OBITUARY: Gordon Greig

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As wily as he was wise, Gordon Greig was as much a political animal as he was a journalist. He knew the instincts of ministers and MPs as well as he understood the prejudice and passion of his readers.

Few understand, let alone write about, the fine line walked by tabloid newspaper reporters in what was once Fleet Street. The pressures of proprietors, editors and sources are so intense that the hapless hack can easily get mangled and discarded in the process of news-gathering. The pressures are at their most intense in the trenches of Westminster and Whitehall, and for political editors they can often be fatal. The turnover-rate is high; long-term survival is rare.

But Gordon Greig, who became a Daily Mail political correspondent in October 1970, and political editor in 1976, was above all a survivor. His achievement was that he survived by his skill as a hard-nosed reporter, rather than by ingratiating himself with editorial or political patrons.

Sir David English, now chairman and editor-in-chief of Associated Newspapers, was not only Greig's editor on the Mail; he was also a fan, a friend and a protector. No one knew Greig's supreme skill as a journalist better than English, and he said yesterday: "Gordon Greig was first and foremost a great reporter. We first met on the old broadsheet Daily Express and I have been privileged to work with him for some 35 years."

Greig's career was the stuff of Fleet Street legend. Before he emerged on the Daily Express, he had started out as a messenger on the Glasgow Bulletin and Herald in the late 1940s. Returning from National Service in the Life Guards in the early 1950s, he succeeded Joe Haines - later Harold Wilson's press secretary - as copytaker, typing reporters' stories and features as they were dictated down a telephone line. From there, he became a sub-editor - buffer between reporter and the printed page - and then made his move to Westminster as Joe Haines's deputy on the Daily Bulletin. The Bulletin shut down in 1960, and Greig was recruited as political reporter for the Daily Express. He switched to the Mail in 1962.

But his early days were used to good effect. Excluded from the lobby list, which gives political reporters their privileged access to the Commons Members' Lobby, Greig would spend hours sitting in the Central Lobby, watching the comings and goings; patiently piecing together exclusive stories that were not available - on the lobby plate - to his betters.

One of his earliest "breaks" was on the 1963 Profumo scandal, when he managed to scoop rivals on some of the details of a crisis that eventually helped to bring down the Conservative government. He was first with the news that Margaret Thatcher would be running against Ted Heath in the 1975 Conservative leadership challenge and, in 1982, he led the field with the news that Lord Carrington was to resign as Foreign Secretary in response to the Argentine invasion of the Falklands.

In a 1992 celebration of the 21st anniversary of the Mail's tabloid relaunch, John Major said: "I not only read Gordon Greig every Thursday morning at 10 o'clock, I lift up the cloth over the Cabinet Room table to make sure he isn't underneath it.

"Gordon has so many skills as a legendary lobby journalist - in determining what the Government has done, is doing, and should do - that he is in severe danger of being offered a job in the next reshuffle."

He would have turned it down. His great love was journalism; the unpredictability; the excitement; the gossip; the joy of a good story. But journalism also gave him the privacy that he so cherished. Spurning the limelight that he cast on others, he refused all the broadcasters' pleas for punditry and knee-jerk interviews. He was also so sure of his prowess that he allowed his juniors to spread their own wings under his protection. Never jealous, always encouraging, he was a delight to work for.

Above all, his talent was in knowing where the pulse of his paper was - as much as knowing the whereabouts of the political jugular. He was as good at striking the one as he was at putting the knife into the other.

Gordon John Greig, journalist: born 26 August 1931; staff, Daily Mail 1962-95, political correspondent 1970-76, political editor 1976-94, Assistant Editor (Politics) 1994-95; married (two daughters); died Truro 14 June 1995.