[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Thursday, 1 September 2005, 09:52 GMT 10:52 UK
Big feet, fast feet, dancing feet
By Bob Chaundy
BBC News profiles unit

Our new monthly column marks the passing of some significant characters over the previous four weeks.

Clockwise from top left, McGrory, Besson, Ferrer and Hirschfeld
At 7ft 6 ins, Matthew McGrory was not only the world's tallest actor, he also had size 29 and a half feet, the world's largest. As a result, he was inevitably cast in horror or fantasy movies. His most famous was in Tim Burton's Big Fish in which he played Karl, the sympathetic giant. At birth, McGrory weighed 15lbs and was 2ft tall. He is believed to have died from natural causes, aged 32.

Colette Besson, with smaller but rather faster feet, was the unfancied French winner of the 400 metres at the 1968 Mexico Olympics, beating the favourite, Britain's then "golden girl", Lillian Board. A PE teacher from Bordeaux, Besson's training regime for Mexico was aided by the 1968 student riots. During a three-month enforced absence, she was able to train at altitude in order to ready herself for the thin air of the Azteca Stadium. After retiring, she coached in Togo, Martinique and Tahiti and was outspoken in her opposition to doping in athletics.

Abe Hirschfeld, who has died at age 85, made a fortune building multi-storey car parks in New York. An eccentric, who had a habit of spitting at people in public, Hirschfeld's methods blighted his career. He once held a bureaucrat hostage in her office until she gave him a clean air certificate for one of his car parks. Most famously, he hired a hit-man to murder a business partner. He campaigned several times for public office under the nickname "Honest Abe". He was unsuccessful.

Laurel Aitken, who has died at 78, was known as the Godfather of Ska. He was one of the first singers to record in Jamaica in the mid-1950s. His international breakthrough came with Boogie in my Bones in 1959 which topped the Jamaican charts for 13 weeks. It was popular too in the UK where Aitken also recorded. His reggae tracks, Moon Hop and Skinhead Train were popular with white, working-class audiences, and his biggest hit came in 1980 with Rudi Got Married.

Coronation St opening sequence
Coronation St: Trumpets herald a visit to Weatherfield
A rather different musician, Derek Hilton, has died aged 78. Hilton was the doyen of TV themes. During 32 years at Granada Television, he wrote 241 theme tunes, including A Kind of Loving, A Family at War and Country Matters, for which he won an Ivor Novello certificate. But his best-known work was the arrangement of the Coronation Street theme. The many stars Derek Hilton worked with include Shirley Bassey, Tony Bennett and Tom Jones and he also composed Bury Football Club's anthem, Aye, Aye, Up The Shakers.

Something of a political shaker, the political historian, Maurice Cowling, who has died at the age of 78, has been credited with influencing a whole raft of Conservative politicians, most notably Margaret Thatcher. A Fellow of Peterhouse College, Cambridge, Cowling's books, including The Nature and Limits of Political Science, provided an outspoken challenge to liberalism, which he believed to be a mask for totalitarianism. Cowling was credited with converting one student, Michael Portillo, to Conservatism, even though he once commented that Portillo would one day make a good executive in a medium-sized company.

Others who have died this month include Jack Slipper, the detective who hunted Ronnie Biggs (see full obituary); the inventor of the synthesiser, Robert Moog (see full obituary); the black actor Brock Peters who appeared in To Kill A Mockingbird (see full obituary); former cabinet ministers, Mo Mowlam (see full obituary) and Robin Cook (see full obituary); the actress Barbara Bel Geddes who played Miss Ellie in Dallas (see full obituary); Brother Roger, founder of the Taize religious community; the former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lane (see full obituary); the legendary Northern Ireland politician Gerry Fitt (see full obituary); James Booth, the actor who starred as a charming Cockney malingerer in Zulu (see full obituary); the former New Zealand prime minister, David Lange (see full obituary); actor Michael Sheard, Grange Hill's Mr Bronson (see full obituary); the former Master of the Rolls, Lord Donaldson (see full obituary); Peter Jennings, the ABC newscaster (see full obituary); King Fahd of Saudi Arabia (see full obituary); and Ibrahim Ferrer, the voice of the Buena Vista Social Club (see full obituary).


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific