Frank Butler could pick up the telephone and get through to names such as Stanley Matthews, Rocky Marciano, Denis Compton.
It’s the equivalent of having the mobile numbers of icons today like David Beckham, Andre Agassi, Tiger Woods – and being answered rather than diverted to voicemail.
Butler at his peak shared the celebrity status of the stars he reported and he commanded an audience of millions.
As he left the News of the World in 1982, News Corporation chief Rupert Murdoch sent the message: “Congratulations Frank on being the best sports writer in the history of Fleet Street. Enjoy your retirement. You deserve it.”
Butler’s connections and contacts were enormous, gleaned over nearly 50 years in newspapers while rising from cub reporter with the Daily Express.
He was sports editor of the Sunday Express aged just 24.
His move to the News of the World in 1949 was unbroken for 33 years, during which time he graduated from columnist to sports editor and then assistant editor.
His incredible longevity at the top flight saw him outlast nine editors.
His reputation and influence on the history of the paper is unquestioned. He was Sports Writer of the Year in 1971, and was awarded an OBE in 1981.
As sports editor he nurtured Richie Benaud, Jimmy Hill, Cliff Morgan – helping them transfer their talent on the sports field to the media.
Butler covered World Cups, Olympic Games, Wimbledon and Wembley finals, but maintained a fascination with the fight game that was sparked at the age of seven.
His father James, a noted sportswriter and boxing correspondent of the Daily Herald, took him to see French heavyweight Georges Carpentier at his training camp in Essex.
“He was charming,” said Frank. “He bought me a box of chocolates and became my first boxing hero.”
Frank went straight into national newspapers after leaving St Joseph’s Academy in Blackheath and matured into an acknowledged expert on the sport.
“I was helped as a rookie on my first trip to America by Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney, ” he revealed.
He saw enough greats of the ring to fill Boxing’s Hall of Fame – including Henry Armstrong, Rocky Graziano, Tony Zale, Jake La Motta, Marcel Cerdan, Marciano, Archie Moore, Ike Williams and two special favourites, Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson.
Sir Henry Cooper said: “Frank was one of the old school and his boxing knowledge was second to none.
“He covered my entire 17-year career and I respected him as a magnificent journalist and friend.
“They don’t make them like him any more.”
Butler’s suitcase of experiences of big fights helped him to co-author one book with his father and another himself.
He was former chairman and sole remaining founder member of the Boxing Writers’ Club and also an honorary steward of the British Boxing Board of Control.
Frank, born in Peckham, London, is survived by three sons, Francis, Michael and Gregory, daughter Suellen and five grandchildren.
At their father’s request, the family ask for donations to be made to Guy’s Hospital Kidney Unit.
The funeral will take place on 19 January at 10am, at St James the Great Church, 283 Crescent Drive, Petts Wood, Kent.
It will be followed at 11.15am by cremation at Eltham Crematorium, Crown Woods Way, Eltham, London.
By Freddie Burcombe