years."
"Yes, well, there we are," purred Baker, and on came the ten o'clock pips.
ARNAUD BELTRAME, French hero
In the siege at the Super U in Trèbes, a French policeman, Arnaud Beltrame, offered to take the place of a female hostage. That day's Islamic fanatic accepted the deal, and Lieutenant-Colonel Beltrame went into the supermarket, placing his cellphone on a table so that his comrades outside could hear what was going on within. When the shots started, they stormed the building...
Colonel Beltrame took four bullets, and from his sick bed, in hospital at Carcassonne, was married to his fiancée Marielle. They had planned a June wedding, but could no longer wait.
BERNARDO BERTOLUCCI, butter melter
Last Tango in Paris arose from a bog-standard male fantasy: Bernardo Bertolucci passed a girl on the street and wondered what it would be like to pick her up and have sex with her without knowing a single thing about her. In Last Tango the protagonists take it to the next level: through an accidental encounter at a flat for rent in Passy, in the seizième arrondissement, they agree to set up a love-nest without love, without knowledge of the most basic facts - tastes, interests, jobs, marital status, even names.
GEORGE and BARBARA BUSH, presidential couple and presidential parents
Lord CARRINGTON, British Foreign Secretary and Nato Secretary-General
The Marquess of Salisbury was Leader of the House of Lords in the mid-Nineties. When John Major offered him the gig, he called up Carrington for a spot of advice:
'I'm sorry to bother you, Peter, but you were a famously successful Leader of Their Lordships and I wondered whether you had any tips before I took it on.'
'All you've got to remember is that you are the headmaster of a second-rate public school.'
That's "public school" in the English sense (as in Decline and Fall). Patrician wit is not to everyone's taste, but I like my politicians to have a sense of proportion. After the absurdly pompous and self-regarding senatorial blatherings that attended the obsequies of John McCain, and all the other guff about "the world's greatest deliberative body", I appreciate the leader of an upper house who compares his job to being head of a second-rate boys' school.
ROY CLARK, young singer of aged song
"Yesterday When I Was Young" sat around until Roy Clark picked it up. Herbie calls Clark a "country singer" but he's really more admired as a guitarist and banjo-picker than as a vocalist, and he's better known for his stints on "Hee-Haw" and "The Beverly Hillbillies". Yet he did Aznavour's tune straightforwardly and without making a meal of the lyric, and suddenly "Yesterday When I Was Young" was a hit. Clark wasn't that old - barely 35 - but the end of the record is oddly moving:
The time has come for me to pay
When I Was Young.
ALFIE EVANS, judicially liquidated child
There is no compelling reason for the British state to kill Alfie. So, when the Pope has championed his cause and the Italian government has conferred citizenship upon him and there is a plane standing by to fly him to the Continent, why not err on the side of generosity? Why not let his parents enjoy whatever extra time may remain with their helpless child? Why is it so necessary for the British bureaucracy to be seen to kill this two-year-old on their timetable?
MICHAEL D FORD, set decorator
Peter Lamont, Ford's art director on seven pictures, liked to refer to him, affectionately, as "the Flower Arranger": you're the detail guy who comes in and checks everything is just so - the angle at which the curtain is tied back; the position of the tea strainer relative to the creamer two tables behind the one at which the protagonists are talking. But, with a flower arranger, someone will inevitably say, "Oh, what a beautiful arrangement of flowers!" The trick for a set decorator is to tiptoe just up to the point at which anyone notices you. You're there because people would notice if it were wrong; but you don't want it to be so spectacularly right that it's a distraction from the drama.
ARETHA FRANKLIN, singer and songwriter
Her father continued his philandering, and, as vulnerable and damaged children tend to do, his daughter looked elsewhere for emotional support. She had two babies before the age of sixteen, and at nineteen married a former realtor who fancied himself her Svengali, Ted White. Childhood, marriage and career all intersected in the person of Dinah Washington, Queen of the Blues, one of the Reverend Franklin's parishioners and a, ahem, close personal friend. Miss Washington was also, briefly, equally close to Ted White (she had seven disastrous marriages, from which she sought much solace). Aretha, meanwhile, adored Dinah's voice. Just before Christmas 1963, Miss Washington died of an overdose of secobarbital and amobarbital, and Mr and Mrs Ted White rushed back from New York to console Reverend Franklin in Detroit. The minister was distraught, his daughter was afraid, and his son-in-law was cock-a-hoop: As Ted told the family, "The Queen is dead. Long live the new Queen: Aretha."
EUNICE GAYSON, prototype Bond girl
We cross to London, and a luxurious casino where a woman in an updo and an off-one-shoulder red dress is playing chemin de fer. She has lost, but decides to play on. Across the table, the man who has bested her, and whose face we have not yet seen, remarks: "I admire your courage, Miss..?"
"Trench. Sylvia Trench." She looks up from signing the check. "I admire your luck, Mister..?"
"Bond." And there's Sean Connery snapping his lighter shut as the first brooding notes of what would become the movies' longest-lasting theme tune start up underneath. "James Bond."
PEGGY SUE GERRON, musical inspiration
The real-life Peggy Sue was the girlfriend of Buddy Holly's drummer and co-writer Jerry Allison: If you're from Lubbock, Texas, you get to meet girls called Peggy Sue...
WILLIAM GOLDMAN, storyteller
Goldman's adaptation of Misery is very well plotted as a chess match between writer and fan. But the project surely appealed to him as a meditation on the eternal conflict between writing what you want to write and writing to order. James Caan's character, after a series of crowd-pleasing romances, desires to do something more serious and challenging. Then Kathy Bates shatters his bones, and he's trapped in an upstairs room and forced to write what she wants. You don't have to work too hard to see this as a metaphor for Bill Goldman's career, the frustrated would-be author of the Great American Novel and the lavishly remunerated screenwriter of Maverick. Of course, no studio executive has to call in Kathy Bates to break a screenwriter's legs: There's no end of volunteers.
EDWIN HAWKINS, churchgoer and hit-maker
One day he got a yen to make an album - not because he was itching to be a big pop star, but just because it might be a good fundraiser for the church, and would additionally provide a permanent record of some of the group's best arrangements. He figured it might sell 500 copies, all of them to church members and their friends. So in 1967 he arranged a recording session not at a studio but at the Ephesian Church of God in Christ at Berkeley... I believe this to be the only Number One record (in France, Germany and the Netherlands) or even Number Two (UK) or Number Four (US) to have been made in church. On the other hand, if, like George Harrison with his "Hallelujahs" and Hare Krishna chants in "My Sweet Lord", you're into melding western and eastern religions, well, the only Number One hit to have been recorded in church was distributed by Buddah.
INGVAR KAMPRAD, founder of Ikea
I assume James Corden's team of writers are working on jokes about flat-pack self-assembly coffins, so I won't bother...
JAMAL KHASHOGGI, murdered propagandist
Filling in for Tucker Carlson on Wednesday, Mark Steyn — during an interview with Nigel Farage — said the following about Khashoggi:
'And we should also be clear, too, Khashoggi is being presented as a hero of journalism. He's probably going to be Time magazine's Man of the Year just because he is a dead so-called journalist. But in fact he was kind of a deep state Saudi spook who just happened to fall out with the royal family. In a sense, it's different sets of bad guys we're arguing about when we're talking about Saudi Arabia.'
BERNARD LANDRY, frustrated premier and would-be president
He was the former Premier of Quebec - a rank he found insufficient. He wanted to be Monsieur le Président de la République du Québec. But, as that bauble slipped further and further beyond his reach, he considered at one point of making the simpler move of merely changing his job title from "Premier" to "President". He wouldn't actually be a president, in the sense of the President of France or the President of Gabon; he would still be no more or less than the Queen's first minister. But, as long as he got to be addressed as "M le Président", that would do.
STAN LEE, superhero impresario
Stan's comic books (The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, The Mighty Thor) were "inclusive" and "diverse" and "multicultural" long before the terms ever occurred to any politicians. The X-Men were especially ahead of the game: they were mutants, evolutionary quirks who found themselves persecuted because they were "different". Stan had been working at what became Marvel Comics since 1939 but it wasn't till the Sixties that he started creating superheroes tailored for the sensibility of the age.
BERNARD LEWIS, psychoanalyst of Islam
Bernard Lewis, the west's preeminent scholar of Islam, worked for British intelligence through the grimmest hours of the Second World War. "In 1940, we knew who we were, we knew who the enemy was, we knew the dangers and the issues," he told The Wall Street Journal. "In our island, we knew we would prevail, that the Americans would be drawn into the fight. It is different today. We don't know who we are, we don't know the issues, and we still do not understand the nature of the enemy." All true.
JOHN McCAIN, professional maverick
"John's a friend," said Governor Bush, as he has done many times before, though it always seems to come as news to Senator McCain. In testimony to their relaxed, affable relationship, Governor Bush calls Senator McCain "John" and Senator McCain calls Governor Bush "Governor Bush."
We hardened correspondents choked back our tears. Most of us hadn't seen that kind of spontaneous warmth and affection since the Prince and Princess of Wales' last tour of Australia. In a ringing endorsement, "John" added that "Governor Bush" would perform as president "more than adequately" -- the sort of money review they kill for on Broadway: Cats -- "More than adequate" -- The Newark Star-Ledger.
SISTO MALASPINA, Australian espresso entrepreneur
A pedestrian, assuming the car detonation had been an accident, went to the driver's aid. And thus two migrants to the Lucky Country briefly came face to face:
'Melbourne is mourning one of the founders of the city's famous coffee culture after the murder of Sisto Malaspina in Bourke Street's terror attack yesterday...
'It is believed Mr Malaspina had gone to the aid of the attacker after his car blew up.'
And as Tim Blair adds:
Of course he did. And of course the jihadi stabbed him to death for it.
DENIS NORDEN, comedy writer
Like all funny men of his generation, he'd been in the war - a wireless operator in the RAF whose commanding officers knew of his comedic bent and let him produce variety shows to keep the chaps' morale up. In the spring of 1945 he was preparing one such entertainment with Eric Sykes in northern Germany and needed some lights. He was told there was a German camp down the road lit up like a Christmas tree, and he could surely find what he needed there. So off he set, and walked straight into Bergen-Belsen concentration camp...
BURT REYNOLDS, actor
Burt Reynolds observed, "I may not be the best actor in the world, but I'm the best Burt Reynolds in the world." And he was. It made him a huge box-office star in the Seventies, and thus the best Burt Reynolds in the world cruised amiably through Smokey and the Bandit, Cannonball Run and variants thereof for a hugely lucrative decade. He took his bankability and invested it in things he liked - a football team, a petting zoo, and a lovely little theatre in Jupiter, Florida. Squire to an impressive variety of desirable women (Judy Carne, Dinah Shore, Sally Field, Loni Anderson), Burt Reynolds was indisputably the best Burt Reynolds he could be...
NICOLAS ROEG, film director
One morning he happened to wake up, switch on the TV and see me on the UK's old Channel 4 breakfast show with Dermot Murnaghan and Joanna Kaye... The producer explained that they were looking for a particular combination of seediness, self-importance and inherent risibility that genuine A-list talent such as Clint Eastwood found very hard to pull off. He added that Nic Roeg would be directing, and Theresa Russell was about to commit, and it occurred to me, given her energetic track record, that this was probably my best ever shot at landing a sex scene with Theresa, with or without her cute little King Zog moustache.
So I said yeah, sure, put me down, and a week or so later a script arrived...
MILT ROSENBERG, peerless radio interviewer
For almost four decades Milt's show at WGN was a favorite stop on the tour for the grandest of authors - Norman Mailer, Mary Higgins Clark, Carl Sagan, Salman Rushdie, Betty Friedan - as it became for more intermittent wordsmiths - Mrs Thatcher, Kirk Douglas, Henry Kissinger... Many of those guests became his friends, so that, for example, on the day after the London Tube bombings, he called up the mystery novelist (and author of The Children of Men) P D James and sought out her views, which were characteristically insightful. As Milt told his guest, "I live in continued borrowed radiance from the pleasure of your company" (a very Miltonian formulation), but you can hear that Lady James feels the same about him, as did many of those he interviewed. In fact, when Phyllis invites Milt for dinner next time he's in London, she seems completely oblivious to the fact that she's on the Chicago market's top-rated evening show with sufficient wattage to blast out up into Canada and down the spine of America and out to some thirty states. .
PHILIP ROTH, novelist and minutiae-mucker
Roth spent his actual lifetime mucking over the minutiae, and never more so than during his marriage to the actress Claire Bloom. One morning, he handed her the manuscript of his new novel, and then went out for a walk. Miss Bloom opened the binder:
Almost immediately I came upon a passage about the self-hating, Anglo-Jewish family with whom he lives in England. Oh well, I thought, he doesn't like my family...
A few pages on, she reached a passage about "his remarkably uninteresting, middle-aged wife, who, as described, is nothing better than an ever spouting fountain of tears constantly bemoaning the fact that his other women are so young. She is an actress by profession and ...her name is Claire."
Claire decided it was time to write her own book.
CAROLE SHELLEY, Pigeon sister
My favorite scene in The Odd Couple has always been the double-date Oscar arranges with the "cuckoo Pigeon sisters" from the flat upstairs, Cecily and Gwendolyn. If you know your Oscar Wilde, you'll recognize those names, although Simon has taken them down a socio-economic notch or two and made them emblematic of a certain type of English girl expat you'd have found larking about New York at that time - albeit in this case, one is a divorcée, and the other is, somewhat mysteriously, a widow. Cecily and Gwendolyn are brilliantly conjured by Monica Evans and Carole Shelley, who played the Misses Pigeon on stage, on the big screen, and later on television... If you only ever have one big movie scene, this one is pretty great: Simon, who's been criticized for sixty years as no more than an efficient gag machine, gets some of the biggest laughs of his career from a succession of excruciatingly painful non-jokes. The Pigeon sisters are well-named: They're fluttery, and literally cooing. Like Matthau's Oscar, they expect the evening to pan out, and they don't figure that's going to be too difficult. Everything Oscar says, they take as a double entendre and giggle naughtily. He laughs back. Three-quarters of the double-date have instantly hit that sweet spot in date-night banter where everything you say is funny and risqué and nudges the choo-choo a little further down the track to its intended destination.
Except for Jack Lemmon...
NEIL SIMON, bankable playwright
There is something both universal and extremely thin about the simple premise of Neil Simon's cash cow: what would happen if a fastidious neat-freak moved in with a careless sloven? According to who you believe, the idea came from one or other of Simon's fellow alumni of the writers' room on the old Sid Caesar show. Neil's brother Danny Simon had gotten divorced and pitched up at the home of the theatrical agent Roy Gerber. One night after botching the pot roast, Danny whined to Roy about how he never took him out to dinner - and the old lightbulb went off. He wrote a first act, stalled, and gave it to his kid brother Neil. Alternatively, Neil himself observed Mel Brooks after his divorce, when Mel was living with the painter and sculptor Speed Vogel. The show opened in Boston, where the legendary local critic Elliot Norton thought the third act very flat, and made a few plot suggestions to Neil Simon that turned what would have been a so-so hit into a smash.
PETER WYNGARDE, inspirational swinger
Peter Wyngarde, who died in his nineties a few days ago, was a bona fide star only for a few years, as the Sixties turned to the Seventies. But his animal sideburns, extravagant moustache, and jaunty cravats nestling in thickets of chest hair cast long and hirsute shadows: He was the principal inspiration for Mike Myers' big-screen creation Austin Powers, "International Man of Mystery" - although Austin eschewed, alas, the moustache... Here is Wyngarde in one of his Jason King outfits:
Yes, I know it was the Seventies, and not many of us could carry off that much leather, and it may even be of practical benefit when you're dressing for an international espionage mission involving surreptitious entry to secure facilities in the dead of night, but even so...
~There were others who took their leave in these last days, some of whom we may get to in the first days of 2019. And there were others , such as Tom Wolfe and Peter Munk, whose passing we noted in audio format, which doesn't lend itself as easily to excerpting as above. But Mark Steyn Club members should feel free to add their comments on the departed of these last twelve months...