Ross Benson

Journalist for the 'Express' and 'Mail' equally adept as diarist and foreign correspondent


Ross Benson, journalist: born 29 September 1948; Deputy Diary Editor, Daily Mail
1968-71, writer and foreign correspondent 1997-2005; Deputy Diary Editor, Sunday Express
1971-72; staff, Daily Express
1973-97, Foreign News Editor 1975-76, specialist writer 1976-78, US West Coast correspondent 1978-82, chief foreign correspondent 1982-87, chief feature writer 1987-88, Diary Editor 1988-97; married 1968 Beverly Rose (one son; marriage dissolved 1974), 1975 Zoë Bennett (one daughter; marriage dissolved 1986), 1987 Ingrid Seward (one daughter); died London 8 March 2005.

Ross Benson, journalist: born 29 September 1948; Deputy Diary Editor, Daily Mail 1968-71, writer and foreign correspondent 1997-2005; Deputy Diary Editor, Sunday Express 1971-72; staff, Daily Express 1973-97, Foreign News Editor 1975-76, specialist writer 1976-78, US West Coast correspondent 1978-82, chief foreign correspondent 1982-87, chief feature writer 1987-88, Diary Editor 1988-97; married 1968 Beverly Rose (one son; marriage dissolved 1974), 1975 Zoë Bennett (one daughter; marriage dissolved 1986), 1987 Ingrid Seward (one daughter); died London 8 March 2005.

Ross Benson was the most versatile of journalists. One of Fleet Street's leading gossip columnists in a period when gossip was becoming the chief selling point of the mid-market tabloids he worked for, he was also a gifted foreign correspondent, producing a body of distinguished, award-winning reportage, most recently in Iraq.

Born in Scotland in 1948, Benson had a peripatetic childhood, moving with his parents to Africa, Australia and the Netherlands before being sent to Gordonstoun, the tough Scottish private school, where he was a contemporary of Prince Charles. After leaving school he worked for London Life magazine and then, at the age of 20, joined the Daily Mail's diary column. In 1971 he switched to the Sunday Express and then moved over to its daily sister, where he stayed for most of his career.

He was anxious not to be typecast as a gossip writer, although his charm and enjoyment of high-society functions seemed to make him a natural for the role. His real ambition was to be a foreign correspondent, and in 1975 he persuaded the Express to appoint him deputy foreign editor. In 1978 he was sent out to Los Angeles as its West Coast correspondent - an ideal berth for him, combining tittle-tattle about the Hollywood stars with the opportunity to travel around the United States and other parts of the Americas on more serious and rewarding assignments.

I met him in El Salvador on one of his earliest forays into the region's hotspots, and was struck by his determination to counter any impression that his main strength was in covering the frothy side of life. He had the perfect demeanour for a foreign correspondent - calm, patient, courteous and refusing to be ruffled by the obstacles that officialdom liked to strew in our paths. He was the opposite of the flashy reporter who always seeks to be at the forefront of the action. He knew that it was just as important to nag away at the essence of a story, to find out what local people were really feeling and what lay behind the conflict.

Impressive, too, was his stylish attire. Even travelling in the depths of the jungle he would wear a clean and crisply pressed safari suit. Back home, his Savile Row suits and Jermyn Street shirts became something of a Fleet Street legend. The word dapper could have been expressly invented to describe him.

He moved back to London in 1982 and for five years was the Daily Express's chief foreign correspondent, flying out to cover the major stories of the period, including the Falklands War. In 1983 he was named International Reporter of the Year in the British Press Awards. In 1988, though, he was lured back to take over the paper's diary column, with the formidable task of going head-to-head with the Mail's Nigel Dempster, then the doyen of the gossip trade.

In 1990 he published his first book, as ghost writer of the "autobiography" of George Best, the colourful footballer ( The Good, the Bad and the Bubbly). This was followed by a biography of a Beatle, Paul McCartney: behind the myth (1992), and a royal book, Charles: the untold story (1993).

He went back to the Daily Mail in 1997 and to foreign reporting, always his real love. In recent years he wrote with feeling and insight on the conflicts in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. He became especially incensed when David Blunkett, then Home Secretary, accused him and other British reporters in Baghdad of being influenced by Iraqi propaganda. His work in Iraq won him a London Press Club award last year.

Benson was married three times and had three children. His 1987 marriage to Ingrid Seward, the editor of Majesty magazine, was the one that endured. They had houses in Oxfordshire and in Belgravia - not too far from Chelsea's home ground, where he was a season-ticket holder, and where he watched his team beat Barcelona in the Champions' League on the evening he died.

Michael Leapman

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