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The bizarre moment the BBC wrongly announced the death of Mark E. Smith

The late frontman of The Fall, Mark E. Smith, was one of the most iconoclastic figures the world of music has ever seen. A true non-conformist, Smith’s weird and wonderful version of post-punk established him as the leader of a devoted, religion-like cult of a band. Far and wide, people listen to his absurd prose as if a divine scripture, written for the idiosyncracies and darkness of the modern world. 

The master of acerbic wit and sharp social commentary, Smith was a perennial spectator, watching the world from afar, perched in the pub and not missing a thing. Adding to his brilliance was that the often antagonistic frontman of The Fall had an uncanny ability to leave a mark on those who hated him, which he undoubtedly got a kick from.

Ironically, Smith, who was the walking, talking embodiment of the cynical Northerner, has inspired a whole host of bands, many of whom come from the very opposite of the background that he grew up in. From Ought to bands such as IDLES, Smith’s spirit is alive and well today.

It’s reflective of the quality of his work that his music, which many dismiss with the ‘unaccessible’ tag, can appeal to any walks of life. This has made the cult of The Fall one of the most colourful out there, fitting for a band with an equally as kaleidoscopic back catalogue.

Watch Mark E. Smith’s comical guide to writing

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From The Fall’s formation in a drug-induced haze in Prestwich in 1976 until Smith’s death in January 2018, the band produced a remarkable 31 studio albums, as well as 51 live records. Adding to this prolific status is that Smith, who was the only constant member, got through over 60 band members in this time, a truly astounding feat, showing that the cult of The Fall was not exclusive to their fans.

Encapsulating the unorthodox type, one of which Smith was the king of, he once noted how “every artist wants credibility. A couple of years ago, I read a poll on the hundred best artists of all time. The Fall was in there between Mozart and Puccini. I was very proud of that. Of course, the next day I can pick up a paper and be the guy with no teeth who beats everybody up.”

Clearly, Mark E. Smith was no stranger to the weirder side of life, as he was one of its most notable adherents. Whilst his life and times are brimming with an almost Lynchian form of the surreal, there is one moment that stands out as one of the most comedic.

Perhaps the most ironic thing that ever happened to the singer arrived on his 60th birthday, March 5th, 2017, which was to be his last in this mortal realm before he ditched it for a version of heaven booze and fags are free. Erroneously, the BBC announced that Mark E. Smith had passed away in a tweet posted on his birthday. 

The tweet came courtesy of the BBC Music Twitter account, which read “RIP Mark E. Smith,” accompanied by a sad emoji and a picture of The Fall’s frontman in his younger days. Swiftly corrected by the many fans of Smith and The Fall on the internet, the BBC issued a statement, with a spokesperson asserting: “This was a genuine human error and the message was posted by mistake and swiftly deleted. We apologise for the error.”

BBC Music later corrected their mistake by tweeting: “Happy 60th Mark E. Smith” along with a party-popper emoji. However, there was no coming back from this, it remains one of the greatest faux pas that the broadcaster has made to date, up there with the time a journalist claimed that the Queen had passed on.

Unfortunately, Mark E. Smith never made a public comment about the mistake, but he was almost certainly aware of it, as he couldn’t have written it himself.

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