Obituary: Laurence Marks

If Laurence Marks, whose elegant profiles and shrewdly observed reports graced the pages of the Observer for a quarter of a century, had been a less self-effacing journalist, his would have been one of the great names of Fleet Street.

He was that rare bird, the perfectionist who could write accurately and elegantly under extreme pressure. He was as happy out and about, notebook in hand, as he was working the phone with a courteous persistence that wrung information out of taciturn people with little time for the press.

Until Marks's day, profiles had been lovingly assembled after hours of discussion and weeks of research. With his capacity for hard work, his attention to detail and his instinct for character, Marks took the genre by the scruff of the neck, opening up the possibility of a judicious and well-turned piece about someone who had only come into the news towards the end of the week.

In his corner behind ancient green filing cabinets, he would work halfway through the night, filling sheets with meticulous notes made in a neat hand. Well-rested executives arriving the following morning would comment happily how once again Marks had turned in an "effortless" piece.

He was not "clubbable" in the Fleet Street sense of the term, avoiding boozy gatherings outside the office as keenly as he avoided conferences inside. He could end a conversation with a disconcerting abruptness, and he shied away from personal commitment. A woman colleague set her cap at him, and poor Marks was covered with confusion. One night when the lady offered him a cup of coffee in her flat, he fled. Gold Blend man, he was not.

With his shyness (he took his holidays alone) and his don-like air (tweed jackets and grey flannel trousers), he was so far from the popular image of the hard-bitten journalist that some questioned whether he had chosen the right calling. But at the Observer, which he loved passionately, he worked in a great tradition of writer/reporters who let their pens do the talking.

Marks read Law at Lincoln College, Oxford, where he rowed for the college; held a National Service commission in the Royal Artillery; and, before joining the Observer, worked for the Oxford Mail, the London Evening Standard (where he edited Londoner's Diary) and the Sunday Times. After his recent "retirement", he wrote occasionally for the Independent on Sunday.

He loved cricket - he would return to the office deeply tanned after a weekend at Lord's. Having no family of his own, he was close to his two sisters and brother. The warmth of those who attended his funeral on Sunday was evidence of the love and loyalty which he inspired. Marks himself would, without doubt, have been deeply embarrassed by the many nice things said.

Robert Chesshyre

Laurence Marks, journalist: born London 26 January 1928; died London 25 May 1996.

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