Chris Bowles: PA stalwart and an archetypal Englishman

Chris Bowles was an accomplished sub-editor and writer who could well have stepped straight from the pages of a story by PG Wodehouse – an author he regarded as a genius.

His conversation was sprinkled with phrases from Wodehouse, and his demeanour often seemed to be more suitable to the era of Bertie Wooster than the rough-and-tumble of Fleet Street in the Eighties and Nineties.

The largest part of his journalistic career was spent as a sub with the PA general news service – a far cry from his first job, working in an underwear factory in Biggleswade.

While he was working at the underwear plant, the Biggleswade Chronicle advertised for a trainee reporter. It was during the six years he spent working on the Chronicle that he discovered the joys of pubs – a pleasure which he continued to enjoy throughout his life.

Chris, who took pride in the fact that he was born in Whitechapel, in London’s East End, was known to friends and colleagues as Biggles.

He was given the nickname because the moustache he sported at the time, coupled with his somewhat old-fashioned speech, and a garment which resembled a flyer’s scarf, irresistibly called to mind the hero of the boys’ story books by Captain WE Johns. In 1969, after six years at the Chronicle, Chris moved to the Peterborough Standard as a senior reporter.

It was here, in 1970, that he met a female trainee named Chris. They started going out, became engaged that summer, and were married shortly before Christmas.

Chris Bowles arrived at the Press Association in 1979. He was regarded with respect and affection by his colleagues, because of his cheerfulness, his idiosyncrasies, and, of course, his skill as a wordsmith.

He could deal with any copy, but had a special touch when handling light-hearted stories.

His fascination with the pop music of the Fifties and early Sixties meant that when singers Roy Orbison and Del Shannon died he was able to sit down and write excellent obituaries of them straight off the top of his head.

In October 1999, Biggles joined Teletext as a general sub. He soon found himself at home, as he was working among many former PA colleagues, and because he relished the relaxed atmosphere in the office.

One of Chris’s main hobbies was his record collection, which ran to thousands of vinyl 45s, in their original dust jackets.

He was also a fan of the late Tony Hancock – one of the things which helped persuade him that computers and the internet were not unmitigated evils or passing fads was the discovery through the web of the existence of the Tony Hancock Appreciation Society, which he promptly joined.

As an archetypal Englishman, Biggles loved cricket – although he was a notoriously awful player – and a keen fan of rugby in the winter months.

He was also known for his love of pub life – Sunday night was his night for The Swan, near his home at Boxmoor, in Hemel Hempstead.

Although Biggles called his wife “the memsahib” and had a series of gags about women’s ability to make men’s lives a misery, he often said that he had never had any trouble with women because all he had to do was look at his wife to know she was all he ever wanted or needed.

Chris Bowles died on 27 February, after having been diagnosed as having an aggressive brain tumour late last year.

He leaves a widow, Chris, and two sons, Andrew, 26, and Sam, 23.

Mike Dodd, deputy editor, Media Lawyer and the Press Association

Mike Dodd

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