The words in this headline were emailed to me a few years back, shortly after the death of Bob Hope.
At the time, I was writing a twice-weekly opinion column for the Independent, and I had devoted one of these to the memory of the grinning funny man. It was not a fond eulogy. I expressed the view that, as he grew older, Hope and his jokes came to represent an ugly side of America – smug, intolerant, moneyed, sexist and deeply conservative.
The absolute-shit email came from one of his fans. It was short, angry and above all, it seemed to me, hurt. He was sad that one of his heroes had died, and at that moment along had come some sneering prat in the press to trash a memory he held dear.
And, of course, he was right. It was a mean thing to do. Unless the deceased happens to be an accepted, proven bad ‘un, a negative piece about someone who has just died inevitably makes the writer look mean-spirited. I remember Polly Toynbee pulling the same stunt when Auberon Waugh died (‘GHASTLY MAN’ was the headline), and it made her look uncharacteristically spiteful.
So now is not the moment for me to write about the Duke of Edinburgh. I had my say in a Guardian piece on his retirement from public life, and it’s probably best to leave it there.
If he were plain Mr Philip Windsor, he would be seen as a tiresome old toff, with some drearily old-fashioned prejudices: an older, snobbier version of Nigel Farage but without the roguish charm.
It is, though, worth commenting on the yawning chasm his death has revealed between the reaction of our press – simultaneously forelock-tugging and sentimental – and the world the rest of us live in.
The BBC fell to its knees. The press hit the blub-button with its front page headlines: ‘WE’RE WEEPING WITH YOU, MA’AM’, ‘THANK YOU, SIR’, ‘UNITED IN GRIEF’, ‘FAREWELL, MY BELOVED’.
Meanwhile back in the real world, millions of TV viewers marked the day of his death by fleeing in unprecedented numbers to Gogglebox, an island of sense and wit in a sea of crocodile tears. There was a record number of complaints from viewers that Masterchef had been bumped off the air.
In other words, the vast majority of people reacted with with a sanity and balance notably lacking in the media.
An old man has died; that’s sad. His life has been worth marking, of course – but above all for the privilege it brought one fairly ordinary man.