A Eulogy delivered by Andy Hobsbawm on the occasion of Michael's Requiem Mass, Sacred Heart Church Wadhurst, Sussex, England
The first time I ever saw Michael was at college in Canada – he met a plane-load of us at the airport having flown out ahead of time – I thought he was one of the teachers. At a fresh faced 17, the image of this somewhat grizzly, barrel-chested young man really didn't fit my image of a classmate. But he quickly revealed himself to be the big kid he always remained.
Michael was such a huge, larger than life presence not just in our lives but on this planet. Such a chunk of passion and energy and sheer talent missing from life – it really feels like the world should suddenly tilt off balance. He filled up so much life space that it makes it almost impossible to believe he's gone.
I think Michael would approve of the service here today – he'd be so upset at everyone's grief because he couldn't bear injustice and suffering – but I think he'd be very happy at the sense of occasion – all the people who loved him, his friends and colleagues past and present, the readings, not to mention the Catholicism mixed in with a bit of Hebrew and Tom Waits all on one bill in his honour. Michael loved a good show.
He would also, I'm sure, have chosen nowhere other than Wadhurst churchyard as his resting place (with its quintessential, romantic Englishness). Living in Wadhurst with Jennet was where he felt most at home. Finally he had found somewhere to settle with the friends, cats, cricket, beer and, of course, the woman he loved. He was the happiest I've ever known him in this place, and it’s right that he should be at peace here.
It’s so difficult to know how to do justice to the rare and wonderful person Mike was. A eulogy by nature focuses on and magnifies the best qualities in its subject. As Lindsay so rightly said: “everyone knows he made a difference, that he mattered, that every minute of being around him was extraordinary”. But I still wanted to somehow cut through the clichés and get the point across that he really was that special and that unique a human being. There was and will never be someone like Michael.
For one thing he was certainly the most creative and talented person I have ever known. Sure there are plenty of ultra-smart, gifted people out there, but Michael could've eaten most of them for breakfast. He had such a clear and consistent barometer of what was worthwhile and what was not, and this focused his highly original and articulate mind and made him such a creative force to be reckoned with.
He had such ideas upon ideas upon ideas – “and there's a million more where that came from” he'd say. But ideas on their own can be ten a penny, “yeah, yeah, – that and a dime'll buy ya a cup of coffee” he could also have said. The thing about Michael was that he always saw the Big Picture, and he could think it up, write it down, pitch it and then just get on and do it – all with the same flair and dynamism, and to the same consistently high standard. On this playing field he just kept hitting everything for six.
He was also, a great listener and very egalitarian. He had equal time for a Director or a Runner, as long as they had something to talk about; and he would apply all his enthusiasm for a conversation about your new curtains as long as it was something you were interested in.
Everyone will have their own memories of Michael's long and impressive professional career. Friends and colleagues from Mike's music video past will certainly remember a time when his uniform was the trademark hat and Mickey Mouse tin briefcase. They may also remember a particular heavy metal video he directed where the prowling gothic wolf turned out to look just a bit too much like a friendly alsation – he would always get so wound up if ever that was mentioned. Colleague Ben Woolley of the BBC has this to say about Michael in his Film and Television years: “He was perhaps the best person to have a row with of anyone I have worked with. I spent hours, days locked in dark editing suites with him, and we would spend the whole time arguing, yelling at each other, trading insults, hurling abuse, and I loved every minute of it. Somehow we always ended in total agreement, as well as fits of laughter. It was wonderful.”
To me, Michael really came into his own working in New Media and the Internet. He had a unique understanding of both the old and the new disciplines, how to transfer skills and knowledge between them, how to challenge the limitations and exploit the possibilities. He was quite simply brilliant at it and had, I believe, found his true calling. He had universal respect, admiration and acclaim from colleagues and fellow professionals and he relished every moment.
Talking with Jennet's brother Tim we were struck by the surreal idea of God being a bit confused about Internet technology and needing to summon someone to explain what this Information Superhighway business was really all about, and this led to visions of a very frustrated Michael somewhere up there going through the process again that a few people here will have experienced “Tsk, look, its like this, your computer is connected to a phone line…and then you click on links to information on other computers…”. And probably God would be doing the same thing as many of us “yup, right, got it…err…what was that middle bit again”.
What I find particularly poignant is that the industry Michael had such a whirlwind enthusiasm for is still so young, and the promise of what the Internet could become is very exciting and as yet unfulfilled – and Michael had all sorts of plans for what we should be doing and where to go. In my mind there is no doubt that he would have helped shape and define the industry, he would've been one of the greats – the Orson Welles of New Media.
Just as much outside of work Michael was a man of passions – some might say obsessions. I think we can safely say that cricket fell into that category. As an armchair analyst and fan Michael had no equal. As a player for the Rascals, Mickey “lost ball” Martin as he was known was not, shall we say, a natural born cricketer. But he was always the first name on the scoresheet – a solid number 11 in every way. The wonderful thing was that he had such an unbridled, infectious enthusiasm for the game, he lit up the entire pitch and it was just a delight to be a part of. Michael enjoyed the whole ritual of cricket which included the very serious and solemn business of tea. He was always a sharp critic of the tea… IF Jennet hadn't made it. He'd pick his way around the plates and invariably have complaints. It was a fact that Jennet made the best teas.
He did once, just once hit a six, which was, as Paul describes it, “a very, very big moment in everyone's lives – and a massive moment in his. He didn't say it was better than sex but it was definitely close.”
One occasion last summer Michael misunderstood the instructions to bat until tea, then declare. He was batting for all he was worth and came in for tea, nought not out and with his personal century firmly in his sights. Ready to continue the most glorious innings of his career, he learned of the cruel decision to declare. For the rest of that match Michael was a beacon of utter fury on the pitch. With his hat pulled low on his head he kept furiously sulking to Benny the other batsman: “we could have carried on mate, they should have let us carry on”. Even though friend and Umpire Mark had nothing whatsoever to do with the decision, Michael wouldn't even acknowledge his presence for a week.
One thing about Michael everyone who knew him would agree on:- he was incredibly funny. Not ‘good sense of humour' funny, but stand-up-comedy, make you laugh so hard you felt like your face would fall off funny. He loved a great performance, in the things he liked to create and the things he liked to experience. Certainly what enabled him to put on such a good show was his ability to perform one himself. He could, if you were lucky, sing and dance you a song or ten from Fiddler on The Roof, and many other assorted music and musicals – from Screaming Jay Hawkins to the Jungle Book (he was, I think, quite aptly called Balloo by the young daughter of his friend Julian).
Another of Michael's great passions was Polar exploration – he had a whole library of books on the subject and often said, having been born in an old whaling town, if he was anyone in a former life it must have been a Polar explorer – that was the only explanation for his complete fascination and sense of affinity with the subject matter and the history.
I find it comforting to speculate on the various guises Michael could come back in. And if I come across a stray black cat with John Wayne eyes or an incredibly hassled Arctic adventurer looking to raise money for his next expedition – I'll be sure to give them the time of day.
There was only ever one person in the world who could shut Michael up instantly – with no back-chat. Only one person who could turn him from a domineering colossus into a puppy, belly-up on the floor by just one look (usually a sideways glance), sometimes just a silence – hardly ever a word. One thing's for sure, Michael loved Jennet as much as any one person can love another. As everyone who knew Michael and Jennet and their time together – he utterly adored her, loved her unconditionally, and with all his heart.
I believe it's true that people really do live on in the memories of those that they loved – and Michael will be such an easy person to remember. I know his reactions, his opinions, his loves and his hates – what would have made him cackle with delight and what would have infuriated him with its worthlessness. He will still guide and influence how I live my life with his unique, consistent and unshakable view of the world. I will still hear his voice.
I'd like to read something that I found only last night – it was written by Michael aged 17 while we were at college in Canada and is dated February 6, 1981 – almost exactly 16 years ago from the day he died. I think the passage is extraordinary because it explains in Michael's own words many of the things we all knew about him – and it seems so appropriate for this moment.
“Everyone always thinks I'm big-headed because I know what I can do well and I'm not ashamed of it. I love having a dance floor to myself because that's when I shine. And most of all, I have got something inside me to say to the world and I won't shut up till I've figured out what it is and said it. But my best trait is that I believe life is the best trip there is and I act accordingly”.
Well, I believe even in the short time he had, Michael did figure out what he wanted to say to the world and he said it – and he always lived life to the fullest.
I'd like to finish this Eulogy to Michael with a poem by Dr. Maya Angelou that I think might just sum up what some of us who loved him are feeling – and that I'm sure Mike would have liked.
Ailey, Baldwin, Floyd, Killens, and Mayfield
By Dr. Maya Angelou
When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.
When great trees fall
small things recoil into silence,
eroded beyond fear.
When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold caves.
And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.