Peter Chambers, star columnist and subsequently travel editor of the Daily Express for 12 years in its glory days and one of the last surviving Fleet Street journalists to have been headhunted by that greatest of all talent-spotters, Lord Beaverbrook, has died aged 81, after a long and debilitating illness.
Peter started in journalism at the Press and Journal, Aberdeen, in 1950, after gaining an honours degree in languages at Aberdeen University. He was soon in Fleet Street, writing first for The Sunday Times — reporting on TV and radio — and then the Evening Standard, where he edited the In London Last Night gossip column.
One of his "runners", covering an exhausting round of theatre first nights and parties, was the young Michael Winner.
Spotted by Lord Beaverbrook, Peter joined the Daily Express as a feature writer and diarist on the William Hickey column.
It wasn’t long before he had his own column, Chambers on Monday, designed to give a light-hearted lift to the first day of the week. His deft and quizzical look at odd people and odder places was in the great tradition of his predecessor, the legendary H V Morton.
There was no aspect of professional journalism to which Peter could not turn his hand, with scintillating results.
He became a "fireman" — covering the Cod War in Iceland — and was appointed New York correspondent, one of the most coveted jobs on the Express.
He was the newspaper’s first "Action Man" writing up his adventures every week. He crash-landed a glider; led a donkey called Gentleman along the Pennine Way; hitched a lift to Muckle Flugga in the Shetlands, the most northerly point in the British Isles; and spent the night in the chamber of horrors in Madame Tussaud’s.
Peter loved two things: gardening and languages. He was a walking textbook of horticultural lore.
After his retirement from the Express in 1986 — "I’ll never have to wear a tie again!" he exulted — he could be found tending his garden at his cottage in Alkham, Kent, opposite the village cricket green.
Peter was fluent in several languages and "useful" in many more. Nobody knew for certain how many. No word was too obscure for him to gleefully look up in the dictionary.
"Just a waiter’s knack," he would say, self-deprecatingly, referring to the youthful time he spent as a waiter in Sweden.
"I’m re-reading Great Expectations,"
he once said to me, "in Spanish."
Peter’s funeral was held at Alkham’s parish church of St Anthony. Eulogies were read by his old friends Philip Purser (formerly Daily Mail) and Jeremy Hornsby (ex-Daily Express).
Irena Phillips read Hermann Hesse’s valedictory poem, Stages, in German (it was one of Peter’s favourites)
and it was then recited in English.
Peter is survived by his devoted wife Sarah (former travel editor of both the Daily and Sunday Mirror), who cared for him tirelessly after his stroke three years ago.
Peter also leaves a close-knit group of Fleet Street friends, who miss him more than they can say.