AA Gill Obituary: Renowned restaurant critic earned fame and infamy
December 12, 2016 8:21 AM   Subscribe

The journalist AA Gill, who has died aged 62, less than a month after revealing he was seriously ill with cancer The Sunday Times journalist, who was regarded by many on Fleet Street as one of the great newspaper stylists, opened his restaurant column three weeks ago with the abrupt declaration he was suffering with “an embarrassment of cancer”. He went on: “There is barely a morsel of offal that is not included. I have a trucker’s gut-buster, gimpy, malevolent, meaty malignancy.” He wanted readers to know, he said, in case it affected his judgments about food.

Gill’s professional life was seemingly devoted to courting controversy as restaurant critic, travel writer and TV reviewer. In 2010, the Sunday Times disclosed he had been the subject of 62 complaints to the Press Complaints Commission in the previous five years, none of them upheld. In the same year, though, the press watchdog upheld a complaint against him made by Clare Balding. He called the TV presenter a “dyke on a bike” in a television review of her BBC4 programme Britain by Bike and compounded the hurt with a mock apology for previously saying that she looked “like a big lesbian”

AA Gill: Final article describes cancer treatment.

In Memory of AA Gill
Unfortunately - much of his work lies behind the Times Paywall
posted by helmutdog (38 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I only know him from shooting a Baboon just to watch it die.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 8:34 AM on December 12, 2016 [6 favorites]

It's a peculiarly backhanded slap of an obit post, I must say.

I don't know anything about the man or his work, but fuck cancer.

posted by hippybear at 8:36 AM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

(Is the Clare Balding incident really necessary for an obit?)

posted by Foci for Analysis at 8:38 AM on December 12, 2016

He was a funny and scathing writer, but the baboon thing was an utter dick move. This isn't an assault on his right to offend, it's my opinion. You shoot a baboon for sport, you're a dickhead.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 8:39 AM on December 12, 2016 [8 favorites]

He was an asshole. A hilarious and witty asshole, but an asshole nonetheless.

On the Isle of man and their residents " they fall into two types" , "hopeless, inbred mouth-breathers known as Bennies" and "retired, small arms dealers and accountants who deal in rainforest futures".

Some other classics

posted by lalochezia at 8:47 AM on December 12, 2016 [5 favorites]

Guy was kind of a dick and a bigot, but not a nice way to die.
posted by tavella at 8:48 AM on December 12, 2016

This obit kind of sums up my feelings about him. I used to read his column in the Sunday Times Magazine every week, and it was a love-hate relationship. It made me miss my ex because reading his writing and spluttering to my ex about what he had written this time was kind of a Sunday afternoon ritual. He wrote some things I profoundly disagreed with, but then he would write something so witty, or touching, or strangely in line with my own beliefs, that it was really disarming. Yes he could be an asshole and he did and said asshole things, but he was also really intelligent and interesting and I enjoyed reading him even when I didn't. And he hated Piers "Morgan" Moron so he clearly wasn't all bad. I felt really sad hearing that he had died, and after so short an illness, and I hope he wasn't afraid because I thought of him as so supremely self-confident and I hope he was like that right up until the end.

posted by billiebee at 8:48 AM on December 12, 2016 [20 favorites]

This is an excellent obit and I am enjoying the shit out of it.
posted by selfnoise at 8:49 AM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't know anything about the man or his work, but fuck cancer.

It's just doing it's job.
posted by thelonius at 8:49 AM on December 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Also, we are going to have this exact conversation when Jeremy Clarkson dies.
posted by selfnoise at 8:50 AM on December 12, 2016 [5 favorites]

Also, we are going to have this exact conversation when Jeremy Clarkson dies.

Fraid not, I'll be too busy dancing a jig thanks
posted by billiebee at 8:51 AM on December 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

You can dislike the man's views on things but also enjoy his terrific writing style
posted by Postroad at 8:55 AM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

AA gill was an intellectual and serious critic.

Clarkson is a 13-year old boy forever on the border of puberty stuck in a mansuit who deserves to die in a fire.

amongst his many many sins, Clarkson deliberately and with malice lied about hybrids and electric cars, deliberately faked road tests on a "factual" BBC show watched by 12 million people, showing electric cars "failed" with them setting back e-car adoption in the UK and thus indirectly contributed towards the killing of thousands of people via air pollution and global warming, .......all because of his infantile obsession with proving the cleverer kids in his class wrong and his prepubescent hardon for I WANT TO PLAY WITH RACECARS AND NO ONE WILL STOP ME waaaah.
posted by lalochezia at 8:59 AM on December 12, 2016 [22 favorites]


He could be such an eloquent ass-hole.

I grew up in a rural town in another country and reading his reviews was what drew me to the city.

2016, could you perhaps take some worse people?
posted by fistynuts at 8:59 AM on December 12, 2016

It's a peculiarly backhanded slap of an obit post, I must say.

I don't know anything about the man or his work, but fuck cancer.
posted by hippybear at 8:36 AM on December 12 [+] [!]

I am not sure if you meant my post - but I will say that I am genuinely saddened by his passing. I mean no disrespect.
posted by helmutdog at 9:01 AM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sounds like a lovely sort of chap.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 9:01 AM on December 12, 2016

To confuse Clarkson and Gill shows a lack of familiarity with both. Clarkson is a populist big mouth, proud of what he does not know, in the same vein as the orange goblin, whereas Gill was a a unique talent far more similar to Hitchens (fuck canacer) than Clarkson.
posted by Keith Talent at 9:02 AM on December 12, 2016 [6 favorites]

Uhhh huh. They're both assholes. You're just fine with one of them.

I largely am, too, but I can't imagine why you'd think the obit was unnecessarily disrespectful.
posted by selfnoise at 9:05 AM on December 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

He was indeed an absolute arse, but his review of L'Ami Louis in Paris is one of the best (and most gag-inducing) pieces of writing I've ever read about food. Seriously, it's in dry-heave territory on a few lines.

Cancer is a shitty, shitty thing and seems to have cut a particularly wide swathe among the rich and famous this year.

posted by Happy Dave at 9:06 AM on December 12, 2016 [9 favorites]

For me he kind of epitomised a certain style of Tory journalism, as perfected by the Sunday Times - a style that implicitly said 'We're not crusty old reactionaries of the kind you get in the Telegraph, we're witty, glamorous, metropolitan people - but not metropolitan in the sense of being a bit foreign or lefty, don't worry - and we're barely political at all, we just inhabit this kind of sensible centre ground, a centre ground that's of course hostile to lefty academics and the BBC and Guardian readers and the Labour Party and so on because they're all sooooo boring and worthy and humourless, and so much less fun than watching Sky TV, it's what we all think really if we're honest with ourselves, now look at this shiny object...'
posted by Mocata at 9:10 AM on December 12, 2016 [20 favorites]

However I'm told he was, unlike lots of star columnists, always nice to junior editorial staff, so there's that.
posted by Mocata at 9:13 AM on December 12, 2016 [8 favorites]

He's the guy who shot the baboon because he thought it would be fun and announced that Mary Beard was "too ugly for television".
But it's sad when anyone dies....
posted by shibori at 9:26 AM on December 12, 2016

I have honestly not read very much of his writing so I can't give an overall opinion, but this evisceration of Brexit published shortly before the referendum was perfect (pretty sure it's 'unofficially' hosted so hope it stays up).
Wanting the country back is the constant mantra of all the outies. Farage slurs it, Gove insinuates it. Of course I know what they mean. We all know what they mean. They mean back from Johnny Foreigner, back from the brink, back from the future, back-to-back, back to bosky hedges and dry stone walls and country lanes and church bells and warm beer and skittles and football rattles and cheery banter and clogs on cobbles. Back to vicars-and-tarts parties and Carry On fart jokes, back to Elgar and fudge and proper weather and herbaceous borders and cars called Morris. Back to victoria sponge and 22 yards to a wicket and 15 hands to a horse and 3ft to a yard and four fingers in a Kit Kat, back to gooseberries not avocados, back to deference and respect, to make do and mend and smiling bravely and biting your lip and suffering in silence and patronising foreigners with pity. We all know what “getting our country back” means. It’s snorting a line of the most pernicious and debilitating Little English drug, nostalgia.
posted by kersplunk at 9:32 AM on December 12, 2016 [33 favorites]

He decided to pay privately for a chemotherapy drug (nivolumab) that costs £100,000 a year and extends life on average by about 3 months. In common with most of these articles about people with cancer going outside the publicly funded healthcare system the BBC newswriter blames the public funding system for failure to pay for the drug, rather than asking why the drug is so expensive. (Why do pharmaceutical companies charge dying patients £100,000 for a few months of life? Because they can.)
posted by v-tach at 9:33 AM on December 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't call it a "backhanded slap of an obit post". More a neat package of "the man and his work" given his simultaneous history of intermittently repellent views amongst beautifully crafted turns of phrase.

Billiebee's comment probably sums up my relationship with his work best, since I lived for many years with somebody who bought the Sunday Times on a regular basis. His column was always one of the first things I turned to. (Joint first with the tongue in cheek "Mrs Mills" advice column, which I always suspected of being penned by him as well.)

When I was seventeen or so, part of the A-Level English coursework was submitting examples of various pieces of writing intended to inform, persuade, entertain and instruct. So you'd have to write short stories and user manuals and reviews and op-eds and things, demonstrating that you understood the conventions of the genre.

My draft review was returned to me by the teacher, ungraded, with some rather acerbic comments about the language used and the large number of entertaining personal derails from the item being reviewed. They felt this demonstrated an inability to understand the conventions of the genre, which I thought was rather unfair.

Teacher: You'll have to redo it. Nobody writes reviews like this!
Me: A A Gill does.
Teacher: Yes, well. You'll still need to redo it. You're not A A Gill.
posted by the latin mouse at 9:38 AM on December 12, 2016 [8 favorites]

Gill also wrote The Angry Island, a treatise on the nature and essence of Englishness in the vein of ones by Jeremy Paxman and Kate Fox, only considerably more misanthropic and scabrously humorous. The gist seemed to be that the state of being English was that of being perpetually at the end of one's tether and restrained only by decorum from homicidal rage.
posted by acb at 11:12 AM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm no longer a huge fan of his style of ascerbic-to-the-point-of-cruelty wit, but I'll never forget his suggestion that the surly waiters at L'Ami Louis "may well be related by blood—theirs or other people’s."
posted by Rock Steady at 11:15 AM on December 12, 2016

rather than asking why the drug is so expensive

I suspect he could have told you why in great, florid detail. Monoclonal antibodies are incredibly expensive to produce, basically. I'm getting £1,000 worth of mouse spleen extract tomorrow, and that's cheap because it's for a common illness. Yep, he'd have described the treatment beautifully. As it is, he wrote this, which made me cry:
Gill ended the article by recalling a conversation he had had with a cancer nurse. “(She said) ‘You’re supposed to be with me down in chemotherapy. I saw your name. Why are you up here?’,” he wrote.

“‘Well, it turns out the chemo isn’t working.’ Her shoulders sag and her hand goes to her head. ‘F***, f***, that’s dreadful.’ I think she might be crying. “I look away, so might I. You don’t get that with private healthcare.”
posted by ambrosen at 11:24 AM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Frankly, he made it ok to be racist and misogynist as long as you can do it with a clever turn of phrase. And this opened the way for others who were not clearly so gifted.
That's really how I will remember him. That and the baboon incident.
posted by vacapinta at 11:29 AM on December 12, 2016 [7 favorites]

And the popularisation of the idea of there being such a thing as “intelligent cruelty”, and it being a hallmark of superiority.
posted by acb at 11:48 AM on December 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

He was a good person, behind a grumpy facade. Far from being racist, he actually spoke up for refugees - he actually wrote a great series of pieces in the Sunday Times and elsewhere on refugees in Lampedusa, Jordan, the Balkans, Calais, Here he is on meeting Congolese women. Even winning an award from a migrant advocacy group.

So, not racist at all.

(I was at the ceremony where he received his award. He said at the time something to the effect of 'this is something I'm not well-known for', but it was heartfelt and genuine).

posted by plep at 11:51 AM on December 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

You can read a bit about one of his fellow-award winners . Trigger warning: female genital mutilation subject matter.
posted by plep at 11:58 AM on December 12, 2016

He was, however, a virulent misogynist and the worst kind of provincial Londoner. He also, I don't know if this has been mentioned, murdered a sentient non-human person for shits and/or giggles.

"Oh dear, how sad, never mind", A Pugnacious Troll
posted by howfar at 1:05 PM on December 12, 2016

He was a good person, behind a grumpy facade.

You know what? No.

Publicly suggesting that a talented professional should not be on TV talking about her subject because she wasn't pretty enough is a disgusting and contemptible thing to do, something entirely unworthy of a grown man well along in his own career, and, as far as I can tell, something he never regretted or apologized for. It wasn't just a vicious and uncalled-for attack on the target, it was the kind of comment that actively made the world worse. (Nor does it seem to have been a rare out-of-character lapse.)

I'm absolutely done with hearing about how asshole men are "good people, really," when they've been out in the world doing actively harmful shit like this. Tolerating and glossing over this kind of behavior is how we get "grab 'em by the pussy" presidents. Enough.
posted by praemunire at 1:10 PM on December 12, 2016 [16 favorites]

Agreed. And proving she is the better person, she moved on.
posted by Kiwi at 2:09 PM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

People contain multitudes. You can be both an activist for asylum issues and a misogynist.

I am sorry for his family, and not sorry for the well he poisoned.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:09 PM on December 12, 2016 [5 favorites]

posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 6:47 PM on December 12, 2016

I think been confusing him with AA Milne for a very long time, and so, in the past, I've given him more reverence than he deserves. Both are accomplished writers, and i'll admit that i did enjoy his style when he didn't broach one of his many controversial topics.

His eminently quotability will live on, I think:

"The rule with snails is: Don’t eat one you couldn’t get up your nose"
posted by trif at 5:51 AM on December 13, 2016

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