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Last Updated: Friday, 1 December 2006, 10:41 GMT
Songs, sketches and suffragettes
By Bob Chaundy
BBC News Profiles Unit

Our regular column covering the passing of significant - but lesser-reported - characters of the past year.

Betty Comden
Betty Comden co-wrote songs including Singin' in the Rain

  • Betty Comden, who has died aged 89, co-wrote with Adolph Green, the lyrics and scripts of some of the great musicals of our time. Among her credits were Singin' in the Rain, On the Town, Wonderful Town, Good News, The Band Wagon, Bells are Ringing, Hallelujah Baby! and Applause.

    Betty Comden's renowned wit sprang from her upbringing in New York, "A helluva town - the Bronx is up and the Battery's down". She and Green's professional relationship was such that, as she once put it, "At the end of the day we usually don't remember who wrote what."

  • In a different musical genre, Dirk Dirksen, who has died aged 69, called himself "The Pope of Punk". He ran San Francisco's Mabuhay nightclub in its 1970s heyday where he introduced such acts as the Dead Kennedys, Devo, the Ramones and the Mutants.

    Dirksen also established a reputation for abusing and insulting both his audiences and the artists. "I'm sorry to see you're that easily pleased," he'd tell the crowd after one band's performance. In return, they would often hurl abuse back at him while he stood on stage with his small dog, called Dummy, under his arm.

    Annie Knight
    Annie Knight was believed to be the oldest person in Britain

  • Paul Rigby always drew a small dog in his newspaper cartoons. It became a game with some readers to find them. Rigby, who has died at 82, worked in his native Australia, in Britain and in New York, and wherever he was, his drawings always reflected accurately the concerns and interests of the day through often devastating humour.

    He won many awards. One story goes that Prime Minister Edward Heath once remarked to him "Mr Rigby, I believe you have killed me," to which Rigby replied "Don't worry, I'm doing Harold Wilson tonight."

  • A subject for a cartoonist might well have been Richard Clements, the left-wing journalist who has died aged 78. Clements was a former aide to Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock, and was editor of the Tribune newspaper from 1960 until 1982.

    But 1999 became Richard Clements' "annus horribilis" when the Sunday Times named him as a Soviet spy, an allegation he strenuously denied.

    He pointed to the large number of anti-Soviet articles published under his editorship. But the KGB believed they had turned one of Britain's most influential thinkers into an "agent of influence". Richard Clements dismissed the notion as "complete nonsense".

    Windsor Castle fire
    Windsor fire: Sir Edward Ford coined the phrase "annus horribilis"

  • The expression "annus horribilis" caught the imagination of the media when The Queen used it to describe the year 1992, when the marriages of two of her children legally ended, when the Prince and Princess of Wales formally acknowledged their marriage break-up and when a wing of Windsor Castle caught fire.

    The phrase was given to her by her assistant private-secretary Sir Edward Ford. Ford had served her father before her and was the one who broke the news of George VI's death to the prime minister, Sir Winston Churchill. Sir Edward was 96.

  • Even older was Annie Knight who has died aged 111 and was believed to have been the oldest person in Britain. She was born when Queen Victoria was on the throne, Oscar Wilde was jailed for gross indecency and Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake was premiered in Moscow.

    According to her son, Bill, 86, "She was a keen suffragette and a Scottish nationalist who was not afraid to speak her mind."

    Annie Knight attributed her longevity to porridge, no alcohol or cigarettes, but the occasional sweet. Coincidentally, she shared her birthday with Britain's oldest man, Henry Allingham who is 110.

    Among others who have died this month are author, William Styron (see full obituary); politicians Bulent Ecevit (see full obituary) and Pierre Gemayel (see full obituary); singers Ruth Brown (see full obituary) and Anita O'Day (see full obituary); bluesman Robert Lockwood Jr; BBC broadcaster Nick Clarke (see full obituary); actors Diana Coupland (see full obituary) and Philippe Noiret (see full obituary); economist Milton Friedman (see full obituary); racehorse Desert Orchid (see full obituary); footballer Ferenc Puskas (see full obituary); boxer Willie Pepp; rugby player Keith Rowlands (see full obituary); disc-jockey Alan Freeman (see full obituary); spymaster Markus Wolf (see full obituary) and anti-smoking guru Allen Carr (see full obituary).


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