James Tomlins

 

James Tomlins

James Tomlins, a foreign correspondent who worked in 58 countries and lived in eight, has died in Paris, aged 74.

Filing until a month before his death, his long, adventurous career included Reuters coverage in the Congo of the bloody civil war which followed independence from Belgium, as well as the assassination of its President Lumumba and the death of UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjšld in a mysterious air crash there, both in 1961.

That same year, Tomlins found himself facing a firing squad of Congolese soldiers who took him for a spy. They had already cocked their rifles before a tiny Belgian nun screamed at them to stop. This brush with death came towards the end of a five-year stint with Reuters, for which he had been stationed in Rome, Malta, Brussels and Geneva, covered British royal tours and events across Africa. In 1962 he went independently to Durban and founded his own news/photo agency.

Later selling the agency to a magazine house, Tomlins gained not only a buyer but also a lifelong partner. He met Marilyn Zeelie and married her in 1965.

They moved to Paris, where they remained ever since. Tomlins worked for Agence France-Presse for 22 years, many on the English desk. He covered the Vietnamese/US peace talks in Paris, meeting Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. At the same time he was a stringer for several Fleet Street papers, notably the Daily Sketch and the Daily Mail – sharing its Paris office with the then Lord Rothermere.

His globe-trotting days had begun in the Dutch East Indies, where he first chanced his hand as a journalist. Keen to enter the profession, he had been advised to go to a place where there were no journalists so Sumatra seemed as good as anywhere. He earned his keep as a rubber and tea plantation clerk, sending features to Fleet Street, and was correspondent for the Chicago Tribune.

In London he joined the Near and Far East News Agency, and angered Krushchev when quizzing the Russian leader on his 1956 visit.

Sue Mapp

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