Stephen Cook: Remembering Terry Pratchett

He was a brilliant satirist, and a worthy winner of Third Sector's Charity Champion award

Stephen Cook
Stephen Cook

I first met Terry Pratchett in the early 1970s when we completed the Lyke Wake Walk, a 40-mile route over the North York Moors said to cover paths once used to carry coffins to burial. He was a subeditor on the Bath Evening Chronicle, the former workplace of one of the other three of us, all reporters at the Telegraph and Argus in Bradford. The walk has to be completed within 24 hours if you are to become a "dirger", join the Lyke Wake Club and claim your coffin-embossed tie.

We set off from Osmotherley at 3 am, talking shop and setting the world to rights. By noon, a weary silence had descended. Near the surreal white domes of the Fylingdales early warning station, as we rested before the final push, Terry delivered a withering denunciation of all hearty outdoor activities that would have made a good episode in Discworld.

When we reached Ravenscar at 1 am we were stumbling and whimpering with fatigue, but Terry folded his arms and puffed out his chest for the commemoration photo, like an aspiring Royal Marine after his first assault course. Only two members of that outing 40 years ago are now still alive. Soon afterwards Terry became a press officer for the Central Electricity Generating Board ("What leak at a nuclear power station? Oh, that leak at a nuclear power station," as he has joked); and soon after that he was a famous author.

Our paths never crossed again until three and a half years ago, when the readers of Third Sector voted him Celebrity Charity Champion in the Britain’s Most Admired Charity awards. He was already suffering from Alzheimer’s and donating significant amounts to medical research and a range of other charities. He was unable to come to the awards because he had a prior date on stage, doing one of his Evenings with Terry Pratchett, so a colleague and I went down to his home near Salisbury to record an interview we could show at the event.

His office was a Gothic den of unusual objects, with a vast and enviable oak bookcase covering one wall and a mezzanine floor round the corner where his assistant Rob worked, occasionally shouting out messages and reminders. Terry was cheerful, entertaining and showing no obvious signs of his advancing illness. We swapped recollections of the walk and he showed off his new voice-recognition equipment, which converted speech to words on the screen. He was highly amused at the prudishness of the American-made software, which refused to recognise rude words: "ship", it would write, or "bullocks". He was also scathing about attitudes to Alzheimer’s and the inadequacy of research. Now the world has lost a brilliant satirist, and charities a great champion.

This article was first published on the Third Sector blog

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