Tony Wilson – Ten Years On
On Friday August 10th, 2007, an earthquake measuring 2.5 on the Richter scale shook Manchester. Nobody was hurt, but the city was in a mild state of shock.
On that very same day, Manchester experienced a much deeper shock. Tony Wilson, the man who had become known as “Mr. Manchester”, died suddenly from a heart attack at the age of 57.
While Tony was a much loved figure, on the release of the Michael Winterbottom film 24 Hour Party People, starring Steve Coogan, a few Mancs quipped it was a movie about the biggest twat in Manchester, played by the second biggest twat in Manchester.
Born in Salford on February 10th, 1950, the young Tony Wilson wanted to become a nuclear physicist, but catching a production of Hamlet ignited a life-long love of the arts. Wilson studied English at Jesus College, Cambridge, and decided to embark on a career in journalism.
After graduation, he returned to Manchester and started working in Granada Television. He was employed as one of the evening news anchors alongside Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan. Wilson also presented an arts program called So It Goes.
Even after he formed Factory Records and began managing The Durutti Column and A Certain Ratio, he continued to be a freelancer throughout his career, working on the acclaimed ITV series World In Action and moon-lighting as a quiz show presenter, including Masterfan for Manchester United TV. He once said, “I hate my fellow United fan because we’re all hypocrites and we’re all shits.”
Wilson instilled a new self-belief in Mancunian musicians, photographers, graphic designers and journalists, convincing many of them not to move to London. As a young man, he drove down the M1 with the intent of starting a new life in the capital. Half-way through his journey, he turned around and drove straight back.
“Most of all, I love Manchester,” he said. “The crumbling warehouses, the railway arches, the cheap abundant drugs. That’s what did it in the end. Not the money, not the music, not even the guns. That is my heroic flaw: my excess of civic pride.”
Fittingly, the flag over Manchester City Hall was flown at half-mast after his death. Deputy city council leader Jim Battle said: “This is not something we would ordinarily do for an individual. We have made an exception because Anthony Wilson was no ordinary individual.”
A poll for Manchester Evening News asked what would be the most fitting tribute to Anthony Wilson – a concert, a statue, or a musical scholarship. 75% of respondents voted for all three.
Rest in peace Tony. As Prince Hamlet, who inspired you to become a cultural catalyst, famously said, “For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal coil…”
Peter Saville on designing Tony Wilson’s tombstone, where his coffin, FAC 501, was buried (from Another Magazine)
“I was looking at all the different types of stone and at first, I was certain that it would be some choice of exotic marble.
“Then I saw a highly polished black granite – almost like black mirror and I kept on coming back to it. When I stood there at the site, I imagined this black obelisk, that is there and not there, reflecting everything that is around it.
“I thought it was quite appropriate because Tony was a larger-than-life individual who was about other people. He catalysed the work of others and enabled them to realise their potential.
“To mirror all around began to seem so appropriate. His monument is a reflection of a world around him.”
Watch Mike Garry’s beautiful tribute to St. Anthony: An Ode to Tony Wilson, featuring New Order, Iggy Pop and many others: