German snipers had had him in their sights but, out of pity for this madman, had not fired.

June 14th, 2013

The Economist's obituary for the D-Day piper, published upon his passing away in 2010 at the age of 88, is worth reading right to the very last line:

ANY reasonable observer might have thought Bill Millin was unarmed as he jumped off the landing ramp at Sword Beach, in Normandy, on June 6th 1944. Unlike his colleagues, the pale 21-year-old held no rifle in his hands. Of course, in full Highland rig as he was, he had his trusty skean dhu, his little dirk, tucked in his right sock. But that was soon under three feet of water as he waded ashore, a weary soldier still smelling his own vomit from a night in a close boat on a choppy sea, and whose kilt in the freezing water was floating prettily round him like a ballerina's skirt.

But Mr Millin was not unarmed; far from it. He held his pipes, high over his head at first to keep them from the wet (for while whisky was said to be good for the bag, salt water wasn't), then cradled in his arms to play. And bagpipes, by long tradition, counted as instruments of war. An English judge had said so after the Scots' great defeat at Culloden in 1746; a piper was a fighter like the rest, and his music was his weapon. [...]

[Via Electrolite]

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Aaron Swartz, R.I.P.

January 12th, 2013

Three remembrances of Aaron Swartz:

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'Who are those people over there, laughing?'

January 31st, 2012

Harry de Quetteville, Obituaries Editor for the Daily Telegraph, on The Art of the Obituary:

[It is...] rare for us to reflect on funeral arrangements, although there are exceptions. It may be fitting to note that a Spitfire will fly over the church where a Battle of Britain fighter pilot is being buried, or that the proprietor of a famous haunt for sozzled actors has asked for mourners to come to his funeral in costume and make up. Rob Buckman, the doctor who died last October after a career which was devoted to improving the way medics counsel the terminally ill, left instructions for a recording to be played at his own interment. It was to run: "Thank you so much for coming. Unlike the rest of you, I don't have to get up in the morning."

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Dino De Laurentiis

November 12th, 2010

I'd forgotten just how many genuinely entertaining films the late Dino De Laurentiis helped bring to the screen:

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Guy Kewney, RIP

April 9th, 2010

Less than a year after the demise of Personal Computer World magazine, the title's star columnist Guy Kewney has died.

John Lettice remembers his former colleague:

I remember an awe-struck staffer returning from a visit to Guy's terraced house in Hackney, babbling that he didn't have any carpets but that he did have his own PBX system, which in 1983 was non-trivial cabling to have running up and down your staircase. And not a lot of IT writers were chums with the late Douglas Adams, author of the Hitchhiker's Guide, either. Or able to survive (absolutely unscathed) costing his publishers a large sum of money to pay for a new encryption system for Acorn, after he'd published a crack in his column.

Danny O'Brien gives us the enthusiast's view:

I still remember one of his columns. In it, Kewney, boggling at the effort to which software publisher Acornsoft had gone to copy-protect software, published the one-line command for rendering its primitive DRM completely useless. I don't remember the details, but I do recall just stopping and staring and then laughing and rocking in glee at the audacity of it, and wondering why no-one ever said all those other hidden incantations that I was sure existed out loud in other newspapers and magazines. Then I watched him defend his decision after a barrage of outraged readers (swamped by those who cheered him on) chastised him the next month. It really stuck in my mind as this example of the power of words to unwind elaborate but unsustainable practices.

John Lettice says in his obituary that PCW had to pay Acorn for that Kewney column. They shouldn't have. And if they had to because of the law, well then, the law was wrong: spelling out these magical words of power, causing corporate battalions to flash out of existence at a single, carefully-researched command, really was Kewney's job, and he did it masterfully.

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Ron Silver RIP

April 1st, 2009

I'd somehow missed the sad news that Ron Silver died last month.

For some reason Silver never featured in Fametracker's Hey It's That Guy, but he assuredly deserved a place alongside the likes of HiTG! stalwarts J K Simmons, Michael Ironside, Gary Cole, David Morse and Terry O'Quinn: reliable character actors who you're always glad to see on-screen, even if the film they're in isn't all that great.

[Via Ansible]

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"It may surprise you to know, members of the jury, that the sole purpose of the criminal law in England is not to entertain Mr. Mortimer."

March 9th, 2009

Christopher Hitchens remembers John Mortimer:

On the bleak January day that John Mortimer died, at the age of 85, I was trying to think of an American "parallel" to his personality and position. Is there, in other words, anyone we can name who combines the qualities of a Dickensian or Shakespearean character with the grit and brio of a Clarence Darrow–style defense attorney (the above blend served slightly chilled with a definite hint of Kafka and perhaps a smidgen of Evelyn Waugh)? Well, no, there isn't, and there never was such an American. But don't feel bad about that: instead, feel worse because now there isn't such an Englishman either. True immortality doesn't depend on national considerations: it is given to very few people to create one imperishable fictional person, and then to see that very person take on life and flesh as if animated by Pygmalion. In the name and figure of Horace Rumpole, old rogue and old hero of the Old Bailey, as impersonated – no, incarnated – by Leo McKern, we have someone for the ages, someone who will be available at need to our inner eye and ear every time it is demonstrated once again that the law is a ass. [...]

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Bob Spiers

December 16th, 2008

What with all the stories about the passing of Oliver Postgate last week, I completely overlooked the fact that TV comedy producer Bob Spiers died on 8 December. Off The Telly's tribute to Spiers explains why we should care:

Having Bob Spiers on board was almost a guarantee of a hit show, with his credits ranging from the massively popular likes of Fawlty Towers, French & Saunders and Absolutely Fabulous (which, it's easy to forget, all began as relatively small-scale shows on BBC2), to cult favourites like Joking Apart, A Bit of Fry and Laurie and Murder Most Horrid, to virtually forgotten but much-loved obscurities such as Lazarus & Dingwall and Up Line. [...]

Not a bad track record, that.

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Remembering Paul Newman

September 27th, 2008

The subtitle of Dahlia Lithwick's remembrance of Paul Newman sums the man up:

HE USED HIS FAME TO GIVE AWAY HIS FORTUNE.

The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp opened in Connecticut in 1988 to provide a summer camping experience – fishing, tie-dye, ghost stories, s'mores – for seriously ill children. By 1989, when I started working there as a counselor, virtually everyone on staff would tell some version of the same story: Paul Newman, who had founded the camp when it became clear his little salad-dressing lark was accidentally going to earn him millions, stops by for one of his not-infrequent visits. He plops down at a table in the dining hall next to some kid with leukemia, or HIV, or sickle cell anemia, and starts to eat lunch. One version of the story has the kid look from the picture of Newman on the Newman's Own lemonade carton to Newman himself, then back to the carton and back to Newman again before asking, "Are you lost?" Another version: The kid looks steadily at him and demands, "Are you really Paul Human?"

Newman loved those stories. He loved to talk about the little kids who had no clue who he was, this friendly old guy who kept showing up at camp to take them fishing. While their counselors stammered, star-struck, the campers indulged Newman the way they'd have indulged a particularly friendly hospital blood technician. It took me years to understand why Newman loved being at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. It was for precisely the same reason these kids did. When the campers showed up, they became regular kids, despite the catheters and wheelchairs and prosthetic legs. And when Newman showed up, he was a regular guy with blue eyes, despite the Oscar and the racecars and the burgeoning marinara empire. The most striking thing about Paul Newman was that a man who could have blasted through his life demanding "Have you any idea who I am?" invariably wanted to hang out with folks – often little ones – who neither knew nor cared. [...]

In a similar vein, Avedon Carol passes on a nice anecdote:

Newman continued to act in recent years, notably as the stage manager in a 2002 Broadway revival of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town," but he was certain acting was not his whole life. He said that over the toilet bowl in his office bathroom he hung a letter from a fan — of his tomato sauce. The letter ends: "My girlfriend mentioned that you were a movie star and I would be interested to know what you have made. If you act as well as you cook, your movies should be worth watching."

That they were.

[Via The Card Cheat, posting at MetaFilter]

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