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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I’ve been in the Torygraph twice. Once for Matches and once for Hatches. I very much doubt I’ll be in there for Despatches. I wasn’t particularly happy about the first two to be honest. But- it was the done thing, apparently. All about being proper. It was all wind and piss as far as I’m concerned. I’m sure that that is why this 1970’s criminal has his obituary printed. Because it’s the done thing in those circles. So, whilst it’s quite amusing to read how they try and flower up a sows ass I also think it’s a bit naff and a bit of a kick in the teeth to the people he’s shafted. Why not just put in the paper “Joe Bloggs, Date-date few details of what’s happening blah blah” leave it at that. People know he’s expired. Can get in contact if they so wish. It’s naff. Poor taste and a sign of a class no one really understands or cares about anymore. I think. 🤷🏽♂️🧐🤔
Should everything printed in the Thunderer be of great weight or is there room for tittle tattle and entertainment? Supposing not, then I think the second paragraph is more the juice -- "of no historical or social consequence" by far outweighs his morality for me. I love a good obituary of a bad person -- what better glue to stick one to the moral rails than the knowledge it will be published warts and all. Flawed humans (the only kind) are tremendously interesting.
So if that is the yardstick, can we tell what will have lasting impact and what will not? Is the chipping away at the edifice of the aristocracy really without historical or social impact? If the newspapers are to be restricted to merely being the first draft of history, then we do need to be careful of what goes in them, or more careful about what does not go in them? Ink is cheap. Publish and be damned (or at least filtered out by the next round of historians). Tomorrow someone more interesting may die.
I'm just composing a blog about why you've written an article about an obituary about him.......
Perhaps it’s just yet another attempt to swindle and put creditors off? Maybe he’s not dead after all!
If a criminal genuinely games the system and wins, as much as I don't like it, I can respect their sheer ambition and skill. However, I do agree that seemingly including a criminal just because they came from 'good stock' is quite poor especially as there are more interesting swindlers out there. They should be remembered, usually as a warning against their immoral acts, but not out of status. Oh well, at least he wore a Cravat
Well said. Most readers agree with you in the comments.
No idea who this person was, but I can't but help feel that there must have been someone else that The Times could have done an obituary about. Plenty of more interesting people in the world who achieve more in life who still are not completely law abiding.
Well said. I couldn’t fathom the obsession with the Krays and their criminal gang. Mind you I find the huge interest in ‘true crime’ stories bewildering.
A robber, a thief is the same wherever they come from and the biggest one today resides in the Kremlin. The black sheep in a family always attracts attention. Class, wealth always noticed in the UK and its Press can't have enough to push sales for their papers every day or in celeb magazines. One cousin researching family history with me commented, "Your family is so interesting, had such interesting lives whilst mine were born, married, had children, boring jobs and died." But I always reply that everyone's life has interest. You need to ask, to delve with careful questions into as much as you can and in many cases find undiscovered fascinating lives behind some quiet faces. And there are so many uncounted thousands of people who go about their lives doing good for others and unsung. Quiet angels in our midst. "Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.' Marcel Proust
No, it didn't. An excellent piece Guy. Thank you.