Sunday, January 02, 2011

Death List 2011

Well that was a miserable start to the new year. The writers of The Archers, the Radio 4 soap opera, marked the show's 60th anniversary this evening by killing off nice, bumbling Nigel Pargetter, the village toff. At least, I think they have deaded him. The episode ended with him falling off the roof of Lower Loxley, his stately home, having climbed up there in a Force 8 gale to unhitch a Happy New Year banner that was tied to the chimneys.

It is possible that Nigel is not dead - we shall find out at 7pm tomorrow - and will instead spend the next few months or years (depending on how much the actor needs the money and how good he is at begging the editor) in a coma in Felperham General Hospital. Much like Ariel Sharon, in fact.

Which brings me to the Death List for 2011, which for the fifth year in a row has the former Israeli Prime Minister named as one of the 50 celebrities most likely to shuffle off during the next 12 months.

I have been fascinated by the Death List since I discovered it ten years ago. The list was first drawn up in 1987 by a bunch of students in a pub at Warwick University, who were surprised to hear the news of the death of Cary Grant and thought they would see if they could predict which other famous people would pass away that year. Only one of their original list - bizarrely, the Spanish guitarist Andres Segovia - obliged them. Since the internet came along, the Death List has grown from a private gag to a global death-hunt.

Each year, they select a list of 50 people whose death will be noted by the mass media and see how many don't make it to New Year's Eve. It may sound macabre, but it is also a sort of tribute to the accomplishments of the people on the list, some of whom we may have thought died years ago.

You can only have 25 people from the previous year's list, which shows the faith they have placed in Sharon finally slipping out of his coma. Looking through their lists, it seems to be an in-joke that Clive Dunn, who played Corporal Jones in Dad's Army and is still only 89, has to be included each year.

2010 was a poor year for the list. Only nine of their 50 died (Michael Foot, Norman Wisdom, Simon Maccorkindale, Laurent Fignon, Dino de Laurentiis, JD Salinger, Dennis Hopper, Blake Edwards and Cyril Smith), the fewest since 1998 and some way shy of the record of 14.

So this year they have gone for some new faces. Intriguingly, last year's No 1 pick, the Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al Megrahi, has been dropped altogether. He may have been given only three months to live when released from prison in 2009, but the Death List panel have clearly decided not to fall for that again.

Among the names who have not appeared on the list before are Gerry Rafferty, who was treated for kidney failure two months ago, Aretha Franklin, who has pancreatic cancer, and Helmut Schmidt, the former German Chancellor who is now 93.

Surprisingly, no one thought it worth putting Nigel Pargetter on the list too.


Ross said...

The problem I have with their approach is that picking really old people makes it too easy, surely they should try and guess some of the younger ones? (Although they did apparantly once have Gary Lineker's two year old son George on the list).

Paddy said...

I agree that there should be an age-quota, Ross. Ten of the list should be under 60, maybe. Pretty grim to include a two-year-old, although given how George Lineker turned out as a teenager, he hardly made the best of the second chance life gave him.

I have every hope that Clive Dunn makes it to 100 and continues to frustrate the list-makers