One of the great figures of what used to be Fleet Street, Peter Batt, died recently. Among his claims to fame (like writing the first ever episode of EastEnders) was that he featured in a classic story of old-time journalistic misadventure.
In the 1960s, the British press corps went to cover an air crash in the Pyrenees. The plane had come down in heavy snow, and it was one of the biggest incidents of the new age of jet travel. Batty (he was known thus by everyone) was preparing to visit the crash scene by taking one or two libations in the hotel bar, but unfortunately he got rather ahead of himself, and the next day, when his fellow journalists went en masse up the mountain, Batty could not be roused.
When he came to, he managed to persuade a taxi driver to take him as close to the crash site as possible. From there, the intrepid Batty began to walk through the snow. He was soon unable to go any further, and began signalling for help to a building in the distance, which happened to be a Sisters of Mercy mission. Eventually, a nun went to help him. Batty could not speak French but was desperate to reach the wreckage for fear that he would be scooped by his competitors.
To the nun, he mimed an aeroplane crashing. “Oh, mon pauvre,” she said, believing him to be a crash victim. She called for help, and Batty was taken into the mission, put in bed, and given a bottle of Benedictine brandy to help him get over the shock.
Meanwhile, at the crash site, news filtered through that a survivor had been found down the mountain. What’s more, he’s British! And he’s at the Sisters of Mercy mission! The entire press pack rushed down the mountain. They were led in to see the poor survivor. And there they found a slightly ruddy-cheeked Batty holding a tumbler of Benedictine. “Cheers, lads,” he said. “Sorry I missed you this morning.” RIP, Batty, a true legend.