If you read the obituaries of Peter Munk, who died on 28 March aged 90, you might be convinced that here was a noble character, who miraculously escaped the Nazis at 16, arrived in Canada in 1948, and built a business empire that dispensed hundred of millions of Canadian dollars to worthy causes. A thoroughly good chap, in other words.
There was a darker side to Munk; he was a nasty bully
I well remember the remark of a Granada TV producer on first seeing Katie Boyle (pictured), who has died at the age of 91: “Look at the tits on that!” It was a remark in deliberate bad taste, designed to offend me and others listening, and which says much about said producer and the general culture of British commercial TV in the mid-1980s. Boyle was by then no spring chicken but nevertheless ‘well-preserved’, as the cliché had it. She was appearing on a mid-afternoon show of a very short run, a filler designed to plug a gap in the schedules. It was all about women who had experienced a tragedy in their life – Anna Raeburn and P. D. James were two others – and I was the very junior researcher. Of all the guests I remember Boyle giving the least away about herself, hiding behind her long-practised flamboyance. She once appeared in a TV show alongside the comedian Lance Percival, called Lance That Boyle: it died after three episodes. If she has a lasting place in the popular imagination it will be for her presenting a few episodes of the Eurovision Song Contest, when she impressed by her fluent language skills. By odd coincidence March also saw the death of Lys Assia (born Rosa Mina Schärer), the Swiss singer who won the first Eurovision song contest in 1956; she was 94.
I well remember the remark of a Granada TV producer on first seeing Katie Boyle, who has died at the age of 91: “Look at the tits on that!”
Angelo Eugenio Dorfles, an Italian painter who turned to academic life as a professor of aesthetics, died at the age of 107; it is remarkable he lived that long, given that he was Jewish – he managed to avoid the final year of slaughter of Jews that took place in 1944 in Italy. An orphan at the age of just eight, Clarence F. Stephens was only the 9th black American to gain a doctorate in mathematics; he died aged 100. Jacques Clemens was a Dutch Roman Catholic priest who lived to 108. Millie Dunn Veasey enlisted in 1942 with the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion in the US army, the only all-women and all-black battalion to serve overseas during the Second World War; she later became a prominent figure in the civil rights movement in the US. Noorjahan Kakon Bibi – who was born Kaket Hanchiata – was a heroic freedom fighter and spy for Bangladesh in the war of liberation in 1971, during which she was captured and badly tortured, including by use of a red-hot iron rod, by the Pakistani army. Because her birth was unrecorded there are doubts about how old she was when she died of pneumonia, but we’ll settle on 103. Johan Wilhelm van Hulst made it to 107; he was a teacher, author, chess player and politician in the Netherlands, but above all he saved as many as 1,000 Jewish children and babies during the Nazi occupation. He once said: “You know for a fact that the children you leave behind are going to die. I took 12 with me. Later on I asked myself: ‘Why not 13?'” The Hungarian pianist Lívia Rév, a child prodigy, made it to 101, while Drue Heinz, publisher of The Paris Review, reached 103. Pride of place this month goes to Huguette Masson, an obscure Frenchwoman who died when she was 113, and was thus a super-centenarian.
Oskar Gröning, a junior SS leader at Auschwitz, died at the age of 96, shortly before he was due to start a four-year sentence for war crimes
Bozo the clown is no more – or at least, one of his incarnations, Frank Avruch, is no more
Bozo (pictured) the clown is no more – or at least, one of his incarnations, Frank Avruch, is no more. The character Bozo first appeared on US television in 1949 and Avruch played him for almost a decade in the 1960s. According to his manager Stuart Hersh: “He brought the Bozo the Clown character to life better than anyone else’s portrayal of Bozo the Clown.” Dick Wilmarth, an American dog musher who won the first Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in 1973, died aged 75. Madge Bester, who suffered from osteogenesis imperfecta and was once the world’s shortest woman (just 65 cm tall) died aged 54.
The Ukrainian pilot Vladyslav Voloshyn, who was accused by Russia of shooting down the Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 in 2014, killing all 298 people on board, apparently killed himself at the age of 29. He denied the allegation and Dutch investigators concluded that a Russian Buk missile was responsible. His death is a bit of a mystery – he was reportedly happily married and adored his children – and it is being investigated as “premeditated murder”. Another mysterious death was that of Nikolai Glushkov who was a former deputy director of the Russian state airline Aeroflot. He was jailed for three years in 1999 on charges of channeling Aeroflot money through another company, although this charge was levied at him after he claimed that Aeroflot was “a cash cow to support international spying operations”. Glushkov gained political asylum in the UK in 2010 but was sentenced to eight years in prison in absentia by a Russian court – and the UK refused to extradite him. Initially his death was officially “unexplained” but the Metropolitan police now regard it as murder by strangulation.
One cunning slip and you might survive.
One cunning slip and you might survive. The story of Fergus Gordon Anckorn is quite remarkable and largely ignored. When he died in March this 99 year-old had been the longest serving member of the Magic Circle, which he joined when a schoolboy in Kent. Calle up into the British army in the Second World War as a gunner in the Royal Artillery, Anckorn had the bad luck to be immediately shipped of to Singapore in February 1942. There he was swiftly taken prisoner by the Japanese and ultimately was a forced labourer on the Burma Railway, where his magic came in handy; he performed tricks for the camp commandant using food as props which, when it “disappeared” later found its way into his stomach. He survived the war – just: he weighed less than 84 pounds when he was freed – and played tricks happily ever after.
Until April: stay alive.
Picture sources: Olga Carlisle, Rogerbozo, David A Ellis