Not a journalist, just a resting actor

MIKE MOLLOY pays tribute to his old friend at the memorial service for Peter Tory

Tophatscrop

Too much of the world he presented the image of a perfect English gentleman.

Good-humoured, patriotic, well-mannered and trustworthy.

And it was all true ... but at heart, Pete was a romantic bohemian.

And there lies the paradox that was Tory. So what was he really like?

To answer that you must know what he loved ... and what he hated.

He hated cruelty to all living creatures, even those that creep and crawl, but he had a huge collection of guns.

He hated bullies. A few years ago he encountered a middle-aged man who more than a half-century earlier had bullied him at prep school. Pete gave him a fearful tongue lashing in Leicester Square.

He hated doing expenses. In fact for the last five years he worked on a newspaper he gave up presenting them all together. Strangely, the management of Express Newspapers never complained.

He hated buzz words, jargon, mispronunciation, whooping audiences, triumphal air-punching, beer bellies, face-piercing, tattoos, rap music, people who hunted foxes and people who hunted compliments.

He much preferred those, like himself, who courted modest stillness and humility.

I suppose what he loved really defined him.

He loved women - all women – and he had the ability to earn their trust and affection. In those splendid days on the Mirror when we would celebrate with lavish banquets I was constantly lobbied by the female staff to give them a seat next to him.

I once accused him of being a woman whisperer. And he agreed. He said if you listen to women long enough, they’ll tell you the most astonishing stories about themselves. Annoyingly, he was also the soul of discretion, so he’d never pass on the more startling secrets that he’d learned.

Women found him pretty attractive, even when he was at his public school. His housemaster was keen on the theatre, so Pete played the leads in most of the Malvern Shakespeare productions.

The pupils from neighbouring girls' boarding schools were invited to the performances and Pete became a heartthrob. So much so, that when he was doing pretty well in a cross country rune that was attended by a couple of girls' schools the moment he came into view the girls broke into a familiar chorus with new words:

The choir sings the Halleluiah chorus to the words: PETER TORY, Peter Tory Peter Tory... etc.

Pete also loved an England that seems to fade before us with each passing year.

The England of fair play, country pubs, heroes who had earned that accolade by heroic deeds, plain cooking, definable seasons and old-fashioned, English manners.

He spent enough years in the all-embracing heat of Bermuda to even love English rain.

He loved golf and it drove him mad with frustration.

He loved guns. When he and Gwen lived at Upper Farm, and when our wives had gone to bed, Pete and I would sit up late into the night, drinking, smoking and talking bollocks. On one such occasion he passed me a new hunting rifle he’d just acquired for his collection. I touched the hair trigger and fired a high velocity round into the ceiling. We sat appalled at the hole above our heads.

‘I think I’ll just check on the wives,’ he said quietly. A few moments later he returned reassured. Both slept peacefully. We found some Polyfilla in the utility room and plugged the hole.

The thing he did cherish about Fleet Street was the humour. The helpless, rolling laughter that came in the pubs, wine bars and across restaurant tables when hacks put aside their rivalries

Perhaps most of all, he loved to fly. I don’t mean cruising in the stratosphere with a drink in one hand and a packet of peanuts in the other. Pete’s idea of fun was to throw a light aircraft about the sky with the ferocious rapture of a Spitfire pilot. The kind of flying that would have most of us curled up in ball, rigid with terror.

He often told me that despite half a lifetime in Fleet Street he never really considered himself a journalist; just a resting actor who’d taken a temporary job between parts.

But the thing he did cherish about Fleet Street was the humour. The helpless, rolling laughter that came in the pubs, wine bars, and across restaurant tables, when hacks put aside their rivalries and related legendary tales of bizarre behaviour enacted by themselves, their bosses and their colleagues.

He created a few legends himself.

Like the time at a Conservative party conference when he lost his trousers to Keith Waterhouse in a reckless wager. Waterhouse made off with the trousers and introduced them to several members of the shadow cabinet who solemnly shook hands with an empty leg. 

And the time he escorted Joyce McKinney, [pictured below right] disguised as a nun, McKinney not Pete, in her escape to America from England’s law courts.

mckinney

For those who want to see Pete as a performer you can catch his brilliance as a light comedian in the documentary Tabloid about the McKinney saga.

Sadly, none of us in Fleet Street saw his work as a serious actor.

But he told me that once, in the early 60s, on a dank Sunday, when he was touring Russia with the Royal Shakespeare Company he accompanied the great director, Peter Brook, on a visit to a home for old actors’ outside Moscow. None of the residents could speak English, but the woman in charge asked if they could see a piece of Shakespeare performed.

Unprepared, Peter Brook asked Pete if he could come up with something.

Pete gave them the chorus speeches from Henry V.

Despite not understanding a word, the audience was enthralled.

Later, Peter Brook said he’d never seen the part done better. He asked Pete to stay with the company, saying he thought they could do great things together. But mysteriously, Peter declined the offer.

I have my own theory why he turned down one of England’s greatest directors.

Churchill called it The Black Dog, Dr Johnson, his melancholia.

All his life Pete suffered from periodic bouts of depression. It is a condition that seems often to come with great talent. Dickens had it, so did Degas. If you look in the reference books the list seems endless.

I’m not talking about getting the blues ... those days when we feel a bit low. The depression Pete fought was like the bite of a wolf. It drains life of any colour, leaving the sufferer in a world of grey ash.

For years, Pete struggled with the condition. All the time presenting himself to the world as the kind of man we all loved... Witty, kind and involved. The best sort of company.

He made a highly successful career in Fleet Street, editing William Hickey, and then writing a gossip column for the Daily Mirror. It was there that Robert Maxwell set him on a path that ultimately led to his best work.

Maxwell took a great shine to Pete and began calling him Boggles, thinking he was using the correct name of Captain W E Johns' flying hero.

This culminated in him commanding Pete to form a squadron of light aircraft to bring famine relief to Ethiopia.

Pete rounded up some of his old stunt flying friends, but when he explained to Maxwell that light aircraft needed expensive maintenance, fuel costs were high, and the pilots would need a living wage, Maxwell went off the idea.

So Pete abandoned Maxwell. Lloyd Turner had offered him a column on The Star and Peter bailed out. He was happy with his colleagues on The Star, but his elegant prose did seem out of place. Peter McKay summed it up perfectly when he said: ‘Captain Tory, your column is like a cello being played in a Rastafarian Jug Band.’

Nick Lloyd brought him to the Express and eventually Pete began his weekly page, which was adored by the readers from the gentler parts of Middle England.

Photo-Giles-studio

When Nick left the Express, a succession of editors all cherished Pete’s work and he also produced three best-selling books on the life and work of Carl Giles [pictured left]. To the rest of Fleet Street Pete was at the top of his game.

But after a long illness, his wife Gwen died, and Pete entered a dark place. He finally said he could no longer live with the turmoil of producing his weekly column and he resigned.

Luckily the Tory family is a close and formidable clan. Although they were scattered around the world, Wendy in Ireland, David and Helen in America, Michael and mother, Pat, in Bermuda, Annie and his father in Cork, they keep in constant touch with telephone calls of impressive duration.

Pete went to America and gradually, over time, he emerged from the valley of ashes.

After several years he returned home and for a time came to live in a flat at the top of our house in Ealing. Naturally, Sandy, Jane, Kate and Alex adored him.

He even let Jane and Kate take the controls of his aeroplane on various flights.
He was still looking for something in life, and eventually he found Jacqui, a gifted artist, with whom he found love and happiness.

Pete’s other great love was the work of Shakespeare. So it is appropriate that Shakespeare should have the last word about Peter Tory.

His life was gentle; and the elements
So mixed in him, that Nature might stand up,
And say to all the world, This was a man. 


Spear carrier exits to laughter


© 2005-2017 Alastair McIntyre