The high principles of Anthony Bevins

That tall figure at the back of the election press conference raised a hand. But the PM chose not to notice. That figure and that hand remained upstanding while every other question was fielded. Only then would Margaret Thatcher condescend: "Now Mr Bevins, it’s your turn."

The political editor of The Independent politely asked: "Prime Minister, can you tell us – if you admire the NHS so much, why don’t you use it?"

The silence remains unforgettable. As will Anthony Bevins. And as will his three decades of reporting politics his way, alas now ended with his death from pneumonia, aged 58.

He could not abide cant. He was the first of his line to turn his back formally on the Number 10 lobby system. It was then a conspiracy to receive statements via the PM’s official spokesman and serve them up as neither statements nor the PM’s nor official. Correspondents would garnish with lobbyspeak ("I am reliably informed") the titbits dictated to them.

Thanks to Bevins, the system was doomed. Today, statements of the PM’s official spokesman are honestly attributed to the PM’s official spokesman.

Bevins was a kind of journalistic Savonarola, the Florentine Mr Incorruptible who made the original Bonfire of the Vanities. Indeed, Bevins is mourned by colleagues put to shame by his scornful independence of what most find convenient to accept as the real world.

It was his uncompromising spirit that made him quit his last job. He raced out of the revolving doors of the Daily Express as Richard Desmond raced in. Bevins did not linger for compensation. As the husband of a Bengali, he was simply not going to work for the proprietor of Asian Babes and the rest.

Bevins had met and married Mishtuni Roy (who died a few days before him) when teaching on a Voluntary Service Overseas programme. He then joined a Liverpool Daily Post trainee team that included two other political editors-to-be, Robin Oakley and John Sergeant.

He went on to the Sunday Express, Sun, Mail, Times, Observer and his natural home, The Independent, where he was a key player from Day One. Top of his many scoops were the impending challenge to Mrs Thatcher’s leadership, and the Major government’s secret talks with the IRA.

The obituarists’ adjectives ring out like a thesaurus of journalistic virtues. Fearless. Passionate. Idiosyncratic. Loyal. Generous. Free-spirited. Piratical. Penetrating. Ferocious. Rigorous. Assiduous. Tenacious. Irreverent. Unwavering. Valiant.

Beat that for a headstone.

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