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Wednesday 15th April 2009

Flicking through the Guardian in a cafe this morning I turned to the obituary page and my heart leapt into my mouth. There was a large picture of the actress Sally Hawkins who I have met a few times and always liked and who starred in the Mike Leigh film, "Happy Go Lucky". Seeing her photo right at the top centre of an obituary, made me jump, not entirely illogically to the conclusion that Sally had died. It was a momentary and awful shock, until I looked properly and realised that the obituary was actually for the producer of "Happy Go Lucky", Simon Channing Williams (the online version does not have the photo of Sally). Which was a tremedous relief for me.
Which in turn made me feel a bit bad, because I had inadvertently been delighted and relieved by the death of a man who I didn't know, but who I certainly held no grudge against.
Surely that should be against the obituary code of conduct though. The main photo of any testimonial to the recently deceased should be of the person who has died, shouldn't it? There was another smaller photo further down of Simon Channing Williams, laughing away, seemingly oblivious to his own mortality, but the eye is drawn to the main photo and the assumption that the person pictured has died. If even the obituary compilers are desperate to get a picture of a pretty woman into their copy with any excuse, then there is no hope for us.
I don't think that was what was happening though- they had decided that the film was more recognisable than the producer's face and had led with that, which although mildly insulting is perhaps understandable. Though preferable surely that in your obituary at least it is your own picture that takes predominance, even if not immediately recognisable.
And was it necessary to use a photo of one of the film's actors, rather than say, the poster from the film, which would be less likely to give that nasty jolting shock to friends and acquaintances of the person pictured.
I wondered how Sally would have felt if she had been reading the paper and turned to that page in the same way as I had. For a second would she have thought, "Oh my God, I've died!" The shock might have been enough to mean that she didn't read the rest of the article and assumed that she was in some kind of Bruce Willis in "The Sixth Sense" situation and was now a ghost who could only be seen by one little boy. She might decide to use her new suppose power of invisibility to go out and commit a string of audacious crimes, only to discover she was very much alive and thus culpable for her actions and spend the rest of her life in prison. All thanks to the Guardian obituary section thinking that Simon Channing Williams was too unphotogenic to be the main picture.
All right, maybe that wouldn't happen (but it might, because remember that all actors are mentally ill), but I'd hate to turn to the obituary section and see my own face smiling back at me. That is something that no one but Jade Goody should have to endure. She had done enough amazing things in her short life to justify getting to read her own obituary, and to be thanked properly for her promotion of blowjobs being given under a blanket and being some Marmite in the wind. But the rest of us lesser mortals shouldn't have to endure that shock (though here's a few others who have had the opportunity, though interestingly the famous Mark Twain story turns out to be somewhat fictionalised).
I think even if someone is famous for something other than their own face (say a photographer) then the main image at the top of an obituary should still be of their face, but then you can show one of their photos below, but to do it the other way round can only lead to upset and confusion and the possibility of a previously respected actor or comedian attempting to carry out a poorly conceived heist, in which they just help themselves to the contents of a jewelry shop, as if they imagine that no one can see what they are doing.
RIP Simon Channing Williams. This entry is a tribute to you and your life.
But I am still pleased it was you and not Sally.

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