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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Life and Style
life
News
Melissa and Joan Rivers together at an NBC event in May 2014
peopleDaughter Melissa thanks fans for 'outpouring of support'
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
One in six drivers cannot identify a single one of the main components found under the bonnet of an average car
motoringOne in six drivers can't carry out basic under-bonnet checks
News
i100
Voices
Pupils educated at schools like Eton (pictured) are far more likely to succeed in politics and the judiciary, the report found
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Shady character: Jon Hamm as sports agent JB Bernstein in Million Dollar Arm
filmReview: Jon Hamm finally finds the right role on the big screen in Million Dollar Arm
News
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Research and Insight Analyst (Mathematics Graduate)

£25000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are cur...

IT Support Manager - Staffordshire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Manager - Near...

Nursery assistants required for day to day roles in Cambridge

£10000 - £15000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Nursery assistants re...

Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

£20000 - £30000 per annum + OTE £40 - £50K first year: SThree: SThree Group an...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone