The doyen of parliamentary sketch writers, Simon Hoggart, has died aged 67 – it was announced yesterday.
Hoggart, who had written for The Guardian and Observer for 45 years, had been suffering from pancreatic cancer.
Former Guardian editor Peter Preston told Press Gazette: “Simon was a wonderfully witty, precise writer, a reporter who always rose to the occasion – in Northern Ireland, North America and Parliament. But he was also a warm, concerned colleague and, during the last few years one of the bravest I've been privileged to work with.”
Current Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said (The Guardian reports): “Simon was a terrific reporter and columnist – and a great parliamentary sketch writer. He wrote with mischief and a sometimes acid eye about the theatre of politics. But he wrote from a position of sophisticated knowledge and respect for parliament.
“A daily reading of his sketch told you things about the workings of Westminster which no news story could ever convey. He will be much missed by readers and his colleagues."
Hoggart stopped writing The Guardian’s parliamentary sketch after 20 years in December, as well as his Saturday column. Links to all his work can be found here.
In its report of his death The Guardian describes Hoggart as a “a journalistic polymath whose career ranged from covering the Troubles in Northern Ireland and five years as the Observer's Washington correspondent to writing about politics for Punch, and wine and television criticism for the Spectator”.
In addition to his journalism he chaired The News Quiz on Radio 4 for 10 years before 2006 and authored 20 books.
Hoggart joined The Guardian as a graduate trainee at its Manchester office in 1968. He moved to London to join The Guardian's political team in 1973. He left The Guardian for The Observer in 1981 (then a separately-owned title) and spent four years as Washington correspondent. He was Observer political editor from 1989 to 1993 and then rejoined The Guardian as a sketch writer.
Writing a masterclass column for Press Gazette in May 2011, Hoggart said: “Anyone can write a sketch when there’s a dramatic occasion – just as a sports reporter has it easy when a team wins in added time.
“We can do great resignations in our sleep. But we really earn our living when there’s nothing on except Welsh questions, then a debate on road widening.
“So what are we looking for? Idiocy of course, and there can be plenty of that. Sometimes a normally sane MP will say something that really has you scratching your head. What did David Cameron mean when he said he didn’t want the police ‘fighting paper’? I think I know, but what a strange way of putting it. Bingo! he’s clearly rattled. Zero in on these moments and make the most of them,. Forget the new story; your colleagues will handle that.
“Personal remarks? Sometimes. I was probably the only sketch writer not to mention Home Secretary Jacqui Smith’s amazing cleavage – I know my Guardian audience. But Cameron’s bald spot is fair game; so is the astonishing change in Nick Soames when he’s cross – the face goes from pink to red to crimson in seconds.
“Sometimes you need to be serious. Cameron’s statement on the Bloody Sunday inquiry, for example, was a great parliamentary occasion when a sitting prime minister admitted our troops got it badly wrong.
"Tips for a new sketch writer? Keep a completely open mind. Nothing kills a sketch faster than having a preconceived idea of what you’re going to write. A unifying theme helps, especially if you can ratchet the jokes up to a climax – not often easy. Create your own characters, using exaggeration, like the cartoonists: I claim to have invented Michael Fabricant, and I have a patent on Sir Peter Tapsell too. The readers like meeting the same characters.
"Avoid clichés if you can; nothing makes people flip the page faster. And have fun. You can’t do the job without it."
Responding to the news of Hoggart's death, Michael Fabricant said: "Such sad news. He teased me mercilessly but always kindly."