Death of a dyslexic journalist

The death of the Sunday Times journalist, AA Gill, has been in the news recently because he was an amazingly eloquent writer. He had a wonderful ability to describe situations using a prolific number of adjectives and similes.  But he should also be remembered for his severe dyslexia. He was born in Edinburgh but when his parents moved south he was sent to a “progressive” school in the south. This was the early 1960s and despite it being allegedly progressive he was labelled stupid and eventually he just “checked out”. After a period of alcoholism and unsuitable jobs, he took up cooking which led to teaching and to one of his students asking him to write an article on food for a magazine. The rest is history, as he became a well known restaurant critic – but such was his unique style of writing that he wrote on any subject which interested him.

An extract from his obituary in his own Sunday Times: “It still took him three weeks to read a novel and he could not spell. ‘I couldn’t tell you what an adjective is’ he once said, ‘people tell me over and over again but it just refuses to go in’. Menus presented a challenge. ‘I read hugely, just very slowly’. He wrote in his own form without paragraphs or capital letters and then dictated all his copy”. The Sunday Times employed a copytaker for him throughout his journalistic career. His last article was written in hospital with the help of his copytaker who described the draft of the article, “the computer was filled with runic-looking words muddled by his dyslexia”. The article was published on the day of his death and was about the compassionate care he had received from the NHS. In his true descriptive style he described his extensive cancer as “the full English breakfast”.

Extract from an article written by Jeremy Clarkson about his friend Adrian Gill, published in Sunday Times 18/12/2016:

“He died last weekend, leaving us with a body of work that beggars belief. It beggars belief partly because he didn’t start writing until he was 38 but mostly because of his profound dyslexia. He’d have had a better chance of getting his letters in the right order if he’d lobbed a tin of alphabet soup into a ceiling fan. He’d often text me to say where we were having lunch and I’d have to use a Turing decoder to work out what the bloody hell he meant. “Twersy”, for instance, was “the Wolseley”.

The way Adrian dealt with this was a lesson to all sufferers today. History was his favourite subject at school but he always got a bad mark, so he asked his teacher why. You’re one of the best in class, said the teacher, but you’ve got a problem with your writing. Adrian decided angrily that he didn’t have the problem; the teacher did. And he vowed ever afterwards to make it someone else’s problem, not his own. Adrian struggled, too, with reading. It would take him half an hour to read the inscription on a statue or a war memorial, which is something he did a lot, and yet somehow he knew everything about everything.”

Susie Agnew, Dyslexia Scotland Board Member

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