It’s Wogan v Bowie in the battle of the obituary now – but the death was not always so great news

singer“Why Wogan touched the depths of our hearts in a Bowie so I could not,” read a headline in the Daily Mail this week, over a piece of Robert Hardman who tried to assess which of these men recently dead – ” two of our greatest modern cultural institutions … giant in his field “- would be most missed by the nation. Competition from the dead! Who would you rather were still alive, his mother or Elvis? Or, more tribally, who choose between David Bowie and Glenn Frey of the Eagles? According to a Guardian music blog, the first mourners had taken to social media to mock the second, which occurred on blogger, Everett True, hypocritical and grossly insensitive. “Many of these jokes [anti-Frey] came from the same people who worked so along a handful of others criticize his duel Bowie,” he wrote, as a cleric acting in a rowdy funeral tea.

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The dead live among us, as they have not put the memento mori of the Victorian parlor, where children have gone survived as locks of hair and deathbed portraits kept in the closet. The phenomenon is not easy to explain – it goes against the idea that all that matters is now now – and, of course, has been a long period of growth. Gordon Burn, Fullalove’s novel, published in 1995, was probably the first writer to pay close attention to the bouquets of dead flowers that accumulated near the sites of fatal accidents – seemed a superstitious Catholic observance in a country that still had to have old notions of himself standing on his head by the public mourning for princess of Wales. That event set the pattern for modern binge-mourning; no British celebrity has generated since as many tears, but in the media, especially newspapers, his death may overshadow all other news for a day or two, and readers who had no opinion or dead ” quite liked “them (as I really liked Terry Wogan and Bowie) feel baffled and irritated by excluding special supplements and fainting covers.

This week, trying to discover how things used to be, I spent a few hours in the archives online Times and Guardian. One of my earliest memories of a radio personality is Tommy Handley. Not himself Handley, who died in January 1949, but my parents reminiscing about their program, Itma, and how their slogans made him laugh. “Can I ask you now, sir?” “Do not forget the diver!” “I do not mind if I do.” It was sensationally popular. Itma – “It’s that man again” – was the first comedy radio to get rid of the conventions of the music room and invent their own surreal world populated by characters like Mrs. Mopp and Colonel Chinstrap who became household names known. It was often said that Handley and Itma had done more to sustain morale in wartime Churchill. He was only 56 when he died suddenly; King and Queen sent a message of condolences to his widow; the BBC had broadcast what proved to be the last of his radio just a few days earlier. How could Terry Wogan compare with this?

The Times, which then devoted its cover to classified advertising, limits the news of the death of Handley a brief summary of the deaths (there was also an MP, former MP and general) at the bottom of page 4. Your obituary in a subsequent page ran five paragraphs and a photo. Well, the Times was the role of the British ruling class – why would fuss over a comedian? But the Manchester Guardian showed the same judgment. A quote on the homepage news referred to the note, which was similar to the Times length. The public mood was expressive. Crowds lined the route six miles from his funeral at Golders Green Crematorium in a chapel in Westbourne Grove, where, according to the Times “is not a man in the crowd of more than 3,000 could not remove his hat, and many of women were left in tears. ” Fifteen days later, St. Paul’s Cathedral was packed for his funeral and loudspeakers relayed the proceedings to the thousands of people who were outside. The Times and The Guardian reported the event, again briefly, but went no further. To reflect (much less provoke) the public sentiment was not how their editors imagined their purpose. They had other things to do, “the British protest to Israel”, “The troops sent to Akaba”, “Milder weather likely”, “sit-down strike Steelworkers end.” Handley’s death had its humble place between these events; I do not side by side.

the shortage of newsprint for smaller newspapers, which made a valuable skill editorial compression. But even when the roles got bigger in the 1950s, the so-called quality press persisted with the kind of news values that qualified the political, trade and “high culture” well above the lives and deaths popular characters and stars of popular music. “The day the music died” is how Don McLean immortalized the plane crash on February 3, 1959 in Iowa that killed the Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens and Buddy Holly, but this idea took a long time to get to The Guardian, which made its first step to refer to holly next year, as if he were still alive, while the accident itself had to wait until 1969 for a mention. A monument of 24 pages a pop singer would have been inconceivable then, and it was not much more likely in 1980, at which time the divisions in British culture had become more permeable and the Guardian used a rock writer.

The front page of The Guardian on December 10, 1980, reporting the death of John Lennon
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The front page of The Guardian on December 10, 1980, reporting the death of John Lennon
John Lennon was murdered in New York on December 8 of that year. The first black and white pages of the Times and the Guardian on 10 December – the time difference meant the murder missed deadlines press December 9 – they are remarkably similar. Meanwhile, the death of Lennon ranks second for political or economic history: about the EEC and the Labour Party in the Guardian, and the money supply in the Times. Lennon Times report runs 1,700 words and becomes an inside page; it also has a feature article ( “The Sound of the Sixties”) and a 1,900 word obituary. The Guardian has none of these, but has an average appreciation page Robin Denselow and Stanley Reynolds and images on the back page. Amazingly – or so it seems now – first two pages contain a half dozen other stories prominently displayed.

Tomorrow the world belonged to Lennon on how belonging to Bowie 35 years later. The reasons given are often a familiar mix of art and culture: the end of hot metal, the advent of the web and social networks, globalization, global performing what were once purely local heroes figures, the fact that so many executives media belong to what would more appropriately be called Bowie demographic. But there may be something more than that – the death of news that hierarchy created by a newspaper broadsheet old-fashioned in its front attempted to classify the stories of importance, while at the same time finding room for interesting, to give your readers an idea of what the world was yesterday.

Irritation with space dedicated to Bowie and Wogan comes from this ideal of proportionality and the necessary selection imposed by the space (in print newspapers) and time (in broadcast news). Paper and movable type brought to life. With them, also it departs.