Former Sunday Express columnist 'Inspector Watts' dies aged 79

Michael Watts, best known for his long-running Inspector Watts column in the Sunday Express, has passed away aged 79 after a long illness.

Watts was born and educated in Nottingham before beginning his journalistic career as a reporter on the Nottingham Evening News aged 16.

After four years, he became London editor of The Viewer television magazine for a year before joining the Sunday Express in 1960.

There he variously worked as gossip column editor, deputy news editor and deputy editor in Manchester, and started the paper’s Town Talk diary.

He began his own consumer column, The World of Michael Watts, in 1969 which he said was “laced with social comment and humour”.

The column featured the Great Corny Joke Contest which offered a cash prize of a “Crisp Oncer” – £1.

In the 1980s, as the pound coin replaced the note, Watts bought several hundred of the latter from a bank so he could continue giving out one-pound prizes – dubbed “the meanest prize in Fleet Street”.

As he carried out investigations and took up readers’ battles with large companies, Watts became known as “Inspector Watts”.

His World of Michael Watts column continued until 1986 when he left the Sunday Express, but was brought back in the relaunched London Evening News a year later, and then in Saga magazine the following year.

The Sunday Express then asked Watts to return, along with his column, which he continued to write until 1991.

The column also ran in Saga and the Westminster Review between 1995 and 2000 and later in Active Life magazine from 2002 to 2005.

The World of Michael Watts column won the Consumer Writers’ Award twice, in 1978 and 1986.

Watts also undertook frequent radio work for LBC and BBC Radio 4, where he had twice-weekly consumer spots on Up To The Hour and presented The Weekly World and News Stand.

He continued freelancing for many years before he died at the Royal Marsden Hospital on 5 March.

Trevor and Monica Hursthouse, Watts’s sister and brother-in-law, said: “Outside journalism and social life in London, Michael was very much part of his Nottingham-based family.

“His unique character, wit and gregarious nature was always an important and special part of family gatherings and occasions – all equally enjoyed by the many family friends who met him.

“He will be greatly missed by his sister, brother-in-law, nephew, nieces, great nephews, great niece and everyone who came into contact with him in Nottingham and other places where family and friends were together – he was one-of-a kind and leaves a gap for all of us which can’t be filled.”

A commemorative service will take place at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, at 11.30am on 27 June.

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