6 Jan 2014 at 12:09
Simon Hoggart was one of the people who sparked my interest in politics back in the late 1970s. Along with Frank Johnson he was brilliant in poking fun at politics and politicians in his Punch sketches and I remember one of the first political books I ever bought was his collection of sketches ON THE HOUSE. I followed his career closely and when I met him in person it was like appearing at the feet of a parliamentary sketch God. He became a regular at Politico’s book launches and was a great supporter in the bookshop’s early years, losing few opportunities to feature us on his various Radio 4 programmes. He always had a mischievous look about him and reading his columns, you could see the joy he got out of satirising otherwise deadly boring politicians. No politician was grey to him, and he could find humour in any given situation. He was also a delight to interview as he had a whole host of hilarious anecdotes. Essentially, your role as interviewer was rather superfluous. You just had to let him go and he’d deliver a few minutes of marvelous entertainment.
His Saturday diary columns in The Guardian were also hugely entertaining, and a model of what a diary column should be like – full of personal anecdote, laced with humour and with a slight bite. Michael Fabricant became a target for Simon both in his diary column and sketches. Fabricant could easily have taken offence at the constant jokes about his hair, but he would probably now acknowledge that were it not for Simon Hoiggart he might have remained rather more anonymous than he became.
it’s surprising in some ways that parliamentary sketchwriting has survived the last few decades, seeing as parliamentary pages have largely disappeared from our national newspapers. Yet they not only survive but thrive in the hands of Michael Deacon on the Telegraph, Ann Treneman on The Times and Quentin Letts in the Mail. There is a big whole to fill on The Guardian now and it will be interesting to see who Alan Rusbridger appoints as Simon Hoggart’s successor – if anyone. I won’t deny I always fancied having a go at sketchwriting, but I know my limits and there is no way I could compete with Simon Hoggart’s turn of phrase, so I think i will stick to the day job.
We are all flawed individuals and Simon was no different. He always had an eye for the ladies, but he was mortified by the publicity generated over his affair with Spectator publisher Kimberley Quinn (who had also had an affair with David Blunkett) . I remember sending him a short ‘keep your chin up’ type note when it all appeared in the papers. He immediately rang to thank me for saying what I had, thereby proving, as if he needed to, what a genuinely nice man he was.
In February this year I interviewed Simon for 25 minutes about his new collection of sketches PLAYING TO THE GALLERY. It’s an interview full of hilarious anecdotes so do have a listen. Scroll in 24 minutes.
UPDATE: Tribute by Michael Deacon and myself on LBC 97.3