TERROR VICTIM: Philip Geddes pictured at St Edmund Hall in 1981
By ALAN FRAME
Most of us who were lucky enough to work on the Express in the ‘80s remember it as the time of our lives. We worked hard, played hard and produced a newspaper of which we were justifiably proud. As the late and much lamented Ross Benson was fond of saying a decade later: “How come when we were all pissed we sold four million copies a day and now that we have to stay sober, we are lucky to sell 1,500,000?”. Twenty years later the poor old Express struggles to hit a circulation of 450,000, though that’s the story of greedy proprietors who should never have been let anywhere near newspapers.
But the 80s was not all undiluted fun. On December 17 1983 the IRA detonated a bomb at Harrods, packed with Christmas shoppers, killing six including our own Philip Geddes. Philip was just 24 and working for Hickey after joining the paper from the Standard. I remember him as full of fun, full of promise and brimming with enthusiasm. He was a graduate of St Edmund Hall, Oxford (as was Nick Lloyd who became editor of the Express three years later)
Christopher Wilson, then editing Hickey, had the idea that his young star should be remembered in the most practical and fitting way possible and set about persuading Oxford to stage an annual Geddes Memorial Prize for those graduating and destined for a job in journalism. It was uphill at first but has turned out to be a brainwave and to date, 33 years later, £300,000 has been raised and there have been 27 winners, some of whom have worked at the Express and many of whom have gone on to distinguished careers. Those receiving the Geddes Prize include Samira Ahmed, later Channel 4 news presenter, and Lucy Manning, the BBC News special correspondent. Harry Hodges was a winner in 2013 and is now leader writer on the DX.
Chris Wilson, now a prolific royal biographer and regular Windsor expert for TV told me: “Philip was from a modest background in Barrow-in-Furness and got to Teddy Hall purely on merit, not through family money or connections. I was keen that prize winners might be in same mould, in other words totally deserving”.
Along with the prize the Geddes Lecture has been held annually since. Martin Bell, the former ‘Man in the White Suit’ MP and BBC reporter, gave the first in 1998; it has attracted some of the best-known names in British newspaper journalism – Dominic Lawson, Roger Alton, Sir Peter Stothard, Matthew D’Ancona, Lionel Barber, Geordie Greig; and from British TV and radio – Jeremy Paxman, Jon Snow, Nick Robinson, Martha Kearney, Alan Rusbridger, Evan Davis, Lyse Doucet and former BBC chairman Lord Patten..
The Geddes Prize is no longer just for students at Teddy Hall, it has been expanded to all the Oxford colleges. Wilson is now emeritus trustee and I know just how much time and effort my old pal has put into this brilliant initiative over the last 32 years. As for Geddes, he would be 57 next birthday. What would he have done with his career, how far would he have gone if, like the keen reporter he was, he hadn’t made the fatal decision to go to investigate the bomb alert?