Spiegl was born near the Hungarian border in the village of Zurndorf, Burgenland, Austria, where his father was a businessman manufacturing, among other things, soda water. Spiegl attended the Gymnasium in Eisenstadt but, as the family were Jewish, they soon found themselves being persecuted by the Nazis in the wake of the Anschluss of 1938. All their property having been confiscated, Fritz's parents succeeded in leaving the country in 1939, eventually escaping to Bolivia while sending Fritz and his older sister Hanny (born 1923) to England, where, in Northamptonshire, they received a warm welcome.
A native speaker of German, Fritz Spiegl did not speak a word of English when he came to England as a 13 year-old -- a fact which has often been regarded as the trigger for his preoccupation with language phenomena such as, say, malapropisms and for the biting yet humorous linguistic purism of his later years. As one commentator remarked, Spiegl "soon knew a great deal more about the language than most English people do. And cared more too. One can understand this. It's galling, when you've taken the trouble to learn that an alibi is not the same as an excuse, to find that the natives themselves seem to have forgotten the difference."
On arrival in Britain Spiegl was sent to a minor public school, where he learned little beyond "rugger, plane-spotting and a bit of Latin". Eventually he went to London to work for an advertising agency. But he soon switched to music, taught himself to play the flute, enrolled at the Royal Academy of Music and, within a short time, became Principal Flautist with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, a position he kept for more than a decade.
The cover of Spiegl's 2001 book, which promises
"Music about Lotions, Potions, Motions,
Urges and Purges"
However, during that time he also pursued other interests and began his association with the BBC, aiming to be a popularizer of classical music. A resident of Liverpool, he organised annual Nuts in May concerts, featuring a Liszt Twist and other parody items. This approach helped draw new young audiences into concert halls. Less attracted to pop music, Spiegl once called the Beatles phenomenon "the greatest confidence trick since the Virgin Birth".
Fritz Spiegl died suddenly during a Sunday lunch with some friends and his wife, Ingrid Frances Spiegl. He used to be tolerant towards journalists who, up to his death, for reasons that remain unfathomable, could not help misspelling his name Spiegel, Spiegle, Speigl, Speigel, or Speigle.
Selected books by Spiegl
Quotation from The Joy of Words