Friday, September 21, 2007

A funny obituary - true too?

The Daily Telegraph newspaper in London is famous for its lengthy and "too honest" (or maybe "too funny") obituaries. This one, for a William Donaldson, runs three online pages and is hilarious, and sad. Is all of it true?

Here are some snippets from it:


William Donaldson, who died on June 22 aged 70, was described by Kenneth Tynan as "an old Wykehamist who ended up as a moderately successful Chelsea pimp", which was true, though he was also a failed theatrical impresario, a crack-smoking serial adulterer and a writer of autobiographical novels; but it was under the nom de plume Henry Root that he became best known.

Willie Donaldson's alter ego was a Right-wing nutcase and wet fish merchant from Elm Park Mansions, SW10, who specialised in writing brash, outrageous and frequently abusive letters to eminent public figures, enclosing a one pound note. Donaldson's genius was to write letters that appeared absurd to the public but not to those to whom they were addressed. The recipients duly replied, often unaware that the joke was on them.

Root chastised the Archbishop of Canterbury for failing to thank him for the five pounds he had donated towards roof repairs; suggested to Margaret Thatcher (who kept the enclosed one pound) that Mary Whitehouse should be made Home Secretary; sympathised with the Queen about the "problems" she was having with Princess Anne ("My Doreen, 19, is completely off the rails too, so I know what it's like"); and told the Thorpe trial judge, Sir Joseph Cantley: "You tipped the jury the right way and some of your jokes were first class! Well done! You never looked to me like the sort of man who'd send an old Etonian to the pokey", a communication which brought a visit from the police, investigating allegations of attempted bribery.

-- snip --

Charles William Donaldson, the son of a Scottish-born shipping magnate, was born on January 4 1935 at Sunningdale, Berkshire, where he grew up, surrounded by servants, in a 30-roomed mansion. He was fond of his father, but disliked his snobbish, bullying mother and never forgave her for firing the family's faithful chauffeur after she discovered that he voted Socialist.

Donaldson was educated at Winchester, where he discovered that he had lost the contest for the title of stupidest boy in the school when his competitor, an Earl, was advised to "try Eton" after just one term. He then concentrated on perfecting his skills as an eccentric nuisance, wearing his straw hat at a facetious angle, conducting sexual experiments with other boys behind the squash courts and instigating "positive" bullying - by boys of the prefects.


That is quite an obituary. I'm sure his children are real proud of him. Maybe we don't need to know "everything" about a person's life, eh?


Anonymous said...

I can't know how much of this obituary is really true, but I do know that the Henry Root Letters was an inspired project on Donaldson's behalf. As he used to say, "Here's a Pound, Let's Go!"

mckie said...

It's all true. There's a biography of Willie out now called "You cannot live as I have done and not end up like this".

best aye
Andrew McKie
(Obituaries Editor, The Daily Telegraph)