Wow, can you believe it, my dear readers? A review of the life and writing of Tom Hibbert, the equivalent of PG Wodehouse in the world of pop journalism.
Before music journalists became obsolete like coal miners, they were a distinct group and music journalism was a legitimate profession. The top journalists had prestige and power, and the most exceptional ones could even motivate a whole generation. Tom Hibbert was arguably the most outstanding music journalist for over a decade from the 1980s to the 1990s. He had a unique writing style that appeared in publications like Smash Hits and Q, where he consistently refused to give in to the demands of celebrities, regardless of their fame.
Wow, isn’t that something, my dear readers? This book title alone captures the essence of the witty and sly writing style of the author. It features a compilation of his most exceptional and amusing pieces, accompanied by heartfelt memories from his spouse, musical colleagues, and fellow writers.
Mark Ellen, a journalist and editor, stated in Hibbert’s obituary for the Guardian in 2011 (reprinted here) that he would make his subjects feel like they were underachievers, despite their successes. Hibbert’s targets were often inexperienced (such as Bros and Kylie Minogue), but his criticisms were more mischievous than malicious. As his former colleague Paul Du Noyer suggests, Hibbert was essentially a satirist. Reading his pieces all at once showcases how unique he was: older than his peers, wealthier, and ultimately more similar to PG Wodehouse than any rebellious punk.
He was born in 1952 as the son of well-known historian Christopher Hibbert. He entered the world of journalism during the popular music boom of the 1980s, which did not particularly impress him. He had a preference for music from the late 1960s and early 1970s, such as Syd Barrett and the Byrds. To cope with having to write about less meaningful music for Smash Hits magazine, he developed a biting writing style that included inside jokes and numerous side comments (to emphasize his sarcasm). He often looked down on artists like Phil Collins and Jon Bon Jovi, and used a clever interview technique – later adopted by Louis Theroux for television – where he would ask a provocative question and then allow his subjects to fill in any awkward pauses. According to a former coworker, “Tom was never afraid of silence.” This approach was always successful and even led to a rambling response from Margaret Thatcher during an interview for Smash Hits in 1987. She said, “Television tells you many things you wouldn’t otherwise know, but it also prevents many things because it’s too easy to go home, do your homework, and then sit down in front of the television with your family without talking to each other.”
Q’s well-known segment, “Who the Hell…”, involved him conducting monthly interviews with individuals who were known for their self-importance. However, according to Ellen, in the company of Hibbert, they would often reveal a deeper truth about themselves instead of just promoting themselves. Some notable interviews, such as Bernard Manning, Cliff Richard, and Jimmy Savile, are not included in this collection, but the ones that are still provide entertainment. In 2001, Hibbert admitted that he grew tired of writing about these types of individuals and used sarcasm as a coping mechanism.
One possible interpretation is this: He angered Ringo Starr by making negative comments, did the same with Roger Waters by refusing to answer a question he deemed foolish, and elicited this response from Gary Numan: “I am unapologetically a capitalist. So what?”
In the mid-1990s, he became increasingly similar to Withnail in his disdain for everything around him. He briefly wrote for the Mail on Sunday and, in his early 40s, positioned himself as a grumpy old man longing for the good old days. He found a more suitable platform in the Observer’s Pendennis column, where he applied his sharp wit to political commentary, similar to how he used to review new singles by Kajagoogoo. In 1997, he ran for the Whig party in the general election but lost to Michael Heseltine in Henley by 23,748 votes. He had promised to repeal the Corn Laws and give women over 30 the right to vote. By this point, his eyebrow could lift weights.
In the same year, after many years of smoking and drinking, he was struck with pancreatitis and pneumonia. He was kept in a medically induced coma for four months. His wife, Allyce, recalls in Phew… that when he woke up, he was no longer himself. Due to his illness, he was unable to work and spent most of the next 14 years by himself. Sadly, he passed away in August 2011 from diabetes-related complications, a tragic end for someone who always had such a lively presence in his writing.
This compilation honors Hibbert during his unparalleled peak, as the most unique of authors, and as someone who could make writing about pop music just as enjoyable as listening to it.
This task is not easily achievable.