David Ross

Journalist and advocate of green energy
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The Independent Online

The writer and journalist David Ross was a remarkable advocate for wave power. His seminal book Energy from the Waves was published in 1979 and has been widely influential. He worked as a reporter on the Daily Express for many years, and had been a regular contributor to Tribune since the early 1950s.

David Michael Ross, journalist and writer: born London 6 March 1925; married 1951 Tamara Halperin (died 2003; one son, one daughter); died London 9 August 2004.

The writer and journalist David Ross was a remarkable advocate for wave power. His seminal book Energy from the Waves was published in 1979 and has been widely influential. He worked as a reporter on the Daily Express for many years, and had been a regular contributor to Tribune since the early 1950s.

On 11 August, Ross had the lead letter in The Independent. Making his characteristically trenchant criticism of the energy establishment and plugging his beloved wave energy, he ends the letter with a challenge: "The country must now decide, as we try to wriggle through an inevitable power crisis, whether this is a discussion about energy or accountancy."

Reading this over breakfast, I thought David Ross was back to his bold best: he had suffered from a bad fall last autumn, and at 79, took time to recover. I then took a phone call from his daughter, who told me that Ross had died. He might have smiled his wicked smile: he made waves till the last.

David Ross was born in 1925 in Bloomsbury, London, into a Jewish family of Russian and Polish descent. He was schooled at the Polytechnic in Regent Street, leaving as soon as he could, at 15 or 16. The Second World War led to his evacuation to Somerset in 1939.

His journalism began early. Back in London, he freelanced as a home war reporter. Once, in south London, he had just telephoned in an eye-witness report of a German bomb, when he heard the sound of another arriving. He recalled how he watched, huddled in a doorway, the next bomb destroy the telephone kiosk. It was the first of several near-misses he survived in the war.

He eventually joined the RAF, being posted to Burma and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Despite his lifelong opposition to nuclear technology, he told me that he wondered whether his life had been spared by the use of the atomic bombs on Japan, where he would have been sent next. He died on the 59th anniversary of the dropping of the A-bomb on Nagasaki.

After the war, Ross became a full-time journalist, starting in Paris where he met his beloved wife, Tamara Halperin, a young Swiss journalist whose own father had been a Swiss newspaper correspondent in Berlin and London. In 1951, they embarked on a long and happy marriage.

Both were left wingers, and strong trade unionists. Ross found work in Italy with World Federation of Trade Unions, then backed by the Communist Party. In Paris he worked for the Continental Daily Mail, then the news agency Reuters, and eventually joined the left-wing Daily Herald (which much later became The Sun).

At this period in the late 1950s he began a life-long friendship with Michael Foot, then briefly out of Parliament and again working as editor of the left-wing weekly Tribune, to which Ross contributed for many years. Foot had struck up an unusual working relationship with Lord Beaverbrook, owner of the Daily Express, a paper Ross soon joined and where he worked until retirement. He was initially a foreign reporter; later he turned to technology and energy reporting.

At the Express, Ross became a very effective father of chapel (in-house shop steward for the National Union of Journalists), once striking a deal that all reporters should get company cars, and the fellow journalists he represented at the paper benefited from the excellent salaries he negotiated.

When he retired in the early 1980s, Ross turned to freelance writing, contributing regularly to Tribune and Private Eye. He had taken up the position on the Express on the strict condition that he was permitted to carry on writing for Tribune (which he had written for since the early 1950s). It was here that his last, typically bravura, article appeared, backing wave power in an energy special issue on 2 July.

Ross continued his championing of green energy. His 1979 book Energy from the Waves went into second edition in 1995, retitled Power from the Waves. His little book is still listed as a key technology primer in many university courses, from the University of California to the Norwegian National Technical University.

Ross contributed to the long-running Sizewell Inquiry into plans for a new nuclear plant in 1983; and his writing was often cited in evidence given on renewable energy to Parliamentary select committees. He even found a link between his twin loves of Paris and wave power, writing in an article entitled "Give us a wave":

Getting energy from the waves has been studied since the time of the French Revolution when the first patent was filed in Paris by a father and son named Girard.

He was very much involved in political education on energy, and for many years was an active member of the Labour Party's own green ginger group, Sera (Socialist Environment & Resources Association). At his last Sera meeting, the 2002 AGM, he submitted a resolution calling on the

Labour Party, and its government, to implement the wave energy programme introduced by Tony Benn when he was energy secretary in 1976 to build 2,000 megawatt power stations in the deep sea, the size of giant oil tanks, to generate electricity. These to be owned and operated by the state in competition with the privatised sector of the electricity industry, in fulfilment of Labour's long-standing commitment to a mixed economy.

The resolution was passed.

He continued his wave power advocacy to the end. Professor Dave Elliott, founder of Sera's energy group, wrote to me on Ross's death:

He almost singlehanded put it on the public agenda: he was a one man pro-wave power pressure group. Last week the government announced that wave and tidal current work would receive an extra £50 m. That's not enough obviously, but it is in no small way a tribute to his efforts.

David Lowry