Ronald Payne: Acclaimed foreign correspondent

He became an expert on terrorism

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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
musicBand's first new record for 20 years has some tough acts to follow
News
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
tech
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
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

Foundation and KS1 Teacher

£100 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Foundation and Key Stage 1...

Geography Teacher

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: Temporary Teacher of GEOGRAPHY ...

Supply Teachers needed in Salford!

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Are you a ...

Nursery Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Nursery Assistants RequiredNursery Assis...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments