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Fritz Spiegl (27 January 1926 - 23 March 2003) was born at Zurndorf, Austria, the son of an agricultural merchant and his Jewish wife. He became a musician, journalist, broadcaster, humorist and collector who lived and worked in England from 1939.

Born near Haydn's birthplace, and on Mozart's birthday, Spiegl was also a distant relative of the composer Gustav Mahler. In 1939, Fritz and his sister, neither of whom spoke English or knew anything of music, were sent separately to England. He was one of three children taken in by the Secretary of State for War Captain David Margesson and his American wife.

The Margessons taught Fritz English and sent him to Magdalen College School, near Banbury. At 15 years of age, Spiegl invented a model aeroplane which had another riding piggy-back upon it. The two were rigged together with a series of pulleys and elastic bands and, to his delight, the contraption could fly a short distance. The results were published in model aeroplane magazine. Thereafter Spiegl was hooked on the printed media.

Contents

Early life

Spiegl was born near the Hungarian border in the village of Zurndorf, Burgenland, Austria, where his father was a businessman manufacturing among other things carbonated water. Spiegl attended the Gymnasium in Eisenstadt but, as the family were Jewish, they soon found themselves being persecuted by the Nazis in the wake of the Anschluss of 1938. All their property having been confiscated, Fritz's parents succeeded in leaving the country in 1939, eventually escaping to Bolivia while sending Fritz and his older sister Hanny (born 1923) to England, where, in Northamptonshire, they received a warm welcome.

Every Saturday, for eight years, Spiegl would discuss such matters as the use of the word "lie", the flagrant misuses of parliamentary language, the prevalence of tautology in popular speech and the verb "jubilize" as it was employed during Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. He would even meditate on the habit of young doctors wrapping their stethoscopes in a U round their necks rather than in a Y configuration, as depicted by the Telegraph cartoonist Matt.

Reading every national newspaper every day, he continued to accumulate knowledge and anecdotes throughout his life. His sure-footed negotiation through the linguistic jungle in an accented English made him immediately recognisable on the television or wireless; this was all the more remarkable since he had arrived in Britain shortly before the Second World War speaking no English, and was later stricken by impaired hearing.

A native speaker of German, Fritz Spiegl did not speak a word of English when he moved to England as a 13 year-old -- a fact which has often been regarded as the trigger for his preoccupation with language phenomena such as, say, malapropisms and for the biting yet humorous linguistic purism of his later years. As one commentator remarked, Spiegl

...soon knew a great deal more about the language than most English people do. And cared more too. One can understand this. It's galling, when you've taken the trouble to learn that "an alibi" is not the same as "an excuse", to find that the natives themselves seem to have forgotten the difference.

On arrival in Britain, Spiegl was sent to a minor public school, where he learned little beyond "rugger, plane-spotting and a bit of Latin". Eventually he went to London to work for an advertising agency. But he soon switched to music, taught himself to play the flute, enrolled at the Royal Academy of Music and, within a short time, became Principal Flautist with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, a position he kept for more than a decade. Ear damage appears to have played a part in his exit from professional playing, as in later years he would occasionally refer to having been "invalided out by the brass section".

However, during that time he also pursued other interests and began his association with the BBC, aiming to be a popularizer of classical music. A resident of Liverpool, he organised annual Nuts in May concerts, featuring a Liszt Twist and other parody items. This approach helped draw new young audiences into concert halls. Less attracted to pop music, Spiegl once called the Beatles phenomenon "the greatest confidence trick since the Virgin Birth". However, he used to be tolerant towards journalists who, up to his death, often misspelt his name Spiegel, Spiegle, Speigl, Speigel, or Speigle.

Fritz Spiegl died suddenly during a Sunday lunch with some friends and his wife, Ingrid Frances Spiegl in Liverpool.

Works

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Compositions

As a composer, Spiegl scored a popular success with the original theme from the TV series Z-Cars, based on "Johnny Todd", a Liverpool sea shanty. He also composed the original theme for the Z Cars spin-off series Softly, Softly; the song was also released as a single on Andrew Loog Oldham's Immediate record label in 1966. His BBC Radio 4 UK Theme, in which national songs from each of the four constituent countries of the United Kingdom are ingeniously combined, sometimes in counterpoint with each other, and was heard on Radio 4 at the beginning of each morning's broadcasting until April 2006, when, to the disgust of many, it was dropped.

Selected books

  • How to Talk Proper in Liverpool (Lern Yerself Scouse S.) (1966)
  • Keep Taking the Tabloids. What the Papers Say and How They Say It (1983)
  • The Joy of Words. A Bedside Book for English Lovers (1986)
  • Fritz Spiegl's Book of Musical Blunders and other Musical Curiosities (1996) Robson Books Ltd. ISBN 1-86105-075-5
  • The Lives, Wives and Loves of the Great Composers (1997) Marion Boyars Publishers Ltd. ISBN 0-7145-2917-6
  • An Illustrated Everyday History of Liverpool and Merseyside (1998)
  • MuSick Notes: A Medical Songbook (2001)
  • Contradictionary: Of Confusibles, Lookalikes and Soundalikes (published posthumously in 2003)

External links


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