A. A. Gill (1954-2016), R.I.P.

The journalist and humorist A A Gill has died at the age of 62, the same relatively young age at which Evelyn Waugh died. He spent most of his career writing for the Sunday Times but also wrote a memoir (Pour Me) and tried his hand, less successfully, as a novelist–Sap Rising (1996) and Starcrossed (1999). He also wrote several volumes of collected essays and journalism, most recently To America with Love (2013) and A A Gill is Further Away (2011). According to his obituary in the Daily Telegraph he was:

A born critic, he tackled anything that interested him – books, pictures and music, buildings, cars and clothes. But he devoted himself mainly to television and restaurants, which he wrote about with knowledge, passion and outrageous wit.

At least one of the London papers makes a connection between Gill and Evelyn Waugh. This is also from the Daily Telegraph:

Gill explained his religious faith – low-church C of E, fiercely Protestant (“vicars tend to annoy me”) – in the same way that Evelyn Waugh did his Roman Catholicism: “It’s entirely about making me a much better person than I would be without it.” And he was delightful in person, to people he liked the soul of courtesy and charm. And, like Waugh, he felt it was his right and duty to offend, and did so with relish.

He wrote much of his newspaper criticism in the satirical tradition of Waugh and Swift, but he was able to carry his points a bit further than Waugh, perhaps thanks to the more permissive age in which he wrote. Where both writers were prepared to put the fork into their victims, Gill was willing to twist it once it was inserted. Here are some examples from the Telegraph’s obituary:

He was rude about the Welsh (“dark, ugly, pugnacious little trolls”) and the English (“the lumpen and louty, coarse, unsubtle, beady-eyed, beefy-bummed herd”). He was rude about members of the Groucho Club (“eels in a storm drain”), and readers who posted online comments beneath his articles (“Why am I supposed to care what any of you think?”). Reviewing a programme about Ancient Rome by the classicist Mary Beard, he argued that she “should be kept away from television cameras altogether”, while a cycling tour by Clare Balding provoked him to call her “the dyke on a bike”. He thought that if half his readers loved him and the other half loathed him then he had achieved the right balance.

But it was more complicated than that, as even his admirers were often appalled by his tastelessness. A Gill simile could delight (the artist Lucian Freud in chef’s trousers, “looking like a buzzard who’d eaten the cook”) or disgust (“She let out a laugh, like a string of pearls breaking into a urinal”). He could always be relied on to go too far. After a poignant description of seeing a teenager shot dead on a street in Haiti, he could not resist adding, “Who’d choose to die in a yellow nylon hockey shirt?”

You can view the full obituary on the website of the Australian Financial Review.

This entry was posted in Humo(u)r, Newspapers and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.