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Obituary: Lord Ardwick

JOHN ARDWICK - or John Beavan, or Lord Ardwick, for he tailored his 'signoff' according to the subject of his piece - was a supporter of the Independent from its brave beginnings in 1986, writes James Fergusson.

In the first place this was sentimental, for one of the founders, and for eight years its Deputy Editor, was Matthew Symonds, his son by Anne Symonds, the BBC World Service journalist. Ardwick was frankly sceptical about the newspaper's chances and declined offers to invest in its shares on the grounds that he would need the money to bail his son out when it folded. But when, by that strange combination of luck and alchemy that is now the stuff of hardback books, the Independent was launched into the world to a surprising succes d'estime, Ardwick became one of its loyalest admirers. If you rang him before lunch, he would complain that he had had a wasted morning because he could not put the paper down.

His commitment to the Independent, fortunately, went further than a subscription at his newsagent's. One of the less obvious problems of founding a new quality newspaper is that it has no one to write its obituaries. The average age of the paper's first staff was unusually low (it was said to be 32) and of retired staff (a traditional writing-pool for obituaries) there were none. John Ardwick in his several sobriquets personified our historical memory in two important subject areas - politics and journalism. He became an invaluable adviser and contributor.

He it was who, in the middle of an awkward night less than three months after the paper was launched, dictated a seamless leading article on the death of Harold Macmillan. Over the years following he reported from the 'waiting- room', as he called the House of Lords, with obituaries of fellow Labour peers including Lords Blyton, Heycock and Underhill, Ponsonby of Shulbrede, Silkin of Dulwich and Stewart of Fulham, as well as such figures from journalism as Harold Hutchinson, Cecil King and - his junior by 24 years, untimely snatched - Peter Jenkins, the Independent's political commentator. Several hefty obituaries that he also wrote survive him.

The sparkle in Ardwick's eye was matched by the relish in his writing. He made no secret of enjoying this new work of his old age. He concluded his obituary of Michael Stewart in 1990 with a quotation from RH Tawney: 'To have useful and interesting work to do, and enough money to do it properly, is as much happiness as is good for the sons of Adam.'

(Photograph omitted)