Photo credit: University of Essex
Two important fixtures of what some of us call the old Daily Telegraph died this week. Clare Hollingworth was 105 and had been a wonderful reporter and writer who famously broke news of the outbreak of the Second World War, often described as the 'scoop of the century'. I knew her only a little, from reputation, occasional visits to the office where I worked and telephone calls. I knew Professor Anthony King rather better. He was a Canadian academic who made his home in Britain and covered shifts in political opinion while also being, without exception in my experience, charming company ...
During my stay in Paris as The Daily Telegraph's correspondent for France, the male Canadian voice on the phone was unmistakeable.
Could we join him and his wife for dinner at a location he would not reveal in advance? Since Tony King was one of nicest people I had ever worked with, it was not so much a challenge as a guaranteed pleasure.
Professor Anthony King died yesterday, aged 82.
Tony was rightly described by the BBC as an undisputed giant of postwar British political science and a familiar face in live coverage of general election night results.
He would also come once a month into the Telegraph offices in happier times at that newspaper, part of the little group that would meet over excellent, generously lubricated lunches to discuss the next opinion polls that might be commissioned from YouGov.
But he was also, as I mentioned to a friend who broke news of his death, someone whose company, wisdom and warmth I loved. Writing at Facebook yesterday, the writer Agnes Catherine Poirier said she was having a truly merdique day. Tony's death had the same effect on me.
So I prefer to think back to that Parisian evening 10 or 11 years ago when the Kings, Tony and Jan, arrived at 242 rue de Rivoli, the apartment and office of the Telegraph splendidly located between the Place de la Concorde and the Louvre.
Joelle and I served champagne, bought from a mayor we'd been visiting for years near Rheims, and ordered the onward taxi. "Just say we're going to the Gare de Lyon," Tony said. What? The station buffet, a cheap and cheerful brasserie nearby, takeaway burgers on the concourse?
Ah non. Once there, he led us to the first floor where can be found Le Train Bleu, a magnificent restaurant with stunning ceiling artwork and immaculately dressed, attentive and knowledgeable waiters. I remember little of the meal itself, except that it was naturally taken in superb company and amounted to an experience impressive enough to encourage us to take a friend there a few months later (and to recommend it whenever asked about somewhere special to go in Paris).
But I will always remember Tony, just as he diligently recalled our exchanges at those lunches, whether about the suitability of his great friend's prospective, then perhaps no more than possible, daughter-in-law or an anecdote about my mother defying North-eastern tradition by secretly voting Liberal against dad's steadfast Labour allegiance.
Passing on news of his death to another friend and former colleague, I said Tony was a man whose professionalism and friendliness I hugely admired. Read more about him here (Wikipedia) or here (the BBC).
To that same (second) friend, I admitted that Clare Hollingworth, who spent her later life in Hong Kong, was much less known personally to me.
Answering questions about her at Twitter yesterday, I was ashamed to realise how little I actually knew her. Once, maybe twice, I was aware of visits to the Telegraph office; they seemed almost regal given the immense respect everyone felt for her. I also recall an occasional call to the Paris office to ensure her trunk - the fictitious William Boot was perhaps not the only one to travel on overseas assignments with one - remained safe and intact. What it was doing in the Paris office was less clear.
But Clare was an absolute one-off, a fabulous journalist with her own place in history, not only as an outstanding chronicler of troubled times but for that scoop, captured in the moment on September 1 1939 when she telephoned the British embassy in Warsaw to report the German invasion of Poland. "To convince doubtful embassy officials, she held a telephone out of the window of her room to capture the sounds of German forces," says Wikipedia. Her Telegraph obituary appears here .
May Clare and Tony, esteemed consoeur and confrere, rest in peace.