George Melly RIP

Well, in the end, a life of glorious dissolution came to an end. His last years were anything but funny, but he faced terrible physical decline with a beady eye, and wrote about it unflinchingly. I’ll never forget the first time I saw him perform on stage. He was scabrously, disgracefully funny and sang blues and jazz lyrics as if he’d been born black. He had what my mother used to describe as a “brass neck”, i.e. he was outrageousness personified. He was also very quick on his feet. He once asked Mick Jagger why his (Jagger’s) face had so many wrinkles. “Laughter lines”, replied Mick, grinning. “Nothing’s that funny”, replied George. Collapse of slim party.

And Melly wrote like an angel. One volume of his memoirs — Rum, Bum and Concertina, which deals with his time in the navy — is an impudent masterpiece. His Revolt into Style was one of the formative books of my youth. (I wish I still had my copy: first editions now sell for anything from £95 – £125.) He was a knowledgeable and astute art collector and a very good critic. One of the nicest things about writing for the Observer is that it’s the paper for which he and Ken Tynan wrote.

Julian Mitchell wrote a nice obit in the Guardian. It begins:

Dressed like a 1930s gangster or a 1940s Harlem hipster, with a huge hat on his large head, his ample figure and rubbery face, with its mischievous hint of Mr Toad, were warmly welcomed wherever he went. He was a “personality” who actually had personality, a jazz singer who was also a cultural commentator, a devotee of the surrealists who wrote the story lines of a cartoon strip. Presenter-performer, autobiographer, libertarian and in his own word “tart”, he was “Good-Time George”.