Remembering Stuart

On May 16th 2021, we sadly lost our Editor, Founder and the all-around guiding light of Screenjabber, Stuart O'Connor after a short battle with cancer. If you are reading this, you probably don't need anyone to tell you that Stuart was the beating heart, the brains and the driving force behind this very website and it's continued success for so many years.

Stuart O'Connor loved films and his passion was infectious. Anyone who ever attended a press screening with him will know only too well that it was hard to miss Stuart at such events, given his exuberance and excitement for the medium. You only need look to the number of writers who got their foot in the door with reviewing films and beyond, thanks to Stuart taking a chance on them, to see his impact. So many success stories started with Stuart taking a gamble on unproven writers and giving them a platform to grow as critics.

In memory of Stuart for all he did, not only for the people who had the opportunity to meet him and call him a friend, but also for all he did for the industry as a whole here are some memories and tributes from those who he worked with at Screenjabber over the years:

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I first met Stuart in 2005 when a mutual friend suggested we get together for a drink. "I know this Australian guy who wants to start a film website, thought you might be able to help." And, well, you're looking at the results of that meeting.

Stuart was always very gracious in terms of describing me as Screenjabber's co-founder but, while I brought some connections and a love of film to the table, it was his drive, vision and dedication to the site that kept it going all these years, through some glorious ups and a fair few downs. I mean, I know we should be singing his praises here, lamenting on a life cut far too short (and we will and it was) but you can't really pay tribute to Stuart without acknowledging he could be an awkward, exasperating, pedantic bugger sometimes, or that he had a personality that, in these circumstances, we'd have to call "Vegemite". When the sad news broke last week, someone said Stuart would have been surprised that so many people were talking about him on Twitter. I pointed out that, actually, he'd have been surprised that so many people were saying nice things about him on Twitter: he was very, very capable of saying something for effect, of lighting the social media blue touch paper, just to get a reaction... So yes, he was, undoubtedly, a difficult, stubborn Aussie bastard but he was, undoubtedly, OUR difficult, stubborn Aussie bastard. And, as well as happily admitting he could be an awkward bugger, he used much of his power for good.

As many have said this last week and, I'm sure, on this page, Stuart was a generous soul, and gave many people a kickstart to their journalism careers. I count myself in that number. In 2005, I was trying to find my way as a freelancer and, as well as spawning Screenjabber, that first beer also gave me a foot in the door at The Guardian, via his day job on the Tech section. More importantly though, it gave me a fine, fine friend, a regular drinking buddy, a fellow lover of fine dining and good cheese and excellent reds. He could never understand, of course, how I didn't like Laphroaig but we mostly got past that...

I'm not going to say something gushy like "the world's a poorer place now" or "his star burned too quickly" because, true as they are, I think Stuart would just be embarrassed by that (or, more likely, point out how it's grammatically incorrect or cliched or something). Instead, I'll just continue to raise a glass every so often and wish he was still around to help put the world to rights or dissect films over a pint. And hope that, whatever happens after this mortal coil, it has hoverboards and that you don't need roads. Cheers mate. It's been a blast. Neil Davey

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The first time I met Stuart was in 2011 at the press screening for Super 8, and it's fair to say meeting Stuart was more memorable than the film. Having interacted via social media and email, Stuart sent me to review a few different films before we ended up attending the Super 8 screening together. I will happily admit that I wasn't quite sure what to make of Stuart immediately. His passion for films for evident from the outset, but he was a unique one-off and on that first meeting I was a little unsure if he was brilliant or absolutely bonkers. However, as we collaborated on more pieces and podcasts as well as having a good few pints along the way I got to know Stuart pretty well. He was a kind and generous man, and he poured his heart and soul into everything he did. I think about his generosity quite a lot. He once gave me a PS3 when he received an upgraded console so I could do reviews for that platform, but also because he knew at the time I couldn't afford to buy one. While writing for Screenjabber never really paid a lot, when it did he would also try and look after the people who gave up their time to write for his website. That's just the sort of man Stuart was. There are countless writers who found there way into very prestigious positions within the industry because Stuart gave them a place to start from.

During my time writing for Screenjabber I had a lot of opportunities to go to press screenings, conduct interviews and a whole lot more. One of my fondest memories of that comes in the form of seeing the The Muppets in 2011 with Stuart and my wife on a Sunday morning. It was honestly one of the most joyful experiences of my life, and seeing that joy shared by fellow lifelong Muppets fan Stuart was really lovely. Afterwards we went and had Dim Sum in Soho and just spent a few hours chatting. Sunday Dim Sum lunch is something I did a few times with Stuart. It was always a treat to have him talk me through new things on the menu I should try and just seeing him in his element -  dissecting a film after a screening and generally setting the world to rights.

My favourite Stuart story has nothing to do with films, or even Screenjabber really. In 2014 I got married and Stuart was one of the guests on the day. As part of the festivities we had hired a canal boat for all the guests. Stuart was very taken with this idea, and during the leisurely cruise he decided it might be nice to stick his head out the window. This resulted in a stern telling off from the captain, which Stuart did not immediately agree with, in his own personal stubborn way that was both endearing and infuriating in equal measure. It was only when he was told that by sticking his head out the window and that he was risking decapitation that he grumpily backed down as we shared a concerned look followed by a lot of laughs and him lamenting the UK's approach to health and safety. I tell this story often, because it was genuinely hilarious and it will certainly be a memory I hold on to for the rest of my life. I'm grateful that Stuart was a part of that day.

Stuart O'Connor was a true individual. He never shied away from making his opinions known, never shrank from a debate and never let himself be pushed around. As such, when he phoned me to tell me he was moving back to Australia to continue his battle with cancer and spend more time with his family, I truly believed he would be able to live out several more years in the sun. Although the duration of this might not have come to pass, it certainly warms my heart to know he made it home (after threatening to go back to Australia for so many years) and when he passed, it was surrounded by his loved ones. Stuart's death is a huge loss to all of us, but knowing he is no longer in pain and seeing the outpouring of love in the wake of that news was really something to behold. Hopefully you're eating some cracking dim sum and watching an endless supply of classic movies in the afterlife. RIP mate, you will be truly missed. Tom Mimnagh

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There's never been anything like a conversation with Stuart regarding films. His passion for everything meant he could talk the ins and outs of the state of horror, or five jokes from a recent comedy that had him laughing long after, and educating you along the way. Seeing him at a screening, or at the pub, or at a junket meant that at least there was someone there who would have something of value to say, and always have your back too. He passed around the time I was reminiscing on the decade since the X-Men: First Class junket, which was how we first met, a collection of web-based writers being offered a round-table with Matthew Vaughn, some surprisingly good access during a time when folk were a little hesitant about the importance of online media. Stuart was outgoing there, and worked the opportunity, that whole summer we would bump into one another at many an event and it felt like the formation of a community. Recording podcasts on the first floor of The Blue Posts, trying to get front of a screening queue for best seats in the house, any opportunity for a nice pint and to discuss the film coming up, or the film just seen, golden times.

Stuart gave me something of my first paid gig in film writing, not that Screenjabber could afford to pay much, but he wanted a Scary Movie V review, and I appreciate the lesson learned. Some things aren't worth even a free blu-ray set.

Stuart spent every opportunity telling anyone who complained about the weather that Australian weather was better, it was never 'hot', even in a heatwave it was chilly to him. He threatened that he'd one day head back for good. I'm so grateful to have had the time with Stuart, and that he did exactly what he said he'd do in the end. Andrew Jones

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I’ve known Stuart a long time, pretty much since he first appeared on the screening circuit, back in - I want to say 2007 or so. My abiding memory of him from the early days is his absolute joy at landing an interview with Jonathan Ross and then pestering him matily at screenings afterwards. I really hope someone has told Ross about Stuart, because I know he would have wanted that.

Like everyone else, I loved the way Stuart would always jump in on any conversation about how hot the weather was to point out that this “heat” was nothing compared to Australia. Call this hot, etc.
I had a full time reviewing gig at ViewLondon (RIP) for 14 years, and when that ended, Stuart was good enough to help out with a few commissions. I will always remember him fondly for commissioning me to review Mr Turner, just so he could say “Mr Turner reviews Mr Turner” on social media.

Latterly, Stuart told me he had cancer at the multimedia screening of Wonder Woman 1984. Then, when he phoned everyone to say he was going back to Australia, his opening line was, “I’m calling to say goodbye”, which a) came as quite the shock, and b) strikes me as a particularly Stuart thing for him to do, whether consciously or unconsciously. (I know others had the same shocked reaction). Now that he’s gone, I’m finding a measure of comfort that he actually got to say goodbye to everyone that way.

RIP, Stuart. You’ll be missed. Matthew Turner

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As I imagine most anecdotes will involve Stuart grumbling about the UK in general or refusing to accept our inability to cope with the weather (I think we’ve all been there!), I will try to convey just why Stuart was one of a kind. The enthusiasm and passion for film speaks for itself. The straight shooting was loved by some and put others on edge, but I’ve always been one to admire honesty, and I felt like Stuart was always true to himself. Beyond that, it was the kindness that I felt the most, and that is perhaps a side that many never saw in passing.

I was given an opportunity at something I was passionate about by someone who did not have to. It’s clear that Stuart knew a lot of people who could’ve contributed in ways to Screenjabber but he let me be a part of it and I’ll always be grateful for that. I wish I could’ve done more if I’m honest. I just hope he knew that I was thankful for what we were able to do together. So next time we’re stuck in a heatwave or watching our favourite movie, let’s all raise a glass to a man who was an important part in so many of our lives. Thank you Stuart. David Bedwell

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Stuart was a forthright, passionate one-off who was a great mate in film journalism. Cheers, Stu. Lewis Bazley

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I first encountered Stuart when he was working on the production desk at Guardian Tech and I was writing for Tech. One day he rang me to check something in one of my articles and he told me he loved editing me because my writing needed almost no fixing and it was already in Guardian style. Soon after, he invited me to join Screenjabber, which he was just about to launch. And so for the next eight or ten years I was the TV critic for the site, occasionally popped up in the weekly Screenjabber podcast and even more occasionally did a film review, interviewed an actor or previewed a film festival. Stuart was easy to work with and we got on really well.

Occasionally he’d phone and we’d have long chats about our personal lives. He longed to go home to Australia, and for years kept announcing his departure from the UK was imminent although it never happened. His personal life hadn’t quite worked out as he’d have liked but he certainly had plenty of friends.

I gave up the TV column a couple of years ago but we stayed in touch. Stuart could never understand why I didn't have a Blu-Ray player, just a common or garden DVD player, and he nagged me for years to get one. After I stopped writing for Screenjabber he sent me a thank you present for Xmas. Yup, a Blu-Ray player. He was a one-off.

I had no idea he was so ill – he’d been very private about it. And then he called in February to say this time he really was going back to Australia, before dropping the bombshell about his cancer. To say I was shocked was an understatement, and I understood he was also saying goodbye to me for the last time. I’m really saddened he’s no longer with us, but I’m glad he finally made it back to Perth to spend his last weeks with his family.

RIP Stuart. Louise Bolotin

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Stuart loved being in the cinema. Being sat next to him while watching a film was like being sat next to a child, all enthusiastic and excitable. His love of movies was infectious. Mark Searby

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One of my fondest memories of Stuart took place - unsurprisingly - at a film. But this wasn't just a usual press screening. We weren't in a West End cinema, or Soho screening room: we were at London Zoo. In 2010, we attended a Halloween event to celebrate the film An American Werewolf in London. We were invited to a guided tour around the zoo where many of the film's locations were based, and to view a wonderful collection of original publicity posters and real props used in the shoot. I don't know who was more excited, Stuart or I, as we geekily perused all the memorabilia.

After becoming immersed in that, we then watched the movie whilst sitting in the depths of London Zoo: it was a truly unforgettable and wonderful experience. But what really made it stand out in my mind is the scary walk Stuart and I took out of the zoo and through Regent's Park afterwards. Pitch black, near midnight, with nothing around us other than hearing the odd animal cry in the distance, Stuart teased me with occasional whispers of "Stick to the roads! Keep off the moors!" as we tried to find our way out of the park in the depths of darkness. I think I had nightmares for about a week, but it was immense fun, and a joy to share that with him. Zoe Margolis

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Stuart was an interesting guy to say the least. One of my enduring memories of him was at fellow contributor, Tom Mimnagh’s wedding. We were on a barge and he wanted to stick his head out of the window and feel the breeze. He hated that the guys running the barge wouldn’t let him because of (in his words) the UK’s obsession with health and safety. He was so annoyed that anyone would tell him what to do, especially if it didn’t make sense. His annoyance made me chuckle quite a lot.

I look back on that, and I remember admiring how… well difficult he was. He was his own man, he had his own moral code and he was not afraid to tell you or anyone else about it. I look back and I respect greatly what he was able to achieve with Screenjabber, how he built this site from the ground up. How he found so many talented writers and bought us together to help create this amazing thing.

I also remember how kind he was, how encouraging he was. How much he loved Australian Milo in comparison to Nigerian Milo (one of his tragic flaws…) He was fiercely proud of his country. He was fiercely proud of what he believed in, and he believed in some good shit!

Ultimately, what I regret now, when thinking about his passing is how amazing an opportunity he handed me, and because of life etc, how I did not fully realise how great an opportunity it was. Because of Stuart, I was able to be a film critic. A real-ass film critic, not just a pretend one for fancy dress parties or on weekends. I got to see Keanu Reeves at the “John Wick 2” premiere (sat next to Stuart). I got to cry my eyes out watching “When Marnie Was There.” I saw some of the most amazing films and got to share those thoughts with the world, with an audience. And all because Stuart believed in my abilities when no one else did.

You never think someone is going to pass, it’s always a huge shock when it happens. But when they do, you realise how much you take their life for granted. You look back and think, if I thought they only had a year left on the planet, I would have said more and done more. So I feel the same about you, Stuart. You were a good dude, and considering what you did for me, I should have done more to reach out. I think anyone reading this should do the same, don’t wait for someone to pass before you tell them how much they mean to you. Give them the flowers while they are still around to enjoy them.

Enjoy your garbage Milo in heaven Stu, thanks for everything. Daniel Akinbola

 

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I feel privileged to be able to call him a colleague and a friend. As the screening rooms of London begin to open again, they certainly feel a lot emptier without the one-of-a-kind presence of Stuart O'Connor.

It looked as if I was going to be involved in writing a book about Sherlock Holmes on screen, so I arranged a coffee with Stuart to pick his brains for contacts – he was bound to know all the PR contacts at the studios, right?

“Why don’t you ask Robert?” he asked. I asked Robert who. “Robert Downey Jr, he’s done Sherlock Holmes films and he’s on Twitter.” What, just ask him cold? “Yeah, he loves the movies, he’d probably talk to you.”

And that was Stuart, the eternal optimist. Everyone was a nice person who’d help you unless they had a reason not to and never mind that they had agents, publicity people and had to fit into the modern studio system. Naïve? OK, but assuming the best of people is never a bad starting point. So long Stuart – gone too soon but I hope some of your optimism has rubbed off on me. Guy Clapperton

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Stuart was always up for a beer and a chat about films. Which is probably why he started the Screeniabber Pubcast. He asked me if I wanted to host it which I agreed to on the proviso that he didn’t interrupt me. Of course, he interrupted me and everyone else all the time. But that was Stuart all over - passionate, irrepressible, forthright. He was trusting enough to welcome my girlfriend Cate (now my wife) into the Screenjabber fold and let us cover the London Film Festival together which was a great experience and not just because she got to chat to George Clooney, she assures me. Stuart also gave me Fired Up! on DVD which is a lot better than you’d think. Thanks for the memories, buddy, you’ll be missed. Justin Bateman & Cate McVeigh

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Stuart was one of a kind, passionate about film and TV and willing to give anyone a chance to write for Screenjabber. He loved nothing more than to talk about what was happening in the industry, and was always pretty forthright with his thoughts!

He was kind enough to let me take over hosting duties of the pubcast for a while, and I always enjoyed sitting down with Stuart and the rest of the team to talk about what we thought of the latest releases. It was great fun and I hope that came across to our listeners.

I'm going to miss catching up with him after screenings or while we were both dashing around at the London Film Festival. The London film "gang" has lost one of our own. Jenny Priestley

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I don’t really know how to write this tribute to Stu as I’ve not totally accepted that the pernickety bastard is really gone.
I don’t actually remember how or where I first met him. I’m not really too sure even how long we’ve been friends. He’s just always seemed to be there for many of my greatest anecdotes and experiences over the years.
When I met one of my Heroes Adam Ant with my eldest son Harrison, Stu was there to take the photo. When I first saw an early cut of the Frozen song ‘Let It Go’ – it was Stu I turned to and said “That will be HUGE”. When I was locked inside a London bar for a Mario Kart event due a ferocious riot outside on the streets – Stu was there dressed as Luigi. And when I was desperately trying to control my youngest son Con inside a Muppet’s premiere press pen it was Stu who was bloody-well egging him on to be really fucking naughty (to the delight of my son). He seems to have always been there by my side.

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The thing that I loved best about the man was how ‘what you saw, was what you got’. Sometimes this genuineness I guess could be considered a bit of a pain – but at least you knew where you were with Stu. No fart arsing about or talking behind your back – he ‘Said and Did’ things as he saw it and always 100% with the right intentions.
O’Connor would do anything for anyone and was incredibly passionate about delivering the best of himself to everyone who either had a working or personal relationship with him.

If you were one of Stu’s mates you would know it. He was a deeply loyal friend and if you needed his help - he’d already be helping you even before you’d finished verbalising your request for help.

During this incredibly challenging year for our Stu you wouldn’t have known he was so sick. He worked constantly throughout and barely spoke about the illness, choosing to concentrate his time and focus on the nicer things going on in his life. Stu was no victim and even in what would sadly became his final year on earth he had so much he was looking still forward to – especially the return to his beloved Australia.
The last full conversation we had was just before he left the UK, I told him I was gutted he was leaving - but said I totally understood why he was going back. It wasn’t the illness – he missed his home.
Stu was so excited to be going back to Australia and be with his family and friends again. Its not that he didn’t like being here in the UK (Even if he did complain about us all the time), he was just such an incredibly proud Aussie.

I’ve had lots of Australian friends over the years – but Stu will always be the most passionate I’ve ever met. And when I had the audacity to order a Fosters in a Pub………Maaaaaannnnnn, the shit he gave me. It was so unnecessary and every bloody time. “It’s only a bloody beer” I would say. But not to O’Connor!!!

Stu’s take on his future was that at worst he’d have 5 years, at best 20 years and the likely number would end up being 10 years. Knowing what a stubborn twat he was – I just assumed he’d easily make the 20 years. Alas it was not to be in the end and like many of us I’ve been left a bit heartbroken.

The universe will genuinely never be the same place again without him – there’s a broken mold out there somewhere we seriously need to find and repair. If anyone ever see’s it on a ‘Walkabout’ can they please make his friends and family aware - we need more Stuart O’Connor’s in this world!!! Love ya man!!! Nick Gibbs-McNeil

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I met Stuart at the end of 2016, in a moment that is indelibly carved into my memory. I was an avid writer, eager to please and ready to cut my teeth on film criticism, and when I first met Stuart O’Connor in that Pain Quotidien in central London, I knew immediately that I had found a kindred spirit. More than that, though, across our reviews and our meetings through the years, I met and came to know a man who I considered a true friend, a fount of endless positivity, and a film buff with an undying love of cinema. I relished every opportunity I had to speak to him, to work for him – even now, I still fondly remember the conversations we had about our personal experiences, about new releases, about Screenjabber’s future. At every chance, I did my utmost for him and for the site, and hearing of what happened shook me to my core. Even now, there’s an emptiness...a sorrow that lingers. But Stuart, ever upbeat and optimistic, bravely faced the future. All I can do is follow that example. I will look back with pride on what we did together, cherish the vision that we shared, and say with absolute certainty that I am eternally grateful to him for all he gave me - all he taught me. Jack Gibbs

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When I first encountered Stuart, we clashed quite vehemently. So it’s a tribute to the irresistible nature of his character that, in what seemed like the blink of an eye, we didn’t just resolve our initial differences but became friends, and subsequently even co-conspirators of a sort – many times I felt Stuart had my back, and I hope he felt the same about me.

First contact was via a phone call, when I was freelancing for The Guardian’s games and tech department, and Stuart was initially my production editor, before effectively becoming my commissioning editor when he took the games coverage – which had been abandoned by all other staffers at the time -- in hand. Those seemed like fraught times: The Guardian’s games coverage had dwindled to near-nonexistence in print and Stuart, with a burgeoning fascination for games as well as film, assumed responsibility for it.

I was used to one way of doing things (usually involving scrapping like a bare-knuckle fighter for the tiniest scraps of space), and Stuart wanted to do things differently, so we banged heads initially. But I soon had to concede his approach was absolutely right, especially when he gave me an insight into the surrounding office politics. I visited him at The Guardian, we went down the pub and instantly became friends. Games coverage on the website ramped up, and vindication of Stuart arrived in the form of countless Games Media Awards – eventually, the keepers of the GMAs killed the National Press games coverage category because they had got bored with The Guardian winning it every year. Stuart turned out to be the best commissioning editor I ever had – if only he was still there on The Guardian…

Stuart certainly wasn’t the stereotypical Aussie – his political views and well developed sense of empathy chimed perfectly with those of The Guardian. And yes, as everyone who knew him has said, he was as stubborn as the proverbial mule. But he was also fun, erudite and great company. I particularly remember attending an E3 videogames show with him – I think it was his first time in LA, and we partied copiously. Stuart charmed vast swathes of the games industry, seemingly effortlessly, and earned respect and many friends within it.

It feels unfair that someone so vibrant and full of life should have been taken away from us so prematurely. Stuart, I’ll always miss you, mate. Steve Boxer

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The screening rooms of Central London just got a lot quieter. For decades, Stu was a constant presence on the UK's film criticism scene and anyone who had the fortune to meet him is unlikely to have forgotten the experience. Certainly, when we first crossed paths in 2018 at a rather ill-advised outdoor screening of Jason Statham vs. Shark face-off The Meg (the only rainy night of an otherwise sweltering summer), I left with a new friend. While less hardy film critics - not to mention half a dozen Love Island contestants - scarpered as the heavens opened, Stu and I were among those who donned our studio-issue ponchos and stayed until the bitter end.

Over the next few years, I shared many screening rooms and dozens of hours of podcasting with Stu. Whether he loved a film or hated it, his opinions were always strongly held and expressed with his fearsome Aussie commitment to the twin arts of swearing and hyperbole, in roughly equal measure. He was also keen to hold the ladder down for those making their way up the industry, including myself, in terms of navigating the maze of PRs and screening invitations - not to mention offering paid opportunities for writing via ScreenJabber. It's a quality which is all too rare in the industry, and one which I definitely appreciated.

No conversation with Stu was ever dull, enlivened by his humour, sheer force of personality and ability to have an opinion about absolutely anything. He was a man who hated Fosters beer as much as he hated Boris 'Boofhead' Johnson, and that's quite something. I'm still not quite convinced that Tim Tams can be better than KitKats, but I probably ought to give them a try.

But above all, what I'll remember about Stu is his sheer commitment to film and the art of criticising it. Even this year, after he moved back to Australia in the midst of his illness, he continued to discuss more podcasts, more reviews and was forwarding screening opportunities to my inbox even in his final weeks. Tom Beasley

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We will all miss Stuart dearly, and we are delighted we were able to present this tribute with so many memories and stories from his life. RIP Stuart O'Connor.

As for Screenjabber itself, the future is uncertain. Without Stuart at the helm, Screenjabber may not be able continue, and certainly not in it's current incarnation. However, if this is to be the final act for this website we would like to thank anyone who has contributed to it's success over the years, no matter how big or small. It has been a pleasure and privilege to bring you coverage of films, DVDs, Blu-rays, games and so much more over the years.

Take care, and hopefully we'll see you all somewhere down the road 

The Screenjabber Team

 

Tom Mimnagh is Screenjabber's Wrestling Editor and a Contributing Writer to the site. He's a lover not a fighter (unless you’re having a pop at John Carpenter), a geek extraordinaire, raconteur and purveyor of fine silks. He also enjoyed Terminator Genisys more than the average person (as in, a bit), but don’t hold that against him.

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