CJ Fox: Canadian journalist and vorticism aficionado who collected Wyndham Lewis works in Britain

Fleet Street subeditor was drawn to the writer and artist he became an authority on

He could often be found with a pint of London Pride in Mrs Moon’s
He could often be found with a pint of London Pride in Mrs Moon’s

“A cosmopolitan man of letters and a citizen of the world, a global scholar and traveller,” is how The Globe and Mail, in CJ Fox’s native Canada, describes the journalist, who has died aged 87.

In 1974 he joined Reuters in Fleet Street as chief subeditor of its world desk. He was also stationed in Delhi and Hong Kong, before leaving the news agency in 1986.

Among things British, he was passionate about pubs – and the avant garde art movement vorticism, becoming a prominent collector of the works of Wyndham Lewis. Survived by his brother David, nieces and nephews, he is remembered, below, by his university friend, Anthony Bailey.

I first met CJ Fox in autumn 1952. I came out of my new rooms at Merton College, Oxford, in the same moment as another new student came out of his rooms across the landing, in the Rose Lane building.

He asked about the book under my arm which I had just collected in the course of my duties as apprentice book review editor of the student newspaper, Cherwell. I said: “It is a novel by Wyndham Lewis called Self Condemned”.

Over the next few decades, my Rose Lane neighbour went on to become one of the stalwarts of The Wyndham Lewis Society, a group of enthusiasts of the early 19th century art movement known as vorticism, which Lewis had spearheaded.

Fox himself hailed from Canada’s maritime eastern margin where his father had been chief justice.

He had the burly looks of a professional hockey player and faced an up-and-down few years at Oxford that included a spell of TB that saw him hospitalised and put out of academic action.

He went on to earn a history degree from New York’s Columbia University. For many years he was a 10-pints-a-day pub man (London Pride and Double Diamond) and a denizen of such Fleet street hostelries as Mrs Moon’s.

Fox was educated at several Christian Brothers colleges before winning a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford.

There he was immersed in studying law for several years, all the while deeply anguished by a need to cut loose from what what he had been been brought up to believe was the one true faith.

The Catholic chaplaincy kept close tabs on him as it did most Roman Catholic students. However, passing his door I used to hear his radio, generally tuned to AFN (American Forces Network) in Germany. Few young women made an appearance in Fox’s life, one exception being a girl he encountered hitchhiking on a Bavarian autobahn. Renate, a left-wing magazine publisher, made a longer assault on CJF’s affections.

After his TB-abbreviated Oxford sojourn he acquired a masters degree from Columbia University, New York, and thereafter took a series of news agency jobs with AP, Canadian Press and Reuters. Fox was well known for his subediting skills, but also wrote several scholarly books on modern British art.

He wrote numerous book reviews for the The Independent and a possibly too lightly pruned memoir, New World, Old World – Bridging the North Atlantic.

During his newspaper career, Fox was seen on the frontline in Belfast, Nicosia and Brussels. He shifted uneasily between homes in Cambridge and various London suburbs and made several disheartened attempts to retire to Canada, one fairly happy period being to Victoria, British Columbia. He should have stayed there. Fox, a highly unrooted soul, retired unhappily last year to a care home near his kin in Newfoundland. From there he sent frequent pithy-postcard cris de coeur (“No good here,” read one). He died in St John’s this year on 10 July. His inaugural telephonic guffaw much missed by old pals.

Cyril James Fox, journalist and historian, born 10 July 1931, died 10 July 2018

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