Christine Garbutt was born into Fleet Street. Her father, Jack Garbutt, was a news editor at the Sunday Express. When he brought his mates home for a nightcap after a lively session in the Street’s watering holes, he would wake her to play piano for them. Her love of the buzz and the ‘craic’of the newspaper world began there.
From school she started on a local paper in Hayes, Middlesex, but within months Mirror boss Hugh Cudlipp was looking for young staff for a new weekly paper for the rock and roll generation and she got a call. It was 1956 and she was 18.
After a spell in Canada in the early Sixties she returned to write features for the Mirror Group’s weekly magazine, Reveille. By then she had one broken marriage behind her and was a single mother. In 1971 she left the staff to freelance for Reveille and the Daily Mirror where she became one of the first women to write a column on the sports pages: she caused quite a stir with her reports of the family friendliness at Rugby League matches, but sadly her column was quickly killed off.
Married for a second time and with two more children, Christine fuelled the family coffers by her wits, always on call to file a feature or find a case study to meet a deadline half an hour away.
In 1976 she was hired to be right-hand woman to the Mirror’s legendary agony aunt, Marje Proops, drafting much of the copy which appeared under the famous name, doing her research, handling her demanding nature and organising her annual Bride of the Year competition.
In the evenings she often joined the infamous poker school in editor Mike Molloy’s office in Holborn, taking as much delight in trouncing him and the other (male and usually inebriated) players as she did in hoovering up their cash to spend on her beloved children.
She moved out of Marje’s office eventually to write features, reviews and interviews and spent several happy years working on the diary under Peter McKay. After her second marriage broke up she had a long relationship with legendary Mirror sports writer, the late Chris Lander, who was great friends with Ian Botham.
A genuine sports buff in her own right and a canny punter, she scored many a sports scoop about national figures in cricket and rugby while (mostly) maintaining their friendship.
It was a grand life, but Christine was as well known for her troubles as her triumphs. In the Nineties she spent months working undercover for a Manchester sex chatlines company and, after she exposed it, her life was threatened.
She was frightened enough to have a Mirror reporter stay with her for a while to act as bodyguard as funeral arrangements, complete with coffin, were made in her name and posted to her.
Not long after this a serial rapist broke into her flat and raped her in bed while threatening to kill her son. Typical of Christine, a journalist to her core, she wrote and spoke about this appalling ordeal and the subsequent jailing – then freeing – of her attacker, as she did about her periodic struggles with alcohol and crippling depression.
In her latter years at the Mirror Christine covered property and travel and wrote theatre reviews as well as interviews and features. The paper was her life and when the axe fell on her in one of the Mirror’s periodic rounds of redundancies in 1997, it hit her harder than anyone.
She kept in touch with her beloved Fleet Street by filing off-diary stories to many of the nationals and becoming a leading light of the Newspaper Golf Society. She was also a long-term trustee of the Journalists’ Charity, formerly the Newspaper Press Fund, and enthusiastically backed the rebuilding of the charity’s retirement home in Dorking and was looking forward to attending the opening by the Countess of Wessex.
Sometimes outrageous, always entertaining, unswervingly principled, a ‘tough, but kindly cookie’in the words of Mirror veteran Syd Young, Christine Garbutt blazed an unforgettable trail down Fleet Street.