The Art of the Obituary

9 Nov

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 100th Article ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This is the 100th article written and uploaded in the last 100 days and so Altiora is now taking a much needed break. All the existing articles will, of course, remain accessible to you. Thank you for reading the blog, it is most encouraging to have your continued interest and support.

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Lord Michael Pratt

Lord Michael Pratt (Photograph by Desmond O’Neill)

As regular readers will know, I love to truffle out dyed-in-the-wool eccentrics. What follows are a few excerpts from a genuine obituary. Sadly the author remained uncredited. I found the notice in a yellowed and crumpled old clipping but could not discover the title of the newspaper. As companion to this snippet stands a book called Britain’s Greek Empire (1978, London, Rex Collings) by the very same Michael Pratt. We live in gloomy times but I hope that this will help you smile. It is the funniest obituary I have ever read.

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Lord Michael Pratt, who has died aged 61, will be remembered as one of the last Wodehouseian figures to inhabit London’s clubland and as a much travelled author who pined for the days of Empire; he will also be remembered as an unabashed snob and social interloper on a grand scale.

Pratt would arrive at country houses announcing that he was en route to another castle or (even larger) stately home, and was intending to stay for only one night. Quite often the ‘night’ would turn into weeks, and sometimes months.

Although he was generous with his conversation, gossip and anecdote, many hostesses tired of Pratt’s failure to make anything but the smallest contribution to the house or staff.

Michael John Henry Pratt was born on August 15 1946, the youngest son of the 5th Marquess of Camden. He was sent to Eton, having already acquired the rotund shape that would stay with him for the rest of his life.

At school the young Pratt distinguised himself by emptying a vessel of soapy water over the head of his housemaster. Pratt had been washing in a bucket and, rather than dispose of the contents into the drain, he tipped them out of the window. “Come here, Pratt,” said Mr. Addison, the drenched housemaster. “Certainly not,” responded Pratt. “I’m far too busy.”

On arriving at Balliol College, Oxford, Pratt took exception to the state of his rooms, decamping to the Randolph Hotel until his mother arrived with bucket and mop to render his apartments habitable. Oxford otherwise began well for him, and he settled in socially and academically. He graduated with a Second in Modern History, however causing some consternation in the family, who had hoped for a First. His mother, the Marchioness, suspected him of being idle; Pratt maintained that he was unable to study owing to a broken leg.

In fact both these things were true. Just before his finals Pratt was involved in an horrific car crash in which he broke his nose, jaw and spine. There are those who claim that his demeanour changed dramatically following the accident; certainly he became somewhat short tempered. There followed numerous rows with anyone who crossed him, and many rumbled on until the day he died.

At Oxford Pratt was secretary of the Gridiron, a lunch and dining club founded in 1884 that numbered Michael Ancram and Douglas Hogg among its members. He was also a leading light in another Oxford club called the Snuff Committee, the sole purpose of which was to take snuff and drink port. Membership was by invitation only; the only stipulation was that one had to be the son of a landowner.

After graduating Pratt found a position at Lazard Brothers, the merchant bank. Three months into his new job, however, he judged that it would be more agreeable to attend Royal Ascot than to turn up at the office, and his services were dispensed with. He never again sought full-time employment.

Pratt’s working day would usually start with a large gin and tonic before he meandered towards White’s Club in St. James. He was a great social genealogist, and took much pleasure in regaling listeners with stories of family matters. Towards the end of his life however he found himself barred from one of his clubs. Ironically this was Pratt’s, where he was asked to leave the premises following a spectacular altercation with a waitress.

Pratt was generally ill at ease with modern technology, and even after his motor accident at Oxford he remained a demon car driver, terrifying passengers with his speed and overtaking technique, which he often employed on blind bends at speeds of more than 70mph.

Pratt was equally dangerous with firearms. On one drive he shot a fellow gun in the eye, and invitations to shoot dried up.

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