A true giant of post war journalism died the night before last with his two sons at his bed side. Much will written elsewhere about his achievements: Co-founder of Private Eye, scriptwriter at TW3, Campaigning Journalist of the Year (opposing awful inner City redevelopment), Telegraph columnist for 60 years, the Godfather of Euroscepticism. The Guardian, if true to form, will have nasty words about that and about his exposing the global warming hoax.
There will be words of praise from some of the few folks he respected but also from many in the media and political classes who he despised for their lack of principle or spine and who probably know that.
He once told me not to go into journalism as it was a rotten profession. That was thirty years ago and I have never looked back. For me he was not just my uncle and Godfather but a role model. In his seventies he faced down some fascist Judge who wanted him to stop writing about some scandal, social services stealing kids I think, and threatened him with jail. Most of us would have buckled. Chris had no doubts, stood his ground and won. To do that in your seventies is heroic journalism.
For thirty years we have talked at great length almost weekly. The early deaths of my mother and Aunt left him with an enhanced role in my life and he was always there to talk to in good times and bad. He took pleasure in my journalistic triumphs as I took pleasure in his, of which there were, of course, far, far more. In our last face to face chat two weeks ago Neil Woodford was discussed as well as global warming with reference to some 500 million year old rocks near to my new house, the Welsh Hovel.
For a Godfather who could ask for a better spiritual mentor than a thrice married man one shag away from both JFK and John Lennon. Teasing an older man who had by then acquired faith about his part in the swinging sixties was one small part of those conversations.
We always laughed as we chatted about the great issues of the day of the silly and sad state of the world we lived in. His last joke with me will be that at his funeral I shall be reading a passage I have not read for 31 years from Corinthians. The last time was at the funeral of his mother, my grandmother and was in the same small Church as will be the funeral of Chris. I blubbed my way through that but shall try to do better next week.
Being a Booker his funeral will be almost the first occasion for which he arrives on time, My first, distant, memories of Chris are from the seventies. The glamorous man who popped in now and again to see us at Byfield a man who we otherwise saw when he was doing a TV show and we trouped to a neighbour’s house to watch, my mother – rightly banning the goggle box from Butterwell Farm. Later on, after my mother’s death, my father would drive myself and my sisters to Marlborough for a lunch near Christmas to exchange presents with other Bookers. We’d arrive on time. After about half an hour dad would start a book on who would arrive latest, my grandparents or Aunty Cly or Chris driving down from London. It was always Chris.
Christmas presents. For all my adult life Chris has sent me a real Cheddar from Somerset. A Wisden followed for my Birthday. It was Chris who gave me my first cat back in 1975, Big Puss, Jesus Christ as he was also known having decided as a kitten that the crib was the best place to sleep. That started my lifetime of cat ownership. He was there in Byfield that day in 1976 when Northants won their first ever trophy. He and my father insisted I listen on the radio: “this is a historic day for your County” he said. It was and a lifetime of watchting cricket and following Northants has followed. And, with my father away on work, it was poor Chris who had to come and tell my sisters and I the sad news about my Aunt’s murder. He was always there for us.
Over the past few months as pancreatic cancer made its ghastly progress we have talked less and less as he felt ever more tired and preserved his strength for important things such as wandering downstairs for a smoke. So it is not the Cheddar that I shall really miss although somehow Christmas will not be Christmas without it. It is those talks. When I finally nail loathsome ex Tory MP Tony Baldry, a family foe, with whom shall I share that triumph? Chris and I disagreed on very few things, the only democracy in the Middle East being one and the best route to deliver what he believed in so passionately, that is to say Brexit, being another. Rather than row on the latter as he had done with so many, we found it easier to agree on a truism, such as isn’t Theresa May just even more hopeless than we agreed she was a week previously, and use that as the platform for an exchange of jokes.
So no more phone calls prompting laughter for me. No more plans to climb the Taygettos mountains behind the Greek Hovel with my friend, uncle, godfather and hero. Perhaps one or both of his sons will stand in as a replacement on that mountain trek? No more encouragement for my work when yet another lawyers letter arrives. we used to compete each year would I get a lawyers letter before he got a complaint to whatever the Press Compliants Council is called these days. One happy year we tied at around January 10.
No more jokes in Private Eye for the rest of you. And one fewer journalist exposing the corruption that has permeated every aspect of public life today, doing exactly what the 4th Estate should do but so rarely does any more.