What makes a good obituary? Make sure your subject is dead for a start...

Shane MacGowan and Victoria Mary Clarke cut their cake on their wedding day in 2018
Shane MacGowan and Victoria Mary Clarke cut their cake on their wedding day in 2018

Broadcasting House, Radio 4

IN a week when three high-profile men died – Shane MacGowan, Alistair Darling and Henry Kissinger – Broadcasting House took time to consider what makes a good obituary.

I used to write obituaries and these were prepared in advance – sometimes when another journalist had been out on a marking and reported back that a politician or a star of screen was “looking a bit peaky”.

Sometimes I’d trip down the steps of Broadcasting House, spot a celebrity sitting in reception and tick them off in my head: “You’re done and dusted!”

So let us segue to the late, inimitable Shane MacGowan and his wife Victoria Mary Clarke.

Her chat with Martha Carney – we got a snippet on Broadcasting House – was an eye opener.

Read more:

  • Shane MacGowan's widow: I spent 35 years worrying about his death
  • Shane MacGowan was ‘vibrant, beautiful and determined to live', wife says

Ardent republican that Shane was, he cried at the death of Diana, the Queen and even Philip, she said. He also did The Telegraph crossword.

“Gosh, people out there will be horrified,” she added. The Irish Rover will never sound the same.

Obituary writer Tim Bullamore treated us to his tips on remembering the dear departed (for a start, avoid clichés like the plague).

First off, make sure your subject is dead, he said. One Paul Vance opened the newspaper to find reports of his death had been greatly exaggerated.

Read more:

  • Sr Luca Henry – the west Belfast principal who turned down an OBE and was an inspirational educator and champion of young people in troubled times
  • Slán go fóill Kim, we were lucky to know you

Secondly, include all the spouses. Tim confessed that he was not aware of one man’s complicated private life. His widow talked about a first wife but did not reveal that she was wife number five – wives two three and four were upset not to get a mention.

We moved on to the obituary of the late Marquis of Bath.

There were tales of how police were once called to his stately home to break up a fight between two of his so-called “wifelets” arguing over whose turn it was to sleep with him.

He liked to eat squirrels from his estate, believed in Pantheism and was known for rarely forgoing his turn when a cannabis joint or a line of cocaine was on the go.

Film star Lauren Bacall
Film star Lauren Bacall

Broadcasting House also treated us to a gem of an obituary for Lauren Bacall.

A two-pack of cigarettes a day habit gave her a dusky, sexy voice. She found fame playing a near-tramp named Slim… just whistle.

Ain't that a helluva way for a beautiful woman to sashay into stardom?