Alan Coren 1938-2007
Alan Coren’s death saddens, but mainly because of his age and the cause.
His mourning should celebrate the fun he gave to so many for so long, for creating a Cricklewood of the mind, and for his sheer delight in language.
He will be remembered for many reasons, but Malcolm treasures one particular incident, recycled here from Simon Hoggart’s Guardian column:
I was chair of the News Quiz at the time Princess Diana died. The studio audience was always slightly younger than the average Radio 4 listener, but was still a handy cross-section of Middle Britain. We noticed that jokes about Fergie always got a laugh, but anything that seemed disrespectful of Di was met by a sharp intake of breath. That changed between 1996 and 1997 – we forget now that the public was beginning to lose patience with her playgirl life. (A letter in the Guardian that summer said: “I read that Princess Diana is to have a holiday. How can they tell?”)
This was the time she brushed up her image with the landmines campaign. But when Alan Coren said on the show, “I don’t know anything about landmines or Princess Di, but I do know you’d be mad to poke either of them”, there was a moment’s stunned silence, followed by a huge howl of delighted laughter.
That was recorded on the Thursday night. The show went out on Saturday lunchtime, and the joke – slightly to my surprise – stayed in. That night there was the fatal crash. The producer came specially in to Broadcasting House to lock the master tape in a safe so that it could never, ever be broadcast again.
Malcolm has related that incident frequently, though his recollection (presumably incorrect, but transferred from another edition of the programme) was that Coren’s comment had been “if she had one more brain cell, she’d be a plant.” Which also got the laugh and added a metaphor to the language.