Reg Potterton, feature writer who travelled the world for Playboy and 'had a ball', dies aged 81

Reg Potterton, London-born feature writer for Playboy magazine in its heyday, has died at the age of 81.

He ghosted travel articles for the novelist Len Deighton in the 1960s and then wrote them under his own byline.

“Publisher Hugh Hefner told me I could go where I liked, spend what I liked so long as I turned in half a dozen decent lengthy pieces each year,” said Potterton. “I had a ball”.

He travelled the world for more than a decade describing exotic destinations. In between, his assignments varied from reporting the war in Vietnam where he suffered tinnitus from shell explosions, to covering major domestic events like the Edward Kennedy tragedy at Chappaquiddick.

He met many of the major celebrities of the time and was one of the few journalists tolerated by Frank Sinatra. The singer even invited him to help blow out his birthday candles.

When, in a drunken spree, Gonzo journalist Hunter S Thompson lost all his notes of a long running billionaire divorce case, Reg became his saviour and covered for him.

His memoir of working for publisher Generoso Pope at the National Enquirer was just one of many amusing pieces to appear in Playboy. He had a gift for sardonic humour which was not always appreciated by his targets.

Hefner clamped down on a biography in which Potterton recounted the problem of his boss’s favourite toffee apples melting in the heat of a Chicago summer. The patisserie made them only once a week so a supply was kept in the fridge-freezer. That made the toffee too hard for Hefner’s liking so they were moved to the climate controlled computer room. When the technicians complained, Hefner solved the problem by buying the patisserie and having toffee apples made daily.

During National Service he worked for army intelligence in Egypt and survived a terrorist attack in Cyprus. His ‘Blighty plane’ was blown up by nationalist group EOKA as he was about to board, killing several passengers while he escaped to safety under fire.

Awarded £50 for the loss of his kitbag with all his possessions, Potterton quit his demob job with the South Wales Steel Board and emigrated to Canada. A trial with the Montreal Monitor led to a regular column. Next stop New York and the job he said he always wanted, working for Reuters. That ended when he dated the news editor’s secretary so he moved to AP’s business section.

When he left the staff of Playboy, he drew his pension, bought a sail boat, sailed the Atlantic and jobbed around the Caribbean for several years, eventually editing Yachts International in Miami. He also authored a biography of a Mafia Wife.

While working for Playboy he could live wherever in the world he wanted so he had spells in London, Suffolk, Chicago, New York, Annapolis and Fort Lauderdale.

An earlier passion was blues and he enjoyed playing stride boogie woogie on his or anyone else’s piano.

He worked briefly for London News Service but quit when features editor Neil McCarthy said he wrote with his trousers on. “I was never sure what that meant but it didn’t sound like a compliment,” he complained. “I now write with a brown paper bag over my head”.

Reg Potterton’s one regret was the difficulty he found in keeping on his trousers. He was wedded three times. Graham and Jane were born from his first marriage to Valerie, Alexander Tom from his second wife Sallie.

Another Tom (he liked the name) was born of a long relationship with Nicky. He was steadfast in support throughout a long illness of his  third wife, Sharron. She survives him as do his other immediate family including his sister and eight grandchildren.

He is also survived by his brother, filmmaker Gerald, and sister Audrey.
He was grateful for the care of the Journalists Charity at Dorking after a series of strokes. He died in Epsom Hospital on Thursday June 29 after undergoing an MRI scan.

The funeral service will he held at Walberswick Church on 19 July.

Comments

7 thoughts on “Reg Potterton, feature writer who travelled the world for Playboy and 'had a ball', dies aged 81”

  1. I have a question – I’m desperate to know where in Suffolk he lived. Anyone know?
    And I just love this obituary, what a life, fully lived.

  2. Reg was one of your parents friends whose visits were anticipated with excitement. I would do my best to hang out in the kitchen and listen to his exciting magical rock n roll tales. Most importantly, he inspired me to want to be a blues musician. I loved it when he would play blues piano and I would lie around mesmerised and inspired by every riff. When i heard he had died- i prayed hours of recordings of blues piano in his honour. Thankyou Reg.

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