Obituary: Jack Fishman

Paul Fishman
Saturday 22 October 2011 22:28

Jack Fishman believed that experience was the best education available and he ensured that he filled his life with as much as he could get: he achieved success as journalist, writer, songwriter, and spycatcher.

Born in the East End of London, to Jewish refugee parents of Russian, Polish and German origin, as a boy Fishman many times visited Berlin. On one occasion, when he was 10, he stumbled on a Nazi rally where Adolf Hitler, on descending the steps, walked up to Jack, who then had a full crop of blond hair, and patted him on the head - the reason Fishman later gave for his early hair loss.

His father died when he was young and as a result he left school at 13 and got his first job working as a teaboy on a newspaper. He soon developed a talent for writing.

He worked his way up to become news editor, then deputy editor, of two of Britain's largest national newspapers, for the Kemsley newspaper group and later the Thomson organisation. He then went on to edit Thomson's largest Sunday newspaper, Empire News, where he remained until the paper was sold to the News of the World in 1961.

Fishman specialised in political journalism, and also had a particular interest in intelligence work. He was credited with the exposure of the most notorious spy Britain has ever known - Kim Philby. Following a tip from behind the Iron Curtain, the British government was alerted to the presence of a Russian agent within the Foreign Office. Fishman became convinced that Philby was the agent and set about using the national press to expose him.

However, British libel laws prevented the story from being published in Britain, so, with the aid of two of Fishman's friends on the New York Daily News, the story was broken in America. The matter was then raised in Parliament, finally leading to Philby's defection to Moscow in 1963. Despite suggestions that Fishman was working for the CIA or MI5, he always claimed that he was merely acting as a journalist.

After leaving the Thomson Group, Fishman worked as a freelance writer. His first book had been published in 1954, The Seven Men of Spandau, about the seven Hitler henchmen who escaped the gallows at Nuremberg and were sentenced to be the sole inmates of the vast Spandau Prison in Berlin. His second, The Life of Joseph Stalin, was published in 1962, followed by My Darling Clementine (1963), a biography of Winston Churchill's wife. This was reprinted three times within the first month of its release, and became an instant best- seller in Britain and America, remaining in the list of top ten books for a further year.

Based on his reaction to a pilot for a new American television show, in 1964 Fishman signed the literary rights to The Man From UNCLE, and was responsible for editing and co-publishing all the related books. In 1974 he published a collection of Winston Churchill's letters and documents, If I Lived My Life Again. He wrote two further best-sellers, the fictional KG200 (1977) and The Walls Came Tumbling Down (1982). Long Knives and Short Memories (1986) returned to the subject of Spandau Prison, concluding the story begun in his first book.

But Fishman had a further career, as a songwriter, which he initially kept very quiet about, preferring to use pseudonyms. He felt that no one would take him seriously as a writer if they knew he was also writing pop songs. In the Forties, while recovering from tuberculosis after being discharged from the RAF, to amuse himself he had started writing lyrics to music he heard on the radio. He later sent them to publishers in "Tin Pan Alley" in Denmark Street, London.

Many artists of the time recorded one or other of his songs, and he was awarded the first ever Ivor Novello award in 1955 for the song "Everywhere", but under the false name Larry Kahn - he sent a stand-in to collect the award in order to protect his anonymity. He also received the American BMI award for "Why Don't They Understand". To enable him to concentrate on his books, Fishman stopped writing music between 1963 and 1968, but when he returned, he was responsible for co-writing several hits including "Help Yourself", "If I Only Had Time", "Something is Happening" and "If Paradise is Half as Nice". During 1969-71 his songs achieved sales of more than 10 million records.

Fishman's introduction to film music was Sam Goldwyn's Best Years of Our Lives (1946), and Betty Box's Miranda (1947), and he later collaborated with many renowned composers within this field, including Stanley Black, Ron Goodwin, Ennio Morricone and Maurice Jarre. He worked with Roy Budd on theme songs for Soldier Blue (1970) and Get Carter (1970). He acted as music supervisor in the Seventies for Cannon/ MGM films, overseeing the output of over 100 feature films. As part of this year's 50th anniversary Cannes Film Festival, he was to have been commemorated for his contribution to film music.

Jack Fishman was a workaholic, who continued to work throughout his life simply because he loved it. Despite his success, he preferred to lead a modest life, living for the last 50 years with his family in Highgate, north London.

Jack Fishman, journalist, writer and songwriter: born 14 June 1920; married 1944 Lillian Richman (two sons); died London 10 April 1997.

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