In praise of the well-judged anecdote

Charles 4 Comments

Anne B


We are indebted to Anne Barber for making this paraphrase of what the Daily Telegraph’s obituaries’ editor, Harry de Quetteville, said on Sunday’s Broadcasting House on dear old Radio 4. 

We all love a good story, but a good anecdote is even better, briefly, amusingly confirming or upsetting the reputations of those we thought we knew. Such stories can make the people next door seem famous and reveal the famous to be reassuringly like the people next door. 

How can a great yarn about a man help us imagine his character? We all love a good story but a good anecdote is even better! They are the threads of gold in life’s rich tapestry. Such tales can make the people next door seem like the rich and famous and the rich and famous seem reassuringly like the people next door. What the good anecdote can never be is dull. It is wit that we most enjoy;  the best no doubt are revealing, risqué even.

The 17th century writer John Aubrey summed up his contemporaries in a book entitled ‘Brief Lives’. He knew that the anecdote was the key to communicating a subject’s personality.

The well judged anecdote is uniquely telling. For facts and figures help us to understand achievements but only stories allow us to understand people.”

Catch it on Listen Again. Start 20 mins in. Thanks, Anne!


  1. Charles

    Yes indeed, it’s the good anecdote well-told that makes people in a funeral congregation smile with recognition, and nod – not the fact that in June 1961 he moved from the Gloucester to the Worcester branch of Smurdon Turdon Ltd.

  2. Charles

    It was late May, actually.

    Couldn’t agree more. Just been to a funeral in which a beautiful tribute included an anecdote about the dear dead one’s having spontaneously swerved away from his office one morning to deliver a 21st-birthday present to his shepherd daughter. So much character packed into a tiny tale.

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