Roger Berthoud: 'Independent' leader-writer who also wrote acclaimed biographies of Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland

 

Roger Berthoud was a distinguished and versatile journalist, as well as the writer of authoritative biographies of Graham Sutherland and Henry Moore. His long career started on the Daily Express in Manchester and he ended as chief leader writer for The Independent in its early days. He was liberal, pro-European, scrupulous about accuracy and fairness and sceptical of extreme views of every colour.

This did not mean that he lacked strong and well-informed convictions. In his entertaining (and occasionally a shade over-candid) autobiography he wrote: "I believe we Britons live in a country that has been consistently badly governed in my lifetime, by both main parties" – though he made a qualified exception for Attlee's postwar administration and Margaret Thatcher's first term. He particularly blamed what he called "our scandalously unjust electoral system", and his views were coloured by the period he spent as The Times correspondent, first in Bonn and then in Brussels.

Early in the Second World War he was sent with his younger sister as an evacuee to Canada, returning at the age of nine to join his elder brother Martin at a boarding prep school before going to Rugby. Called up for National Service, he discovered that he did not suit the army, and that the army did not suit him. As a result he was not given a commission, instead becoming a clerk in the Royal Artillery and serving during the Cold War in South Korea. He was also stationed in West Germany, where he would later return as a senior journalist.

After leaving the forces he went to Cambridge to read modern languages, an educational journey similar to many of his upper-middle class generation. From the Daily Express in 1960 he joined the London Evening Standard, working on the Londoner's Diary.

There, he worked with youngsters such as Max Hastings and Magnus Linklater. One of the choicest diary items he came up with concerned the 1963 Profumo affair, when the cabinet minister Jack Profumo had to resign after been detected in an amorous liaison.

During a spell in Paris Berthoud discovered that General de Gaulle had been following the affair. He reported that General had remarked to an aide, "That will teach the English to try and behave like Frenchmen." In 1967 he joined The Times, first working on its diary before being posted to Bonn. During the 1980s he left The Times to become deputy editor of the Illustrated London News, where for six years his column "Encounters with Roger Berthoud" proved highly popular.

Two people particularly influenced him, notably his formidable father Sir Eric Berthoud, a diplomat of Swiss descent who was Britain's ambassador in Copenhagen and Warsaw. The family base in England was an impressive country pile in Essex, where he spent his holidays and developed a passion for birdwatching. An important mentor was Maurice Ash, a wealthy expert on modern art and Buddhism whose homes at Dartington and Cap d'Antibes were frequent holiday locations.

During his time in Cambridge Berthoud had developed a deep interest in the arts, in particular painting and sculpture, and in the 1980s he produced two well-received books. The first, Graham Sutherland: a biography was well-reviewed, while five years later he published a similarly well-received life of Henry Moore. In expressing regret at Berthoud's death, the Henry Moore Foundation noted that he spent five years researching the book, which it describes as the sculptor's definitive biography. His research papers, which were acquired by the Foundation, form part of the Henry Moore Archives.

He advocated writing with a "gossamer touch," and was noted for his own success in doing so. One reviewer of his memoir, People, Politics and Paintings, lauded it as "exceptionally entertaining, wittily distilled with an exemplary freshness and a delightfully light touch."

Berthoud's wife Joy, also a journalist and author, ensured that invitations to their house on the edge of Hampstead Heath were much sought after and opened many doors. In later years they chose to live apart, and he moved from London to live near Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire, near his daughters, Lucy and Lottie, and his three grandchildren.

There, he said, the best view in Wiltshire was "from my terrace." He enthused: "It overlooks the valley. I can see the Kennet and Avon Canal and the river. There is a wood behind and when the sun sets the way the light catches the tops of the trees is very beautiful. And I can see Bradford twinkling in the distance."

John Landell Mills writes: My wife and I were friends with him for over 50 years, and we remember him with affection and respect. If he lent you a book it would always be worth reading; if he recommended an art exhibition or a place to visit it would rarely be a disappointment. And his judgements about politics and people were always perceptive, if sometimes sharp. He was the sort of journalist a civilised, efficient democracy always needs.

Roger Berthoud, journalist and author: born 15 September 1934; married 1964 Joy Tagney (two daughters); died 27 October 2013.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions