“Of the highest class.” A moment on A.A. Gill

AA Gill, BBC Screenshot

Short of a few eyebrow-raising statements, I don’t know much of the work of A.A. Gill, the Sunday Times journalist who died this weekend. But a 2012 article about a young colleague who had passed away has survived in my bookmarks since the week it was published.

Amy Turner, 29, had been a rising star of the paper. Hugely ambitious, undoubtedly capable, and yet completely aware of her place and the industry.

Many of the thankless roles she fulfilled as an assistant and support act, she continued to perform as she rose through the ranks. “I would get firm calls from our editor telling me to stop exploiting her”, Gill recalls. “But Amy would insist, saying she didn’t mind, and enjoyed it.” They ignored instructions.

So competent was she, with words and as an organiser, that she continued to be the person that everybody turned to, long after she left behind those responsibilities.

The only note of flamboyance in Gill’s piece comes in describing her lack of ostentation.

There is so little extraneous colour. No flouncing or verbal gymnastics. She becomes invisible against the narrative, a stage manager, driving, organising and arranging the story, monitoring its pace, making sure nothing is left out and nothing unnecessary left in. There is barely a whisper of Amy in any of it.

Gill had twice her years and multiple times the experience. You wouldn’t know it, and that’s the point. He makes the written word a great leveller, emulating the style of a remarkable junior as his mark of respect.

I think this is the best life-in-the-day I’ve ever read. Short, and to the point, it never claims to know Amy beyond its bounds. The poignancy of how she died, left to the end, is made the more remarkable for that.

Amy was found hanged. I have been worrying about how to say that. Normally, I’d have asked Amy. She’d have said, “Put hanged. That’s what happened. You need to say.”

As far as I know, Amy left no note, no message, no hint, and I can’t offer an explanation or a cause. I won’t conjecture motives or secrets. Amy wouldn’t have approved. It was not her way. So here, in her last story, there is nothing of her. Just the reflection of her in we who remain.

We’re always learning from others. Normally it’s those much senior to ourselves. But occasionally, if we put our hubris aside, we’ll acknowledge those who follow behind us too.

This piece, on a sudden and tragic death, makes me want to consider more about A.A. Gill in life. That’s the most a writer can ever hope for.

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One thought on ““Of the highest class.” A moment on A.A. Gill

  1. As I write this, WordPress has the customary December snowflakes falling across your blog. Perhaps they should be tears.

    I remember reading AA Gill’s article about Amy Turner online after I found out about her death. The piece was testament to how quantity of years need not – should not – be considered above quality.

    As for AA Gill: so short a name, but with the letters rearranged and two of them changed, A Giant. Maybe the closest thing to a real life version of Doctor House I’ve encountered, making it highly appropriate that Hugh Laurie has paid tribute. He was a writer I turned to every week (though ironically, owing to his dyslexia, he was literally a dictator more than a writer). Intimidatingly sharp and disagreeable, but to me as a reader that only made him more compelling. In the age of self-fashioned social media echo chambers, how many newspaper writers have that power? Of all the high profile deaths that have fallen within 2016, AA Gill’s loss may be the one I feel the most.

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