Monday, August 17, 2009

More Proof that Brits Write Better Obits Than Yanks

Once more I am bound to offer mad props to the lunatic obituary writers of the UK. I've never heard of Hugh Millais, but I now wish I could have met him. Here's the overview: "Hugh Millais, who has died aged 79, wafted genially through life – sailing around the Caribbean in his own yacht as a calypso singer; starting an ambitious house building scheme in Spain; and appearing in two of Robert Altman's films – without ever having to suffer the indignity of full-time employment."

And now for some tasty bon mots:

On his youth in wartime Britain: "When he saved up his pocket money to take his nanny out to tea at Gunter's in Curzon Street, he recalled a bomb going off nearby – and being told as the smoke and dust lifted: 'Take your elbows off the table.'"

On his early sailing days: "After learning to sail with Captain OM Watts's school on the Hamble, Millais' picaresque life began with a voyage to Venice, where he and a friend sold his boat and then were robbed of the proceeds in St Mark's Square. They walked to Milan, were arrested as vagrants and then visited in their cell by a Benedictine monk who gave them some money to get to France after Hugh had poured out their plight in Latin."

On his short-lived construction company and an odd dinner date: "An article he wrote on the Austrian-born architect Richard Nuetra so impressed a group of businessmen that he recalled them inviting him to start a construction company in Venezuela. It lasted until the country's president fled and the Millais yacht was stolen and wrecked by four escaping naval officers. After a spell back in Oxfordshire with his father, Millais went to Paris, where he fell in with Rita Hayworth, who agreed to dine with him in Montmartre and left him to pay the bill."

A review painted on the door of a restaurant with whom he was associated: "The service is non-existent, the food is disgusting. But, thank God, it's expensive."

And one final recollection: "Quite whether these adventures occurred exactly as Millais recounted them was largely unimportant. Those who had never met him could not believe such a character existed; even close acquaintances were sometimes tempted to rub their eyes."

Read the obituary: Hugh Millais

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