Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

George Byrne has died

The veteran journalist, critic and malcontent has passed away following a stroke. He was a friend of mine.

Thu, Apr 2, 2015, 20:45


The veteran journalist George Byrne, who died today in St James’s Hospital due to complications from a stroke, would be appalled if I suggested that the critics who gather to review films most mornings form anything so cohesive as “a community”. But some of us oldies have come to know one another pretty well. George, who had been reviewing films for the Evening Herald for some years, tended to sit one row behind me and a little to the left. This allowed us five minutes or so to get all nostalgic about post-punk music and to moan furiously about the “state” of almost everything today. He was only a few years older than me and we connected about most pop cultural issues. Sadly, when conversation drifted to his beloved Shamrock Rovers — about which I know nothing — the Clarke eyes would glaze over and the Clarke brain would yearn for a return to musings on The Fall.

Nothing in the public sphere delighted George quite so much as that football team, but he was passionate about quizzing. When University Challenge was in season, Tuesday mornings were spent in a furious fug about the things that young people didn’t know today. We chose to overlook our own ignorance about flux capacity and focus on the f**king idiots from Durham who couldn’t recognise Cary Grant when they saw him or the Kinks when they heard that band. I was forever trying to persuade him that we should enter the BBC quiz show Pointless together. It probably would never have happened anyway.

Little more need be said here. I’ll leave it to proper obituarists to discuss his career: he began by writing caustic singles reviews for Hot Press and went on to ponder TV, music and books for the Independent group; in recent years his film reviews have entertained and enraged listeners to the Tom Dunne Show.  But George’s death could not go unremarked in this place. He was a hugely funny, endlessly knowledgable man whose gift for articulate, pungent punditry set him aside from the whingeing peasants. Here he is on Q’s decision to declare U2 “the best band in 25 Years”.

“Hmm, the ‘only rock band who’ve stayed together for the past 25 years and could be arsed coming to this poxy ceremony’ might have a slightly more unwieldy ring about it but would be considerably more accurate.”

I have just noticed that he’s trending on Twitter. He’d have f**king hated that.