Sunday, June 26, 2005


The Secretly Deceased

There should be a word in the English language for that experience of very belatedly discovering that someone well-known is not only dead, but has been dead for a long time, and apparently you are the only person who didn't know. (The antonym would be for famous people who, when you hear about them appearing somewhere, you gasp... "Christ, he's still alive?")

The example that always sticks in my mind is Andy Warhol. I was flat-lining with flu the week he died, and I didn't read or watch anything. About a year later, I pointed out to a friend that he was talking about Warhol as if the man were dead. Whereupon he replied, "Uh, Paul...."

And so it was that this week with Fred Dibnah, a steeplejack-turned-BBC-host whose industrial-history shows were beloved by trainspotting types. It's Fred that I was referring to in Sixpence House when I joked about an (actual) BBC program that spent an hour searching the countryside for an obscure variety of a Victorian beam-engine. Since he's written several anorak books like Fred Dibnah's Industrial Age, I found myself wondering if he has any more in the works.

The answer? Probably not.

A line from his BBC obit last November : "His passion for Victorian engineering caused the breakdown of his first marriage, and in recent years he clashed with his neighbors for attempting to build a mineshaft in the back garden of his home in Bolton."

Ah, there'll always be an England.

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