Frank Johnson, inventor of the political sketch, dies aged 63

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Frank Johnson, the former editor of The Spectator and considered one of the finest journalists of his generation, died of cancer yesterday aged 63.

Friends and former colleagues paid tribute to a "journalistic colossus", who rose from humble East End roots - his father was a pastry chef from Stoke Newington - to become the Spectator editor from 1995 to 1999, following Dominic Lawson and preceding Boris Johnson.

Johnson left school at 15 with one O-level, starting as a tea boy on Lord Beaverbrook's Sunday Express in the early 1960s, moving to local papers and The Sun before becoming a reporter in the House of Commons.

He is credited with revolutionising the parliamentary sketch - hitherto a straightforward account of debates - employing a style described by his friend Andrew Roberts, the historian, as "subversive, funny and outrageous".

He enjoyed his heyday at The Daily Telegraph from 1972 to 1979 as a sketch and leader writer. He went on to be a sketch writer on the news magazine Now! , becoming deputy editor of The Sunday Telegraph before taking over the editor's chair at The Spectator.

Boris Johnson, said: "There are very few journalists who create a genre of their own and even fewer who remain unsurpassed in that genre. Frank Johnson invented the modern parliamentary sketch."