Been and gone: Penthouse tycoon and Mastermind composer

By Nick Serpell
Obituary Editor, BBC News

Image caption,
Chair plus scary music = fear

Our regular column covering the passing of significant - but lesser-reported - people of the past month.

The opening shots of the black chair in TV's Mastermind are made even more intimidating by the programme's theme, composed by Neil Richardson. Just a minute and a half long, it emphasises the feeling of isolation felt by the competitors as they face their interrogator across the studio floor. A former chorister at Westminster Abbey, Richardson studied at the Royal Academy of Music and played a clarinet at RAF Cranwell during his national service. After a spell working for a musical publisher, he joined the BBC where, in the days when there was a restriction on the playing of records, he worked with the corporation's radio orchestras. He composed a wide variety of incidental music for cinema, television and radio and appeared regularly on BBC Radio 2 with his own group, the Neil Richardson singers. The theme for Mastermind, aptly titled Approaching Menace, remains his best-known work.

Mastermind was 25 years in the future when Mary Malcolm became one of the first female TV announcers to appear on screen. In the days when nearly all programmes were live, announcers would appear in vision to give details of what was coming up next and, all too often, would have to ad lib to fill the gaps when technical glitches hit transmission. She and her fellow announcer, Sylvia Peters, were required to wear evening dresses (no daytime television in those days) while the BBC generously chipped in with a stocking allowance. Malcolm, who received no formal training, became famous for her spoonerisms, particularly when reading the weather forecast. Viewers were often told to expect "drain and rizzle," or an outbreak of "shattered scowers." A granddaughter of the actress Lily Langtry, her fluency in both French and German saw her being picked to launch the first Eurovision transmission in 1950.

Television also proved a fertile area for the director Roy Ward Baker who had a successful career in films before he transferred his skills to the small screen. Born in London, he started off as a tea boy at Gainsborough Pictures but within four years had become an assistant director, working with Alfred Hitchcock. In 1958 he directed A Night to Remember, based on Walter Lord's account of the sinking of the Titanic, a film much closer to the reality of the disaster than James Cameron's overblown effort. Baker switched to television in the 1960s where he directed episodes of The Avengers, The Persuaders and The Saint. The skills needed to work on these low-budget productions came in handy when he moved back to the cinema to direct horror films for Hammer, including Quatermass and the Pit and The Vampire Lovers. He returned to television in the 1980s directing episodes of the hit series, Minder.

Ariane Daniele Forster became better known as Ari Up, the flamboyant lead singer of female punk band, The Slits. Music dominated her childhood; her mother Nora, daughter of a millionaire German magazine magnate, dated Jimi Hendrix and Chris Spedding before marrying Sex Pistols front man John Lydon. Joe Strummer from the Clash taught Ariane how to play the guitar and she formed The Slits when she was just 14. Her friendship with Strummer led to the band opening for the Clash on the White Riot tour in 1977. She cut a colourful figure on stage with wild hairstyles and wilder clothes, while the band's music was an unholy mixture of crashing punk chords and Jamaican reggae. When The Slits folded in 1981 she moved abroad, first to Indonesia and then to Kingston, Jamaica. She continued to perform solo and then, after 2006, with the re-formed Slits.

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Guccione chose to launch Penthouse in the UK

Penthouse magazine was launched in London in 1965 by American Bob Guccione in an attempt to emulate the already well-established Playboy. While Hugh Hefner's publication was aimed at an upmarket readership, Guccione deliberately targeted those readers seeking a more sensationalist style of writing - and more explicit pictures. Many of the early photoshoots were done by Guccione himself, who had a penchant for a soft-focus style. The magazine was an instant success and made its founder a wealthy man. He used a great deal of that wealth to finance the 1976 film Caligula. Despite an all-star cast, including Helen Mirren, John Gielgud and Peter O'Toole, it bombed at the box office, with one critic calling it "sickening, utterly worthless, shameful trash". A number of other unwise investments, together with competition from online pornography sites, hastened the decline of Penthouse and Guccione resigned from the company in 2003.

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Paul picked winners

Paul the Octopus had a great deal more success in the 2010 World Cup than his compatriots in the England football team. Hatched in an aquarium in Weymouth in 2008, Paul was later transferred to a tank in Germany. Claims that he first began predicting match results during the Euro 2008 tournament are now open to question after a keeper suggested that it was, in fact, a different octopus. However, there is no question that he predicted the outcomes of seven German games in the World Cup and correctly picked Spain to beat the Netherlands in the final. Press headlines such as "Psychic Octopus" have been rubbished by scientists who pointed out that Paul had a 50% chance of getting it right each time. Other pundits have suggested that Paul may have been attracted by the pattern of the national flags which were placed on the small clear boxes containing a mussel, which were used for the predictions. Paul died from natural causes, although the shock of learning he was to spearhead England's bid for the 2018 World Cup cannot have helped.

Among others who died in October were self-effacing opera diva, Dame Joan Sutherland; British Olympic gold medal-winning rower Andy Holmes; star of TV series Waiting for God and A Very Peculiar Practice, Graham Crowden; Claire Rayner, author and agony aunt, and master of slapstick, Norman Wisdom.