How the Express lost its greatest genius

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TV STAR: Arthur Christiansen, right, was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1957 when he was surprised outside the BBC Television Theatre by host Eamonn Andrews


ANDREW FYALL remembers life as a Daily Express reporter under editor Arthur Christiansen when the paper was owned by Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook

There can't be many of us around who worked under the great Arthur Christiansen, but luckily I was one. 

Sadly, not for long. Beaverbrook insisted that Chris should retire on medical grounds, a move that Chris rejected, and there were whispers up and down THE STREET that jealousy was the real reason. 

Chris had become known as Mr Express, an accolade Beaver felt should be his. It raises the question: who is the most Important; someone like Chris, who doubled the circulation of the Express, or Beaverbrook, who put up his own money to buy the paper in the first place. The jury is out on that one.

I first met Chris in the most unlikely place, the Rock of Gibraltar. He and his wife were on their way home after a sunshine cruise and their liner had docked there for a day, to give passengers time for a tour of the famous landmark. 

I was there on the big story of that time. A German tall ship, the Pamir, had sunk in a fierce Atlantic storm, with a huge loss of lives, mostly young trainees. Only three sailors survived, luckily picked up by a freighter bound for Trieste. 

The ever expanding press pack, of which I was one, had a single objective — to get to the survivors. 

The freighter ignored all calls, declined to slow down to let the media on board, and slipped through in darkness, close to the African shore. 

 Place your trust in yourself, he told me, advice I have never forgotten

I was recalled to London, but not before the local stringer told Chris an Expressman was on site. What happened next was pure Christiansen, no longer an editor on holiday, but an editor with a story and a reporter on hand. 

I was immediately invited for drinks in The Rock Hotel, where I was staying anyway. We had never met, he barely knew my name, but immediately put my apprehension to rest. We were colleagues, we talked the same language, and the gap between Editor and reporter did not exist. 

Of course, he wanted to know every detail, but not once did he try to influence me or suggest a course of action he would take. This was my story. 'Place your trust in yourself,' he told me, advice I have never forgotten. 

Soon after he returned to the Express he realised that Beaverbrook was determined to make him go, no doubt with a large cheque. The Express had lost a genius. 

Years later I got to know him much better, when I was posted to New York and he was an executive with Anglia Television, a position which seemed to require numerous visits to America, but this was not the Chris of old. When he left the Express he took the sparkle with him.

'I don't go to Fleet Street any more', he said. 'I don't know anybody now.’ It was different when he came to New York. His first call was to the Express office, which was then in Rockefeller Plaza. It was where he was most comfortable, he said, where he was among friends and familiar faces, where he felt at home.

When Christiansen died of a heart attack in 1963 Beaverbrook took credit for forcing him out, claiming that he had given him a few more years of life. He did not want him to die at his desk.

•Andrew Fyall was a reporter, feature writer, columnist and foreign correspondent for the Daily Express during the 1960s and 1970s. He covered a wide range of assignments, from politics, riots and revolutions to the world of entertainment. Now retired, he lives in Edinburgh with his wife, Bet.

First In, Last Out: Andrew Fyall’s memoir is available here

The Christiansen Chronicles

Beaverbrook: Not quite a gentleman



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