OBITUARIES: JEAN MARIN

Click to follow
It has sometimes been said that General de Gaulle did not like men who were tall, like him. If this were true, an exception has to be made for Jean Marin.

On 19 June 1940, immediately after de Gaulle's broadcast announcing his intention of continuing the war from London, the exceptionally tall and broad-shouldered Marin made his way to de Gaulle's tiny residence in St Stephen's House to tell him that he wished to join his movement. De Gaulle asked him to continue broadcasting with the BBC, which he had been doing for the past week, and always showed complete confidence in him.

Marin was one of the presenters of the evening programme Les Francais Parlent aux Francais! After the war de Gaulle said of Marin, ''He was one of the best of us." One of the rare followers of the General to be invited to his home for dinner, Marin would be given a box of cigars with the reassurance ''They're from Havana, they won't hurt your throat."

Marin continued broadcasting until August 1943 when de Gaulle gave in to his request that he should join the Free French forces. Having served on motor torpedo boats, Marin was transferred to General Leclerc's forces and landed at Utah Beach. He entered Paris on 25 August 1944 and was present when de Gaulle greeted Leclerc outside the Gare Montparnasse. Seeing him there de Gaulle cried out to him, ''Don't forget that the enemy surrendered to General Leclerc and to the Resistance forces of the interior.''

Marin was born Yves Morvan and adopted Jean Marin as a nom de guerre in August 1940. He was a Breton by birth and by loyalty. But his mother was descended from an Alsace family who had emigrated to Paris. Educated in Redon and at the Sorbonne, where he studied philosophy, he became a freelance journalist, working for Paris-Midi. He had several "scoops", in particular being present at a lecture given by Trotsky in Denmark; replacing a colleague who was ill so as to write an outstanding account of the coronation of George VI; visiting the exiled Emperor of Abyssinia in Bath. He was soon writing for the Havas Agency and installed in Fleet Street, a devoted admirer of England and of all things English.

Marin had an enriching life which made him a most interesting man. In Cairo he met the aviator Saint-Exupery and got on well with him; at the Savoy Hotel he listened to Stanley Baldwin reading a speech in which he said, ''England's frontier is,'' and then turned to the following page before completing the sentence, ''on the Rhine.'' Having dinner with Andre Maurois and de Gaulle he remembered that the former asked the General to keep his voice down when he was attacking Marshal Petain, because the waiter was an admirer of Petain. Then, having dinner with de Gaulle, he heard him say, when speaking of Petain, that it was old age that had exaggerated his weaknesses, and turning towards Mme de Gaulle, he added, ''You'll see, when I'm 80. . .''

After the Second World War, Marin thought of going into politics but, although he was treated with enormous respect by all parties (the Communist leader Andre Marty told him how he had listened to his broadcasts throughout the war), he was not a natural politician. It was not until 1954 that, at the invitation of the then Prime Minister, Pierre Mendes France, he was invited to create the independent Agence France Presse, often said to be the French equivalent of Reuters, and to be its president.

This was at the suggestion of Francois Mitterrand, who had encountered Marin when he came to England in 1943. Marin remained on good terms with Mitterrand after Valery Giscard d'Estaing put an end to his Presidency of AFP in 1975; in 1981 Marin was one of those invited to advise Mitterrand on whether or not he should stand for the Presidency.

Marin devoted much energy to the Franco-British Council which was established by Edward Heath and President Pompidou. He published a fine volume of memoirs in 1994. He spent much time in his native Brittany at Douarnenez and Locronan. But it was his years in the BBC from 1940 to 1943 that were the great moment of his life. Nothing gave him greater pleasure than the last letter that de Gaulle wrote to him which simply said, ''The best thing we ever did was Free France, La France Libre.''

Douglas Johnson

Yves Morvan (Jean Marin), writer, broadcaster: born 1909; President, Agence France Presse 1954-75; died Paris 3 June 1995.

Comments