Hugo Vickers, 'The Ultimate Deadline'

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People should make preparations for their departure from this world said Hugo Vickers, the distinguished writer, broadcaster and Royal correspondent, this week. Addressing a meeting of the Rotary Club of Dover he told his audience to make wills, to let people know their funeral wishes and even to prepare their own obituaries! He said an efficient person should also make sure that a suitable photograph is available and that someone knows where it is.

Introduced by Past President Peter Sherred, who described Hugo as a friend of Dover and of Rotary who was making his fourth visit to the town in recent years, Hugo gave an interesting and amusing account of the history and development of obituary writng a medium in which he is well accomplished. He produced the first ever whole page obituary in The Independent by one lone hand in 1990 of Sir Rex Harrison and the first two page obituary by one lone hand in 2002 of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.

Obituaries first appeared in the late 18th Century and The Times started them in the mid 1800s and maintains about 5,000 of them on file, waiting to be published. The obituary he said was a sort of mini-biography which must be delivered before – or very soon after - the subject dies. The best way to ensure having an obituary published is to be ‘unassailably famous’. Otherwise it is not so easy. Solid achievement in his view is best but added infamy and villainy always make good reading. Hugo indicated obituaries can be entertaining adding the prose used is particular and a good obituary is one that contains a memorable line. When Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd, who had re-invented the style of obituaries in The Daily Telegraph, died the heading in one paper in Australia read: ‘Obituary Master in grave condition.’ There are codes in obituaries three examples he gave were “Politically adaptable” – disloyal; “A tireless raconteur” - crashing bore; “A convivial companion” –  a drunk.

Obituaries are a particular form of journalism he said and they can be ruthlessly cut. He said it was a bad idea to die on the same day as someone as well known as Elvis Presley and  in order to do the best for oneself, it was best to cause one’s death to be announced to the world at 8am as obituary editors work late and do not come into the office particularly early!

Rotarian Roger Marsden proposed a vote of thanks to Hugo.