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The Art of the Obit

4 Extra Debut. Matthew Bannister celebrates the culture, style, purpose and panache of a media institution: the obituary. From 2016.

Matthew Bannister, presenter of BBC Radio 4's obituary programme, Last Word, celebrates the culture, style, purpose and panache of a media institution: the obituary.

Matthew finds out about the delicate work of preparation, as he talks to leading obituary figures about how they choose which lives to cover. He examines some landmark obituaries, and reads from The Times full page obit on Hitler, an indicator of how the often delicate balance between honesty and sensitivity is achieved.

Matthew also reveals some of his own behind-the-scenes stories – like the time he made uncomfortably close contact with the corpse.

And a look at future developments, as some of the leaders in the obituary field reveal moves into the world of the pre-recorded farewell obituary video.

Musician Dave Swarbrick recalls how it felt to see his premature obit in print, and Matthew explores why working in the world of the obit is always surprising and unexpectedly life-affirming.

Producer: Neil George.

First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in February 2016.

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