Working on the comment desk of The Independent – as I did for eight years from 2007 to 2015 – meant commissioning pieces from Rupert Cornwell, the paper's man in Washington whose death has just been announced.
With the time difference from London, I'd wait till 12.30 or so to phone him, but that was still only 7.30 in the States and early enough for a bit of grumpiness on his part to be excusable. But there never was any grumpiness.
"Simon!" he'd exclaim. "How are you my dear fellow?"
And after a bit of chat, usually about football, we'd get down to business.
Mostly, the pieces I was commissioning from him were leading articles – pronouncements on Stateside affairs, which I believe he was uniquely qualified to write. There was simply no other foreign correspondent who knew the US – its politics or its history – as well as Rupert did. He had an American wife, he had dwelt in his adopted homeland for many years, and he was steeped in its way of life, not least baseball.
I never felt, though, that he had "gone native". There was always something very British about Rupert. He maintained an outsider's perspective on America that I think that was one of the reasons he wrote about it so well.
And what a writer Rupert was. He was massively authoritative but never showy. He was elegant but trenchant, with never a word wasted in pieces that were always beautifully rounded. He was a difficult writer to cut.
Wonderful though he was to work with, Rupert didn't just take down instructions and go away and write the piece. Everything was up for discussion and since he knew what he was talking about and I didn't, the paper would be guided by him, confident that he would give us exactly what was required.
There were times when you'd hear a groan at the end of the line. That was probably because we'd asked him to write – for the umpteenth time – "Whither the special relationship". It was a concept which quite understandably he'd long since tired of and believed had lost all meaning. It was, in a word, a cliché – and cliché was something Rupert was incapable of.
The Independent has been blessed with many greats over the years. But none greater than Rupert Cornwell.Reuse content