Matthew d’Ancona on the late Spectator quiz compiler, Simon Carter
I still get letters about the Impossible Quiz which Simon Carter set for our Christmas special issue. An infernally complex blend of merciless logic, M.C. Escher’s art, and very tough questions, the Thirty-Nine Steps quiz that Simon compiled and adjudicated was, in its way, a work of art. It completely foxed me, that’s for sure. Quiz-sharp readers were intrigued and, eight months on, continue to correspond with me about its devilish intricacies.
Simon’s sudden death at the age of 48 has been a terrible shock — not least because he was such a welcome new member of the extended Spectator family. I could tell how well he would fit in to our little republic of letters when he proposed a supplement to mark the 50th anniversary of the Eurovision Song Contest — and on discovering that the 2008 competition was actually the 53rd he suggested, without missing a beat, that we should do a 53rd Anniversary Supplement instead. What a man: I had looked forward to many such conversations in the future.
Since Simon died, I have learned from others how characteristic was this brazen mixture of wit, charm and intelligence. His contemporaries at Sussex University at the height of the New Romantic era in the early 1980s speak of a dazzling Fauntleroy, much influenced by David Bowie, who in his immaculate 1930s bell boy uniform looked ‘like a bad-tempered Oscar statue’.
In the spirit of that age — a Blitz spirit of a different sort — he was a gilded peacock, a club entrepreneur, a natural impresario. He went on to manage Chaka Khan and the group Brother Beyond, a boy band avant la lettre, which enjoyed considerable success, including two top ten singles, before finally disbanding in 1991.