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My mates the Prime Ministers.

Byline: CATHERINE TURNELL

FORMER Evening Telegraph reporter and veteran political journalist Chris Moncrieff has covered thousands of news events since starting in journalism in the 1950s. CATHERINE TURNELL spoke to him about his new book, his time in Coventry, and how John Major saved his life.

CHRIS MONCRIEFF continuously apologises for name dropping, although it's really not necessary.

Having been a political reporter since the 1960s, it's not surprising he can reel off stories about Parliament's movers and shakers as easily as a bingo caller shouting out numbers.

He went on to become political editor of the national news agency, the Press Association, and managed to get Prime Minister Tony Blair to write the foreword to his book.

"I just wrote to him and he did it," he says. "In this job you get to know these people. But no, he didn't hesitate, he did it without a murmur. He just returned it in an e-mail."

In his book, Living on a Deadline: A History of the Press Association, Moncrieff charts the rise of the 113-year-old firm that has been his employer since 1962.

The news agency provides the country's media organisations up-to-the- minute information on national and world events, and it has dominated Moncrieff's life and career.

He has fond memories of Coventry though.

He joined the Evening Telegraph in 1955, when it was based in a "single- storey pre-fabricated building" in Quinton Road, near the railway station.

"They were just starting to build the new cathedral when I was in Coventry," he says. "I remember Coventry was in a sad state. It still hadn't recovered from the war, but it was getting there as bomb sites were being cleared all the time."

He had a memorable stay for a while at the YMCA in Coventry, when the then news editor Charles D Beese was on the board of governors: "One thing led to another and I was thrown out of the YMCA and this needed explaining to Mr Beese, who was a great churchgoer," he says.

"I remember writing one story when I was at the YMCA. The matron, if you can call her that, had a budgerigar that died and she got the local vicar in to conduct a funeral service. Mr Beese instantly gagged the story.

"I remember another story when Anthony Eden was MP for Leamington and Warwick.

"When he retired, there was a by-election and I was sent over to cover things, and the then transport minister Harold Watkinson was going to speak on behalf of the Conservative candidate.

"A photographer and I passed him on the road going to Leamington and the minister of transport had broken down. We pulled the minister of transport into Leamington because he had run out of petrol.

"I think he realised what was going to happen. He was furious afterwards but I think he knew what to expect. We ended up running a good story which the national papers got hold of the day after!"

Moncrieff was born in Derby in 1931 and educated in Nottingham. His first newspaper was the Harrogate Herald. He then did National Service but then returned to journalism when he was 24 and worked for the Evening Telegraph in the mid-1950s.

In a career spanning more than five decades, Moncrieff has followed the country's leading politicians across the globe, from observing Margaret Thatcher's visit of a sewage farm in Cairo, to John Major's tour of the Orient.

"Did I tell you that John Major once saved my life?" he asks.

"I got on well with John Major. He was touring the Great Wall of China and I got behind the crowd and broke into a trot to catch up, which went into an uncontrollable gallop. I was hurtling down and he managed to field me so I didn't go over a steep drop. By that evening we were in Hong Kong and I spoke to newsdesk. They asked: 'What's this about you and John Major in a fond embrace?' - the picture ended up in a number of newspapers."

Margaret Thatcher also held Moncrieff in high esteem. In 1989 she awarded him a CBE for services to Parliamentary journalism. He says the story of her resignation was the greatest he ever broke.

"I just so happened to ring up Thatcher's press secretary Bernard Ingram at the right moment. There was an enormous amount of luck," he says. "She sent me a card on my 70th birthday recently. It was a complete surprise."

CAPTION(S):

ON CALL: Former Evening Telegraph journalist Chris Moncrieff managed to get Prime Minister Tony Blair to write the foreword to his new book; OLD PALS: Chris Moncrieff (right) shares a joke with John Major and former governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten
COPYRIGHT 2001 Coventry Newpapers
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Oct 26, 2001
Words:793
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