Why does The Times think a convicted fraudster and swindler is worthy of an obituary? I’m well aware – and agree – that the obituaries page should not be reserved for the good and the worthy, but the decision to include the late Mark Sykes is a poor one.
This was a man who made people’s lives a misery by attempting to swindle and blackmail them out of tens of thousands of pounds. This was also a man who abandoned his family by merely leaving a note on the kitchen table, and was also made bankrupt. The figure that emerges in the obituary is unlikeable and immoral, and of no historical or social consequence whatsoever.
The only reason why The Times featured Sykes was because he was posh. His uncle was a baronet (big deal), and he went to ‘good’ schools – Downside (from where he was thrown out) and Eton (again, big deal) – before going to Oxford (and again, big deal, not such an achievement in the mid-1950s).
The decision to include Sykes clearly reveals that the paper is in thrall to posh people. Had a criminal like Sykes not been related to lesser nobility, had been educated by the state, and had not gone to Oxford, then he would never have got an obituary.
But somehow, being posh gives criminality an ill-deserved glamour. Look at the end of the obituary, where Sykes is jocularly described as a ‘wastrel’:
This buys into what should be a passé notion that men like Sykes aren’t really criminals, but are charismatic cads and bounders in the mould of Terry-Thomas. It’s a seductive figure, but it is figure of cliché and gives the posh a kind of pass that when they swindle people, it’s all a jolly jape.
Tell that to the people who were the victims of his crimes. Did being robbed by an Old Etonian somehow make it less bad?
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