Norman Clark: war correspondent and foreign editor for the News Chronicle

Norman Maynard Clark, who has died aged 94, was the son of Archie Clark, a journalist from Glasgow who had travelled to South Africa for the highly-respected Rand Daily Mail at the turn of the last century, returning to become one of that astonishing clan of Scottish men-of-letters who went south, effectively taking over Fleet Street.

Norman joined his father’s paper, the Daily News, later to become the celebrated News Chronicle. Clark was certainly the last of the war correspondents of the 1939-45 war.

During the Thirties he learned his craft as a news and crime reporter and could recount some hair-raising stories – in one year covering no fewer than 56 murders.

He was at Croydon Airport to greet Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and his infamous ‘piece of paper.’ In 1936 Clark married Agnes Weaver, the sister of one of his fellow-reporters. There followed more than 60 happy years of married life until her death barely two years ago.

At the outbreak of war he was initially newsroombased and witnessed the Blitz from his office-roof, as Wren’s masterpiece St Paul’s Cathedral Dome burned: one of the celebrated war pictures.

He was then appointed one of the News Chronicle’s war correspondents.

Despatched to North Africa he was attached to the 8th Army where he reported on its campaigns: Gazala, withdrawal from Tobruk, Tripoli, Benghazi and El Alamein.

He was a great admirer of Auchinleck – another Great Scot – maintaining that the withdrawal from Tobruk had been misunderstood, a retrenchment not being a retreat.

These were exhilarating, exciting years for Clark, living under canvas with his fellow-Press Corps buddies, ineffectively kept in line by harassed young subalterns.

Clark’s daughter, Jennifer Harrison, tells me he recounted a story of how he and a fellownewsman, an Australian, were hauled up before the brigadier for talking to other ranks.

“How else does a reporter ascertain what is afoot except by picking up ops-gossip in the bar of the famous Shepherds Hotel, Cairo?” Clark asked the brigadier.

The radio links reserved for the Press had been cut in an attempt to stifle reports. There followed a tussle of wills with Churchill.

Clark was instrumental in getting the ban lifted. It had been pointless as the reports still got through.

After the Surrender, Clark became foreign editor of the News Chronicle. These were the ‘Sunset Years of Fleet Street’ when Clark and his fellowScots sorted out the world’s problems in the Plume of Feathers as they waited to put the paper to bed.

He was part of that charmed circle: Ian MacKay, Tom Baistow, Willie Forrest and his very great friend the legendary James Cameron.

When the News Chronicle folded, Clark turned to TV journalism, joining ITN, then Visnews, later part of Reuters.

He coordinated the first transmissions of space-flight, including the Moon-landings.

He was, deep in his heart, a written-word hack, never quite at ease with the momentary world of filmed news.

At the Liberation of Paris, Clark nearly got shot trying to interview a sniper on the Opera House roof.

Richard Dimbleby mistook him for another German in his broadcast heard live by his wife Agnes.

He crossed the Rhine with the Americans, reporting on the last days of the Reich. He reported the Nuremburg Trials, sitting close to the dock.

Clark returned to London when the Bonn Parliament was set up, settling in Cobham, Surrey. His son Alastair was also a journalist but retired to run a jazz band.

Clark’s daughter Jennifer told me proudly: “He was awarded six or seven Campaign medals by the Eighth Army to which he had been attached in North Africa by his paper, the now defunct News Chronicle, albeit as a war correspondent and a non-combatant.

“His uniform flashes signified his role as a war correspondent. I can count the number of medals by the ribbons he wore in a D-Day parade photograph.”

Sydney Reynolds

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