I had the rare opportunity last Sunday to read the whole of the newspaper (it wasn’t even the Sunday newspaper, but the Guardian from the previous day). As happens 99% of the time, hardly anything in the paper was much of a surprise. And then I got to the back and there was a large photo of Margaret Thatcher in all her regalness sitting on a posh Number 10 sofa next to someone who looked like he really didn’t belong on a posh sofa next to the prime minister. It took me several moments to realise who he was: thin, bespectacled, dark suit with white socks. Surely not… blimey, yes, it’s him, I realised at the same time as reading his name printed alone at the top of the article, and then to my genuine surprise and sadness the word “Obituary”.
Tom Hibbert (for it was he) was one of my favourite journalists back in the eighties. He first came to my attention at Smash Hits, a now-defunct weekly pop magazine (almost a comic, really) which had interviews with pop acts of the day, posters, quizzes, news/gossip and song lyrics. Hibbert’s contributions were mainly ridiculous questions posed to pop stars, such as “Have you ever swallowed a golf tee?” or “Have you ever been sick in your shoe?” I also remember laughing hysterically (well, I was only 13) at a photo of Max Headroom‘s Matt Frewer wearing a fez (long before they were cool) with a Hibbert caption referring to him as a “buffoon”. I laughed at that particular item so much in fact one night while lying in bed that my mum later said she initially thought I was in pain. I probably was, actually, albeit only with sore ribs from reading all these brilliant Hibbertisms.
Elsewhere in “ver Hits” you’d find interjections ranging from the onomatopoeic (“Spleeeee!!!”) to the sarcastic, such as this in the lyrics of a new Paul McCartney single called Press:
Baby, we could hit upon a word,
Something that the others haven’t heard,
When you want me to love you,
Just tell me to press.
Right there, that’s it, yes, [are you absolutely sure about this? – Ed]
Ah, when you feel the stress don’t just stand there,
Tell me to press...
The best thing about Hibbert was that he wasn’t afraid of poking fun at the great and good, and certainly not at the truly crap. He moved on from Smash Hits to Q Magazine, which I started reading from its second or third issue. Q became a monthly ritual for me back in the 80s and 90s, i.e. when it was actually any good. Hibbert was given a monthly interview slot called “Who the hell does X think he is?” in which he’d talk to X, who was invariably some pompous, arrogant celebrity or media character – or rather, he’d turn on the tape recorder, say hardly anything at all and let them hang themselves. People cite the usual subjects like Bernard Manning, Albert Goldman and Jonathan Ross, but the one I remember most was Dennis Potter, who was a tad on the arrogant side even if he wasn’t in the same (low) league as most of the other targets. I was a great Potter fan at the time, as The Singing Detective had just been on TV, so I was delighted to see two of my favourite writers in the same room. Potter though was terribly rude to Hibbert, saying “Oh, why don’t you just die” when the journalist couldn’t light his cigarette properly or something. Hibbert responded by saying “Sorry, I don’t think that’s a very nice thing to say.” I doubt very many people who encountered Potter had the confidence to respond like that, even though it’s perfectly reasonable, but the funniest thing is that at the end of the interview, during which Potter had continued to be rude and also advised “Never apologise”, the playwright got up from his seat, apologised heartily to Hibbert and broke into peals of laughter.
Q Magazine in later years also had a section called Where are they now? in which they’d analyse what happened to a particular group or artist. One time they had some kind of special article on The Love Trousers, which turned out to be a band comprising veteran rock journalist Mark Ellen and Hibbert. The latter, I recall, was pictured splayed on the floor with a guitar, and the photo caption had the credit “Tom Hibbert (Flying on the ground is wrong)”, referencing a Neil Young song. Even more years later I was queuing up in a chaotic Albert Hall foyer for the Concert for George when I found myself standing next to Mark Ellen, who seemed to be having as much hassle getting into the gig as everyone else. There was ample time to chat and I really wanted to say “When are The Love Trousers going to reform?” but all I said was something about the Albert Hall disorganisation. I bumped into Ellen again about five years after that at a showcase gig for Leonard Cohen’s girlfriend Anjani that I’d managed to blag my way into, but again failed to speak to him. I really wish I had, as by then I’d not heard anything of Hibbert for years and was keen to know what he was up to.
Sadly, according to the obituary, it seems that what Hibbert was up to was being seriously ill at home and unable to work – for years. I long ago got shot of all my back issues of Q – I gave them to a local hospital, I think, as they were becoming a major feature in my tiny flat at that time (this was before eBay was invented, so I could probably have made a few quid from them if I’d waited, but I’m kind of glad I didn’t). Just a few weeks ago I’d Googled for a Hibbert Q magazine article and found no examples of his journalism online at all beyond what was behind an expensive paywall site. I didn’t stump up, because all I was actually after was a silly short interview with Ginger Baker, mainly so I could read a typical exchange between Hibbert and the drummer about heroin use, in which Hibbert had said he could understand how one could “toot” a trumpet while stoned, but not play a highly physical instrument like the drums. It sounds very silly indeed but it was just Hibbert’s choice of verb “toot” that I remembered and wanted to see again in print. I don’t think there was anyone else like him in journalism and I’d like to take this opportunity of thanking him for all the hours of fun he gave me.