The news was shocking to many, as he just kept on working and didn’t talk about it, when it was revealed that Guardian sketchwriter Simon Hoggart, who has passed all too early at the age of just 67, had been battling pancreatic cancer for three and a half years. There was nothing more than a mention in one of his recent Saturday columns. And then he was gone.
Unlike his press gallery contemporaries – the odious Quentin Letts (let’s not) springs to mind – Hoggart did not tailor his view to slavishly follow any paper’s editorial line, but was always of independent thought. As sceptical over climate change as he was on the modern manifestations of what Robin Day memorably called “here today and gone tomorrow politicians”, he was his own man.
So, while he described Pa Broon’s smile “as if the nodding dog in a car was channelling the Joker”, and talked of “Auguste” Balls sounding “like King Lear, raging against the storm that was blowing outside”, he called Tory Nicholas Soames “a vast, florid spectacle, a massive inflatable frontbench spokesman ... They could have floated him over London to bring down the German bombers”.
This ability to satirise all parts of the political spectrum has been lost on some of today’s political observers, such as the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog, who have latched on to Hoggart’s dislike of Tony Benn, while managing to miss his clear enjoyment in writing not always complimentary portrayals of their heroine Margaret Thatcher.
Indeed, as the Guardian has pointed out, “Hoggart's world view was shaped by his family roots in the industrial north of England. He knew Thatcher had made necessary reforms but felt she was neither evil witch nor national saviour, merely increasingly mad”. In this I concur and identify with Hoggart, although my love of food and wine is more Aldi and Auchan than it is Waitrose.
When Mrs T passed last year, Hoggart wrote “What seems to have been left out of all the obsequies is the fact that, by the end, she was going mad. I wrote as much while she was still prime minister and heard it from several of her colleagues. Neither the evil witch nor the saviour- of-our-great-nation brigades could cope with that because it challenged their certainties”.
He also noted her tendency to inadvertent double entendre, as when, on a visit to the Falkands, “she was shown a huge field gun, manned by a single squaddie. She admired the weapon and the soldier asked if she would like to fire a round ... ‘Goodness!’ she replied, ‘won't it jerk me off?’”. No politician was safe from the Hoggart talent for reliable recall and good humour.
That is why we will miss him, more than many of us will know.