Do Not Speak Ill of the Dead – Unless You are Tam Dalyell

Tam Dalyell is a remarkable man – a politician with a long career ending as Father of the House. He is famous for his campaigns including those regarding the sinking of the General Belgrano during the Falklands War and the Lockerbie bombing and the events of the trial at Camp Zeist.

He is also one of the obituary writers for the Independent newspaper, which is why I mention him today.

For many years the practice regarding newspaper obituaries was to put the best gloss possible on the deceased subject (unless they were a convicted murderer or something similar).

But the Independent newspaper, when it was established in the 1980’s, brought in the custom now followed by most serious papers – the by-lined obituary.

One effect of this was that the obituaries often had a far more personal feel to them, rather than being a re-hash of the deceased’s Who’s Who entry. It also meant that the writer was more able to spell out the bad as well as the good.

Tam Dalyell has written many Independent obituaries, primarily of Members of Parliament, Trades Union leaders and those prominent in the Labour Party. His many years on the political front lines mean that he has personal knowledge of politicians stretching back 50 years.

Former MP Tam Dalyell

Former MP Tam Dalyell

Today’s Independent has the obituary of Lord Gilbert, the former John Gilbert MP.

Tam Dalyell’s obituary is a masterpiece of the art of saying exactly what one means about the deceased. The maxim “don’t speak ill of the dead” has been ignored, at least on this occasion, by Mr Dalyell.

The full obituary can be read here.

However, from the following extracts, can you guess how Mr Dalyell feels about his former Labour Party colleague?

“He demanded – yes, demanded – to be called “Dr” Gilbert; we wondered what exactly his doctorate was in. It transpired that after a year or two as a banker in New York he had somehow got a PhD in international economics at New York University.

“… he accused the Stock Exchange of malpractice; the City was livid. Gilbert could not prove his accusations.

“… in order to heal Party wounds the PM promoted him to Minister for Transport in the Department of the Environment. The owner of a somewhat ostentatious Aston martin and of a Mustang, he did try to get compulsory seatbelts through but failed.

“In 1976 Jim Callaghan became PM and wanted to sack him. But Gilbert couldn’t be contacted as he was in America, and somehow he persuaded the PM to demote him to Minister of State in the Ministry of Defence responsible for procurement.

“Many of the unsatisfactory current situations on defence procurement can be traced back to Gilbert, particularly in relation to Polaris, the British Army of the Rhine and the inflated costs of a number of weapons systems.

“In 1980 I had my first (of a number) of blazing rows with Gilbert. … he made cheap and disparaging statements about Denis Howell, former sports minister, about me as chairman of the PLP sports group, and unforgivably about Dick Palmer, Secretary of the British Olympic Committee.

“Gilbert cared nothing about athletics or swimming – motor racing was his sport; he was merely unthinkingly pro-White House.

“In fact he has been grossly overrated as an inquisitor.

“He was insufferably arrogant with witnesses to no great effect and seldom ascertained the truth.

“Frankly, he was bombastic and rude. He liked controversy for the sake of controversy.

“I have the highest regard for most of my parliamentary colleagues of all parties. I fear John Gilbert was not among them – a view shared with most of his contemporaries in the PLP and in the wider Labour movement.”

The late Lord Gilbert

The late Lord Gilbert


Rest in peace Lord Gilbert.

Posted by Paul McConville


Filed under Uncategorized

38 responses to “Do Not Speak Ill of the Dead – Unless You are Tam Dalyell

  1. Great obit Paul. However, I would take issue with you saying that obituaries generally “put the best gloss possible on the deceased subject”. Most journo – and English – teachers would tell you that the obituary is a prime example of the art of precis/schedule writing, where you put all the facts/details about the deceased in some order of importance. Many feel it is therefore great practice for news-writing. (For example, The Daily Telegraph’s obituaries are widely seen as the best examples of the art – and the paper is also recognised as one of the best ‘news’papers by journos – leaving aside op-ed right-wing bias and dealing solely with information delivery, of course).
    Tam’s piece is excellent, and I’d say it more or less follows this rule quite well.

  2. Paul,

    The bold Tam was never shy about telling us exactly what he thinks on a given topic. I’ve always found it refreshing.

    As it happens your blog post follows hard upon a few that are now festooned with comments regarding the continued history or otherwise of Rangers as a football playing entity.

    With regard to the passing of Lord Gilbert, I can only wonder what UEFA make of it.

  3. Pensionerbhoy

    If only we would follow Mark Anthony’s recommendation in his obituary to Caesar and inter their good with the bones of the dead, perhaps we would have more honesty. Butler’s Lives of the Saints has thousands of entries. A large number of are dubious because the person probably did not even exist. And of those that did, how much can we take of their story to be true? If an obituary is to be honest then all aspects of a life should be given equal attention. By the way, Kenny, using a person’s lifetime as literary practice does nothing for my minuscule respect for the press.

    ‘If I die bury me up there [at Roquebrune] and then in a year’s time when the newspapers have forgotten me, dig me up and plant me in Sligo’. These words are attributed to the great Irish poet W.B. Yeats and perhaps best sum up the real significance of obituaries, especially those in the press.

    As for myself, chuck me in a cardboard box and fill in the hole – for the sake of the environment. Then go off and enjoy your own life. Forget me just as I expect to have no need or thought of you.

    • Pensionerbhoy.

      Good to see you back posting.

      As to Mark Anthony, as the bard would have it:

      “The evil that men do lives after them;
      The good is oft interred with their bones”

      Mark Anthony’s speech is a master-class in building support among an audience ( the Roman citizens ) and winning them over to a wider cause.

      In this case to war.

      I’m sure if we all understood that this sort of thing could happen we would simply give death a miss 🙂

      • Pensionerbhoy

        I have always hoped I could give it a miss, Martin. However, in recent years the grim fellow has knocked a couple of times to check if I am in. So far I have managed to deceive him when my grandson answers the door to tell him granddad says he isn’t in. 🙂

        “Mark Anthony’s speech is a master-class in building support among an audience ( the Roman citizens ) and winning them over to a wider cause.” I wonder if he was related to Charlie Green?

        Thank you for your kind welcome back.

        • Pensionerbhoy,

          you are most welcome.

          Mark Anthony saw out his war, Charles Green has, dare I say it, turned tail and looked for easy pickings elsewhere.

          As I understand it we are all related though clearly we all respond to our influences separately.

          Charles Green has his way – it would seem to this observer, far away.

    • Pensionerbhoy

      I meant to add a thank you to those who welcomed me back. mcfc, I felt like JFK doing speed reading. Niall, how can one sleep when there is so much unsound noise going on in one’s head? JimBhoy, I heard about Watty and look forward to an interesting sequel. Or should that be re-run? And last but never least, Maggie, just to let you know Mrs. PB came back with me in spite of many offers in Ireland. But none of them met my transfer price so she is still on the books. I must have a word with Stena about the railings round their boat decks too. They were simply too high for me to push her over. You know I am only choking – sorry joking. I love her like all the women in my life – from afar. I have to. None of them will come near me when I whistle. And the dog’s useless! No doubt cam and the others will give me a warm welcome at some stage. I look forward to that just as much as I did being hit on the head with a shillelagh in Galway. Good to be back for the new season – and the fitba, of course. I may be dipping in for a while as a bunch of cowboys are currently taking my house apart on the wife’s orders. The various energy supplies will be intermittently turned off without warning. My own may be turned off permanently if the chaos keeps up. Apologies in advance for any shoddy or behind-the-times comments. Looks like I may need more of your JFK training again soon, mcfc.

  4. …sorry paul, but is there a connection with scots law and obituaries ?

    i can’t see it myself

    • Raymilland

      “He was insufferably arrogant with witnesses to no great effect and seldom ascertained the truth.
      “Frankly, he was bombastic and rude. He liked controversy for the sake of controversy.”
      The late Lord Gilbert or someone nearer to home?

  5. Tecumseh

    I prophesy that many commentators will be busily mining Roger’s Profanosaurus to revise recent obituaries on a certain dead entity…..

    When my Chafonts swell in the heat, and I take an arse first tumble into a skip load of broken vinegar bottles…….you can be shure that profanity is in the air….

    Mark my words, Student Grant, the modern parents and Biffa Bacon are about to tumble all over many otherwise erudite musings.

    You have been warned….!!!!

  6. dan

    I met Tam Dalyell once. I thought he was a nice man. And this came as a great surprise to me as I used to read this (proper) journo in the Sunday Mail, one Andrew Fergus, who quite simply hated Tam and was forever making reference to an antecedent of his who went by the name of ‘Bloody Tam’ Dalyell. In fact the only thing Andrew Fergus hated more than Tam Dalyell, was—students. Hated them!

    • david

      His direct ancestor Tam Dalyell crushed a rising of Covenanters at Rullion Green in the Pentlands in 1666.
      His home is The House of the Binns near Linlithgow ( not, not THAT one, The Bins near Govan )
      Was rumoured to play cards with the Devil, and unbelievably a table covered as if lifted by cloven hooves was found in a pond near the House recently. The story goes that Tam kept losing but one night cheated to the Devils great wrath, who threw the table in the pond.
      A contemporary of Major Weir the Warlock who supposedly chased the Devil with a stick. ( Prods dont stand on ceremony )

      Back this morning, best wishes to everyone

  7. Gobsmacked

    Appears Tam has signalled to all who know him. “Don’t die before me !!”. To quote Truman/Twain/Barnum and others “Say what you want about me as long as you spell my name right!”.

  8. Mr Beaujangles

    As someone who in my younger years thought that the West Lothian question was ‘Who the hell thought it was a good idea to build Livingston?’ I feel somewhat ill equipped to comment on the writings of the man who posed the question…the actual West Lothian not the one about Livingston. However, I would venture that the obituary says more about the writer than the subject. But then again is that not the very essence of writing! It is nothing short of entertaining for which we must be thankful and long may Mr Dalyell continue to thrill with such pieces.
    Anyway, I no longer speak ill of Livingston…after all, my children were born there!

  9. Monti


    • JohnBhoy


      Sir David Murray, waking up this morning: “It was a dream! It was all a dream! We’re no deid! Ha, we’re alive, alive!! HMRC was a dream! Craig Whyte was a dream! Liquidation. A dream! Charles Green. A dream! Of course – imagine thinking that Ally was our manager ha ha ha!!”

  10. eastside

    Almost as bad as the disgusting ‘obituary’ of Hugh Adam put in the Herald. David Murray’s poodles tried desperately to sully the mans name, a man who brought millions into Rangers when Murray didn’t put in a single pound note.

    • Monti

      @Eastside the beach,Westside the coast…..
      David Murray is a fkn coco clown,a cheat & failed businessman!
      Fk him!

  11. meowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww

  12. Geddy Lee

    The “West Lothian” question was over the heads of Parliament when “Tam”
    brought it to their attention.

    It remains as relevant today as ever and remains a thorn in the unionists cringing argument.

    Unfortunately, the lack of knowledge about Scottish Independence south of the border means the average Englishman does not realise how they are being treated as second class citizens simply to try and prop up the “union”.

    I imagine it made him the most unpopular member of the whole cabal.

    His demanding the truth about Lockerbie and the disgusting trial that followed, as well as the sinking of the Belgrano won’t have helped.

  13. JohnBhoy

    Celtic offer belated congratulations to that new football club the The Rangers 2012, winners of… 1 title to-date.


  14. rab

    Rangers died. I love it. The clowns (Ad, Cam, adam, carson, , wonka, walker et al ) your deflections, lies, mitigations, denials count for nothing. Your old clb have been exposed for the scum that you are. You have stolen from all of us. You have cheated all of us. Your presence on hear is transparent, we care nothing for your views, you are irrelevant, you have no grounding for your arguments and to be honest you are a disgrace to even attempt to justify your pathetic and disgusting support for an organisation that has destroyed any standing that Scottish football held in the global conscience. I hate rangers, i am obsesssed in your demise, i have no shame in stating this FACT ( that means its true adam ya bam) to try to justify anything that rfc ever stood for is to stand on the side of corruption, theft, cheating, sectarianism and supremacy. You have no morals. You have no decency, you are a poison that Scotland will grow without. I dance on your Klubs grave. Ha f@#%ing ha, its what you deserve. I despair at TSFM’s position of downtrodden, sweetiewifing impartiality in an attempt to encourage the very few decent rfc fans inclusion in debate. Your klub has no wish to debate, only to dominate. You are less than us, not better. TSFM had a chance to encourage all scottish fans to rid our game of your benign influence and the mods sh@t it, trying to remain impartial is akin to including the edl in islamic integration. Why don’t you all just f#ck off and leave our game to the decent, inclusive people who are only interested in the fairness of sporting achievement.

    I apologise Paul, this is your blog and your rules. I appreciate debate from conflicting angles, but despite the obvious and inevitable rebuttals that a diatribe like this one invokes, sometimes you just have to dismiss these idiots as, well, idiotic sidelining. I will not entertain the responses this post evokes so fire away, it means nothing to me.

    Huns, ( aye i said huns) reclaim your Klub, make it honourable. Then you can have a say in what we call Scottish football, dont argue with me, you have far more important issues to deal with. You are being taken for dafties who are only after your money and the continuation of a long dead ethos, its 2013 ffs.

    F#ck rfc, f#ck sevco. Its only football.

    • What a bitter young man. How sad. I expect many of your fellow tims – who can engage in discussion civilly – pity you.

      • rab

        Your the one response i will give. Your defence of the continuation of a klub who stands for theft, cheating and the exclusion of a religious belief, marks you as the kind of imbecile who has no place in decent society. Your determination to persude me of your klubs continuation is more important to you than addressing the FACT( adam, take note) that your Klub was run by thieves, bigots and cheats.

        You failed. It was run by thieves, bigots and cheats. Hows your shares in rfc.plc doing. Worthless now, just like your views to me. Bolt.

        • Let go of the hatred, rab. It does you no favours.

          • rab

            Boom. Bang. Kablammo. Hahahahahaha. Listen to Charlottes latest tapes and justify your defence of the whole planned out dealings to stiff everyone who ever got involved with your old skumbag filled klub. Justify it skumbag and claim your skumbag status. Everyone was involved, you know it, we know it, charlotte knows it, and soon everyone will know it. Hahahahahaha. Goodbye skumbags. Jailralotarem. Hahahaha. Paranoid? Me! Never. Hahahahahahaha. No compromise, no let up, surrender? NO. Hahahahaha. Mcoists not a manager, hahahahahahaha. Brilliaint. Thieves cheats and liars. Goodbye, again.

            But, but, but, but.

            Shut up.

    • Monti

      Well said m8!

  15. JohnBhoy

    I want to die peacefully, in my sleep, like my grandfather. Not screaming and terrified like his passengers.


    • Budweiser


      ‘ I am about to – or I am going to – die : either expression is correct.

      Dominique Bouhours – famous French grammarian.

      Also Niall’s epitaph.

  16. JohnBhoy,

    In your recent article on why you think Rangers died, you quoted the Sports Lawyer Gregory Ioannidis a couple of times to back up your claims.

    Do you agree with Mr. Ioannidis’ stance on the issue of whether there is a distinction between clubs/companies/the Rangers issue?

  17. Charlotte on fine form tonight,updated tapes on Craig meeting with duff and phelps,and introducing Charles green as the potential buyer to bill miller.
    Worth a listen folks.

  18. rab


    I think me and you, ( you and i, sorry maggie ) would have a great night out. Maggie, i guess that you would only add to the ambience. You are more than welcome.

    Bar b q at mine at the weekend, open day for the good guys. Sorry skumbags. Better make it sunday, i feel a two day hangover coming on, somebody phone in a sickie for me for tomorrow.

  19. Geddy Lee.

    Guys, you are spoiling all topics not relating to rangers.

    Please, either restrict comments to the football themed subjects or submit your own guest post for inclusion.

    It’s making you look “Obsessed”.

    Now, which of you plonkers gave me a thumb down on this thread LOL

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s