Peter Lawrence, one of that dwindling band of veterans who, half a century ago, helped make the News Chronicle a great newspaper, has died aged 86.
He made his name with his graphic coverage of the Munich air disaster in 1958, in which eight Manchester United footballers were killed.
He was a versatile journalist who joined the Cadbury-owned Chronicle – which espoused the Liberal cause – from Soldier magazine, and was equally at home covering an overseas royal tour or the introduction of a new tank for the army. When the Chronicle and its sister paper, The Star, closed in 1960, 250 journalists found themselves on the market overnight, and jobs were not easy to find.
Undeterred, Lawrence emigrated to South Africa, where he worked with distinction for the Johannesburg Sunday Times magazine. He returned to the UK some 15 years later to become editor of CBI News, where the supplements he masterminded are reckoned to have produced revenue of some £3m for the employers’ organisation.
He kept on writing throughout his retirement years, and in a noteworthy contribution to The Daily Telegraph a couple of years ago, described how the news of the end of the First World War was disseminated in 1918. In an age before universal radio and the BBC, when communications were much slower, this turned out to be a haphazard affair, with proclamations made at different times in many places by mayors from the steps of their town halls, before the next day’s morning papers were published.
He was commissioned into the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry soon after the outbreak of war in 1939 and served throughout the Normandy campaign, in the rank of captain. He saw some fierce fighting and considered every day of life since a bonus.
A great raconteur, he was always regarded by colleagues as an officer and a gentleman. He is survived by his widow Betty – to whom he was married for 61 years – and son John.
Philip Ditton, friend and colleague