Chris Underwood: 'Journalist, broadcaster, raconteur'

Chris Underwood, the former general secretary of the Chartered Institute of Journalists, has died at his home in Walton, Surrey, aged 74 after a long illness.

Chris began his distinguished career as a hard news reporter on a local newspaper in his native Surrey before moving to the Exchange Telegraph news agency. From there he went to the Daily Mail, covering crime, including the reign of the notorious Kray Twins. He was ordered by his editor to infiltrate the East End gang and said he was relieved when the Krays were arrested before that plan could be put into operation.

He moved to the BBC, where he was present at the Bloody Sunday killings in Northern Ireland in 1972, and had to be driven away from the scene in the boot of a car to escape anti-British retaliation.

At the BBC he was best known as the Home Affairs Correspondent, essentially the crime reporter, covering many notorious cases, including the hunt for, and subsequent trial of, the Yorkshire Ripper. He was on first-name terms with every chief constable and Met commissioner.

He joined the CIoJ in 1977, while at the BBC, and helped establish its broadcasting division, in which he later served as chairman. He also served a year as president of the Institute.

In 1989, he joined the Institute's staff as general secretary, running its trade union arm, alongside former Daily Telegraph journalist Bill Tadd who was director of its professional wing. He retired in 2003, but continued as a consultant to the CIoJ , specialising in legal and industrial tribunal cases, supporting his former deputy, Dominic Cooper, who succeeded him in the top job.

In his retirement, Underwood continued to work as a freelance journalist, including for the licensed trade daily the Morning Advertiser – but only as long as it didn't interfere with watching cricket, for which he had a lifelong passion.

When he stood down as general secretary, he said: "I have had a number of offers, some of which are of interest, which will enable me to continue exercising my brain while spending the summer months at Lords or the Oval."

He was an active member of the Labour Party, and during the premiership of Tony Blair put himself forward for a peerage – an ambition which was not fulfilled,

The Institute's current Broadcasting Division chairman Paul Leighton, a former colleague of Underwood's at Broadcasting House, and also a past president of the CIoJ, said: "Chris hugely enriched the lives of so many of us, especially me.

"I joined the Institute in 1976, but it was Chris who cajoled, pressed and bullied me into active service at Broadcasting House in London in the early '80s, and every year thereafter that we worked under the same roof at Portland Place.

"Chris Underwood, journalist, broadcaster, raconteur and thoroughly Good Egg. RIP."

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