Ronald Payne: Acclaimed foreign correspondent
He became an expert on terrorism
Sunday 16 June 2013
He was a genial bear of a man, bearded, witty and relaxed – except when pursuing a story. For Ronnie Payne was one of the small band of foreign correspondents who covered the world for serious newspapers in the 40 years after the war, before the stars of television took over. His wartime experience as a Marine officer and his natural cool helped him when covering a number of wars in the Middle East – and when interviewing celebrities ranging from Colonel Gaddafi to Yves Saint Laurent.
He came from an unlikely background. His father, Richard, was a baker who taught himself Latin and Hebrew to become a Primitive Methodist minister. At the age of five Ronnie was initiated into the ranks of the Little White Ribboners (tiny tots) of the sternly teetotal National British Women’s Temperance Association. The certificate his father signed stayed on his office wall all his life.
Unlike many of his fellow journalists Payne was never an over-imbiber, but his last drink on this earth was when the nurse mixed him a lemon barley water with Scotch – as near as she could get to a whisky sour. At one point in his teens he was in charge of what the Anglican church would call Holy Communion and he gave out tea and buns, arguing that these were the modern equivalent of bread and wine. Not surprisingly his action caused come controversy in the chapel.
Because his father was on a “circuit” and moved every few years Payne changed schools with monotonous frequency, fortunately ending up at Bedford School, where he passed the Oxford entrance exam. But before going up he joined 42 Commando of the Royal Marines, helping to helped liberate the Netherlands as a – strictly temporary – captain. His military service ensured that he got a free place to study history at Jesus College, where he wrote for The Isis and decided to become a journalist. His first job was on the Reading Mercury, soon moving to the London Evening Standard and to the Daily Telegraph.
Although he worked as a leader writer at both papers, he found his forte as a journalist when the Telegraph sent him to Paris. For over 20 years he reported on France’s wars in North Africa and from Vietnam when it was still a French colony. His native shrewdness meant he was one of the few reporters to realise that when De Gaulle told the settlers in Algiers “Je vous ai compris” (“I have understood you”) this was the precursor to betraying them by giving independence to the Algerians. He also reported from Cairo both before the Suez expedition and after the French and British invasion.
In the early 1960s he returned to act as diplomatic correspondent on the newly launched Sunday Telegraph. Later he and his journalistic partner Christopher Dobson – their joint telegraphic address Rondob became a legend – joined Now magazine, started up by Jimmy Goldsmith (who had been a sort of unpaid stringer to the Telegraph Paris office and once invited Payne to enjoy the delights of an exclusive brothel, an invitation he not surprisingly refused). When it folded, he freelanced before joining The European, another new journalistic venture launched by a maverick millionaire, in this case Robert Maxwell.
Payne wrote 11 books, five with Dobson. In 1977 their The Carlos Complex was the first book to show how terrorism could have global links. He ventured further afield with a “quickie” on the Falklands War and The Cruelest Night, which told the story of the German refugee ship Wilhelm Gustloff, sunk in the Baltic in 1945, causing more deaths than any other maritime disaster in history.
After he retired to rural Oxfordshire with his third wife, the journalist Celia Haddon – to whom he was happily married for 40 years – he wrote two books reflecting her journalistic work with animals, the bestselling One Hundred Ways to Live with a Cat Addict and the later One Hundred Ways to Live with a Dog Addict. But he retained his expert knowledge of terrorism – reflected by his book Mossad: Israel’s Most Secret Service.
Celia recalls how “one day after a terrorism outrage, he did 11 TV and radio appearances and wrote three articles. At the end of the day he made a final TV appearance. When he came home, I said to him: ‘Do you realise you said the exact opposite of what you had said on TV first thing in the morning?’ ‘Yes’, he said. ‘I just got bored of saying the same thing.’”
Ronald Staveley Payne, writer: born Ripon, Yorkshire 6 February 1926; married firstly and secondly, 1975 Celia Haddon; died Witney, Oxfordshire 27 May 2013
- 1 'Cheeky' Nando's under fire for apparently coming onto a customer on Twitter
- 2 Saudi Arabia mosque bombing: Two volunteer security guards hailed as heroes for stopping Isis suicide bomber reaching worshippers
- 3 Playboy model April Summers speaks out about being a victim of revenge porn
- 4 There is something wrong but very right about this Bible illustration
- 5 iPhone 'effective power' text: how to be safe from iOS bug that lets people crash your phone
EU referendum: David Cameron's rules are a 'democratic disgrace', says French-born Scottish politician set to be denied a vote
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
A nation of inequality: How the UK is failing to feed its most vulnerable people
Australian man punched in the face for defending Muslim women from abuse on train
EU referendum: David Cameron to deny EU migrants and under-18s the chance to vote
David Starkey 'tells Amal Clooney to shut up and stop over-promoting human rights'
£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...
£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...
£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...