Like our constitution, the media code for dealing with the recently departed is unwritten but it can be simply put – if you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
With the possible exception of dealing with serial killers and despots, it is a convention tightly observed. Sometimes it’s easy to be nice – nobody appears to have a bad word to say about Sir Bobby Robson, as Matt Dickinson noted in the Times yesterday.
On other occassions it’s more troublesome. Take Jade Goody, who was treated with derision by the papers for much of her public life. Nevertheless, the period either side of her passing was like a tabloid love-in.
With all that in mind, let me take you to AA Gill’s television column in The Sunday Times.
Gill goes on to acknowledge that Keith Floyd “changed the way food and cookery were presented on the screen”. But not before these two opening paragraphs:
Tonight Keith Floyd sleeps with the fishes. I can’t in all honesty say that I’ll miss him. I was once sent to interview Keith in the south of Spain, where he’d retired: one of his many retirements, all hurt and self-pityish, to escape from the ravages of unions, socialists, philistines, do-gooders, traffic wardens, political correctness, immigrants, critics and sober bores who had apparently taken over Great Britain, the country he loved except for everything it did and everyone in it.
I found him in one of those sorry expat Costa del Sol pubs at 10.30am, necking pints, leaning on a bar with half a dozen hacking, pasty-faced, nicotine-fingered taxi drivers and nightclub bouncers, flicking through The Sun while complaining about the football and the price of Marmite. Four hours later I left him slumped and insensible in an armchair, his sweet young wife apologising with a well-practised, half-hearted boredom as she tried to get him off the soft furnishings before his bladder gave up.