Obituary: Erik de Mauny

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The Independent Online
Erik de Mauny was BBC Radio's correspondent in a number of countries but was best known for his reporting from Moscow. He was posted there in 1963 as the first resident correspondent after the censorship restrictions in the Soviet Union were eventually lifted. He had a London degree in Russian which gave colour and depth to his despatches. He had a great zest for debate and argument, as well as a lively sense of humour, which made him good company and enlivened his reports.

In 1964 he covered the fall of Khrushchev in Moscow. The same year he met there Kim Philby, whom he had known in Beirut before Philby flew to Moscow and acknowledged his life of spying for the Soviet Union. It was typical of de Mauny that he stuck faithfully to the understanding that this was a social occasion and not an interview. In his book Russian Prospect (1969), he acknowledged that he had kept pace with Philby's drinking and left in a condition that made getting home difficult.

De Mauny's French grandparents had settled in Britain, and both his parents were professional musicians. His father, a violinist and a conductor, emigrated to New Zealand in 1922. Erik enlisted in the NZ Medical Corps in 1940 and in 1942 tended the wounded at the Battle of Alamein. Later he caught severe jaundice in Tobruk which made him unfit for active service. He was transferred to General Freyberg's GHQ in Cairo where he ran the French section of the radio monitoring service. After the D-Day landings he was transferred to Italy, where he interrogated German prisoners.

After a year at Victoria University in New Zealand and an honours degree in Russian at the School of Slavonic Studies in London, de Mauny joined the news section of the BBC in Bush House. John Crawley, then a colleague on the news desk, said, "I thought of him as an author who had become a journalist rather than the other way round. Indeed he was at home in the literary world, publishing several books and translations and reviewing regularly for the Times Literary Supplement."

He transferred to the domestic radio news as a roving Foreign Duty Editor and in 1956 he reported from Vienna on the effect Khrushchev's devastating attack on Stalin's reputation and the "cult of personality" had had on Eastern Europe. His first post as a foreign correspondent was also Vienna. From there he moved on to the Middle East, based in Beirut, and then to Washington where he was number two to Douglas Stuart. He also went over to Cuba to report on the situation following the United States' spectacular unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro's regime, the Bay of Pigs disaster.

When I went on a BBC mission to Moscow in 1956 we discussed the possibility of stationing a correspondent permanently in the Soviet capital. We made it clear that this could not be done until censorship of outgoing despatches was lifted. This happened in 1963 and de Mauny, with his experience and his excellent Russian was the obvious choice for the post. After a six-year spell in Paris he returned for a second tour of duty in Moscow. His last six years in the BBC were back as a Foreign Duty Editor and then working for The World Tonight on Radio 4.

De Mauny was married twice. His first wife was an Egyptian. They had no children and in 1969 the marriage was both dissolved and annulled, allowing de Mauny, who had converted to Roman Catholicism, to marry Elizabeth, the fifth of the seven daughters of Commander Robert Tatton Bower, the Conservative MP for Cleveland. She had also worked in the BBC and previously for Reuters and the Foreign Office. They had a son and daughter, both born in France, which is where they first lived after his retirement. Later they moved to Lancaster, where he wrote his as yet unpublished memoirs.

Leonard Miall

Erik Cecil Leon de Mauny, author and broadcaster: born London 17 September 1920; staff, BBC External Services News 1949-55, Foreign Duty Editor 1955- 58, Correspondent in Vienna and Balkans 1958, Middle East 1958-60, Washington 1960-63, Moscow 1963-66, Paris 1966-72, Moscow 1972-74, Foreign Duty Editor 1974-77, Special Correspondent 1977-80; married 1950 Denyse Aghion (marriage dissolved 1969), second Elizabeth Bower (one son, one daughter); died Lancaster 18 March 1997.