I always enjoyed Simon’s parliamentary sketches, but I enjoyed his Diary the most.
I am proud to say that he mentioned my name twice in his columns. The first time was in 2003 when I pointed out the phrase “It’s all gone Pete Tong” in connection with a string of remarks he was writing. The second time was, more recently, in April 2012 when I pointed out that you could still get Carnation condensed milk and other oddities:
✒My mention of elderly foodstuffs last week has brought umpteen replies, often carrying the gruesome news that many are still in production. Paul Walter says that Cadbury’s Smash still sells 140m servings a year. Who to? People who need loads of paste to hang wallpaper? Mr Walter says you can buy Mivvis, Camp coffee, Marvel instant milk and even dried egg.
…Such were the strangely attractive subjects he used to write about. I used to email him regularly. He would always email me back with thanks.
His diary was always very engaging. There were the gripes about Virgin trains. The tales of cultural occasions. Stories from literary festivals. News from his
annual piss up World Affairs Confrence in Minnesota, USA. Then the shameless ripping off of readers’ input with the Christmas round robin letters and the pointless product instructions. – All of this was swept together with Simon’s priceless humour.
But behind all this whimsy was a very seasoned and wise journalist. We often forget that much of our news is written by quite young people who perhaps lack some sense of perspective and depth of knowledge. Simon, though, had been around the block. He could express more wisdom about Northern Irish matters in a throwaway sentence than many can express in a thick book. He’d been there during the worst of the troubles. He’d worked in Washington.
In September 2012, I wanted to unobtrusively sit for Nick Clegg’s Brighton conference speech standing ovation, so I sat at the very back of the hall. I was sitting behind Simon Hoggart. So I was able to observe him in journalistic action. He stood out from the crowd.
The first thing is that he dressed rather differently than the other shiny media types in their black and blue suits. He was in brownish tweed/corduroy. Waiting for the speech, as other journoes checked their mobiles, he did the crossword. During the speech, he did what journalists are meant to do during a speech, but which virtually all of them don’t bother to do. He checked for delivery.
All the leaders’ speeches are released in advance. But they might add or subtract words as they actually speak, so the print outs always say at the top “Check for delivery”. Being a proper old school, trained journalist, Simon did just that. And he didn’t just absent-mindedly make the odd change on his copy. He thoroughly and studiously noted every single little change from the printed text, as he listened to the entire speech.
It was quite a spectacle for me to watch. We have lost a real gem in Simon Hoggart. A real proper jouranlist with a whimsical, human soul which he was able to put over to many readers, like me, who will greatly miss him in their lives.
Please do read this very moving article published today from Simon Hoggart’s daughter, Amy.