Obituary: Derek Kartun

`Daily Worker' foreign editor who became chairman of Staflex and a writer of spy thrillers

DEREK KARTUN was the improbable combination of leftist activist, captain of industry, Daily Worker journalist and writer of spy thrillers.

Son of a Russian-French father and a Polish-English mother, he was born into the world of the cultured bourgeoisie. His uncle was the pianist and conductor Leon Kartun (Stephane Grappelli was a violinist in his orchestra), while, on his mother's side, the writer Leon Garfield was his first cousin; his sister is Anita Pereire, doyenne of French garden writers.

His father had left the Paris Conservatoire when he realised that he would not be one of the great violinists of his generation, and became a successful designer and trader of jewellery. His parents' world was that of the international rich and glamorous, the luxury hotel and the ocean liner. One of Derek's earliest memories was sitting on the knee of Noel Coward as he played the piano. His father later made the regrettable decision not to finance Private Lives.

Kartun was sent to England for his schooling, first to a prep school in Redhill, Surrey, where the combination of being bookish, Jewish and French proved a hindrance to wide popularity, and then to St Paul's, where he flourished. By a cruel twist of fate, what should have been his sixth- form years coincided with a temporary reversal of his father's fortunes, and he was set to work in an advertising agency, sharing a desk with Eric Newby, and later found himself a job working on scripts for "B" movies for MGM, where he met the writer and journalist Claud Cockburn.

Bad eyesight confined him to civilian duties when war broke out in 1939. During the Second World War he became politicised and joined the Communist Party. He wrote several polemical books, including Tito's Plot Against Europe: the story of the Raik conspiracy (1949), This is America (1947) and Africa, Africa! (1954). He became foreign editor of the Daily Worker, and contributed to Cockburn's scurrilous news-sheet The Week. He covered the troubled birth of the state of Israel and was present during the Siege of Jerusalem in April 1948, typing his story on a typewriter rescued from the abandoned offices of The Times.

In 1949 he married Gwen Farrow, and their house in Kensington (demolished when the High Street was widened in the late Fifties; all that remains is an acacia tree, now in the pavement), with its alluring cocktail of good conversation, international sophistication and French cookery, became a natural meeting place of the leftist intelligentsia. Clancy Sigal, Mervyn Jones, Margot Heinemann and J.D. Bernal were in regular attendance, and Doris Lessing and Claud Cockburn were successively lodgers. Cockburn was amusing company but could be a worrying housemate, once leaving a tray laden with crockery on a lighted gas stove.

Growing disillusionment with Soviet Communism, brought to a head by Khrushchev's exposure of the crimes of Stalinism, and the brutal suppression of the Hungarian uprising in 1956, prompted Kartun to commute his Communist Party allegiance to Labour. Furthermore, now having two daughters, he realised that a career in politics was a luxury he could no longer afford.

He accepted the invitation of his friends Eddie Morgan and Harry Rose to join the board of a firm that had hit upon a way to streamline the mass-production of clothing. The firm, Staflex, was one of the notable business success stories of the Sixties and Seventies; Kartun became its managing director and later chairman. Its product, the fusible interlining, was used the world over, from Burton's suits to the uniforms of the Red Guards of China's cultural revolution.

After a couple of decades in business he was itching to get back to writing. He produced a series of spy thrillers: Beaver to Fox (1983), The Courier (1985), Flittermouse (1985), Megiddo (1987) and, with Vitali Vitaliev, The Third Trinity (1993); these met with a degree of success and were translated into several languages. His plays for BBC radio included one on the death of Tchaikovsky and one whose characters were the members of a string quartet, inspired by his long friendship with Siegmund Nissel of the Amadeus Quartet.

Derek Kartun was very broadly cultured: passionate about art and always eager to discuss the latest exhibitions, and widely read in English and French (with typical modesty saying that he was not a good linguist, but merely happened to speak French); his deep interest in music was centred on the classical and Romantic chamber repertoire.

He had a very warm human touch and could talk to anyone about anything; a natural teacher, he delighted in the company of the young. He had a particular knack of finding out about any unhappiness of a friend or colleague (down to the humblest member of the organisation), and made it his business to do what he could to put things right.

His Communism had no truck with the orthodoxy of the manifesto and the rulebook, but was a belief shot through with fellow-feeling for his brother man, a profound pity for the suffering of the downtrodden and oppressed and a quiet anger at the system which allowed it to happen.

Derek Isidore Kartun, writer, journalist and businessman: born Margate, Kent 9 August 1919; married 1949 Gwen Farrow (two daughters); died Chippenham, Wiltshire 11 January 2005.

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
life
Life and Style
It is believed that historically rising rates of alcohol consumption have contributed to the increase
food + drink
Voices
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
The White Sails Hospital and Spa is to be built in the new Tunisia Economic City.
architectureRussian billionaire designs boat-shaped hospital for new Dubai-style Tunisia Economic City
Arts and Entertainment
You could be in the Glastonbury crowd next summer if you follow our tips for bagging tickets this week
music
Sport
Husain Abdullah returns an interception off Tom Brady for a touchdown
nflLeague has rules against 'sliding to ground on knees'
Life and Style
tech
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
food + drink
News
i100
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
Arts and Entertainment
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Java Developer - web services, XML and API

£330 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Lond...

Maths Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Reading: Maths Teacher required to teach Furthe...

Primary teachers required for schools in Norwich

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary teachers requ...

Trainee Helpdesk Analyst / 1st Line Application Support Analyst

£18000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style