Doon Campbell

Reuters reporter
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Archibald Doon Campbell, journalist: born Annan, Dumfriesshire 11 March 1920; Deputy Chief News Editor, Reuters 1952-58, News Manager 1958-63, Editor, 1963-65, European Manager 1965-73; OBE 1984; married Mary Toms (died 1995; two sons, one daughter); died Southwold, Suffolk 26 May 2003.

Doon Campbell was a reporters' reporter. Tireless, seemingly fearless and with the invaluable knack of being in the right place at the right time, he had the ability to express himself quickly, clearly and evocatively. A long-standing journalist with Reuters news agency, he sent dispatches from the battlefields of Europe during the Second World War and was the first to tell the world of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.

Born in Dumfriesshire, the son of a church minister, the acerbic Scot served his apprenticeship on local newspapers before being plucked from the Edinburgh Evening Dispatch to join Reuters in May 1943. The fact that he was born missing the lower part of his left arm made Campbell ineligible for military service but this reinforced his desire to be in the thick of events as a journalist - a wish that took him to the African and Italian fronts.

Barely a year after joining the agency, and still just 24, Campbell was wading ashore in Normandy under heavy fire on D-Day with Lord Lovat's famed Scouts. Crouched in a ditch for three hours stabbing out his dispatches with one finger on a battered typewriter, he saw sights that remained with him for the rest of his life.

He stayed with the front-line troops as they fought their way across France and Belgium into Germany, crossing the Rhine in a glider, and witnessed at first hand the horrors of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. "In one hut, 50 men huddled sore to sore. One seemed to have a rail over his head - then you recognised arms," he wrote. "But they all said 'hello' and tried to smile."

Not a man to hang around when the story had moved on, Campbell moved with the war to India and then on to China, returning to Britain for his first leave in two years in March 1946. According to the former Reuters correspondent Nick Moore, Campbell was the model agency newsman:

If nothing was happening, he went out to interview someone, or, as in the case of a lull in the war in Italy, borrow the general's airplane to fly over an erupting Vesuvius for a "colour story".

Over the next year Campbell moved swiftly to Palestine, Iran (where an internal Reuters memo describes him as being "single-handed"), China and then India. He was the first to break the news to the world in January 1948 that Gandhi had been shot dead: one of several scoops he scored in his notable career keeping the world informed.

"Doon Campbell was, above everything, a reporter and a reporter's editor," Moore recalled:

He was no technician. He invariably filed too long - his cable bills were a part of the legend. But he was a master of the golden phrase. His prose showed how news-agency copy can rise to the occasion of history.

Among other memorable phrases, Campbell was credited - by the Associated Press - with having coined the term "the bamboo curtain" after the Communists took power in China, although he himself used to say he was never sure it was his.

At the end of 1948 he was sent to Paris, and four years later, back in London, was appointed deputy chief news editor. In 1958 he was made news manager, rising to editor five years later, a post he held for two years before becoming European manager.

Steve Sommerville, another former Reuters correspondent, recalled how Campbell would by turns castigate and praise publicly reporters in the field who he felt had either under- or over-performed.

You felt an integral part of the operation even in far-flung parts of the globe. You knew that he was watching you but was also on your side.

Campbell left Reuters in 1973 and took up a post with United Newspapers. His autobiography, Magic Mistress (2000), details what he admitted was his 30-year love affair with the agency. "He lived for Reuters," said Moore:

A bust of the founder, Paul Julius Reuter, looked down on him as he sat, in the eventide of his life, hammering out his autobiography with one finger jabbing furiously at his battered typewriter.

"Reuters is a great life, old boy," Campbell observed, "so long as you never take it too seriously."

Jeremy Lovell

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