Former Daily Sketch reporter Peter Walker was a big character with a rich northern sense of humour who hated pretentiousness.
He began working on Fleet Street at just 22 and proved a first-class reporter, colour writer and columnist throughout his working life.
When he died at the weekend of a heart attack, aged 72, it brought home to me just how much he had taught me and many others who worked with him when he was chief reporter and later news editor at the Kent Evening Post.
I first met Pete in 1988 when he arrived full of mischief and experience at the Chatham office of the Post.
Within weeks of his arrival he settled in to his job with gusto as chief reporter, ensuring all the young journalists knew they could talk to the “Daddy Reporter” and get advice about where and how to get a story.
In those days we still had the freedom to leave the office and talk to people. Pete taught us the importance of learning to speak to anyone, whether they be a cleaner or a Cabinet minister.
After the Daily Sketch he worked for the Daily Mail and then in the early Sixties, just before they were famous, he interviewed The Beatles on a beach in Jamaica. It was in this country that Pete, as an agency reporter, experienced one of the most alarming events of his career.
Over a pint one day I recall him telling me how he broadcast a series of stories that upset the Jamaican establishment. Ignoring several threats from government heavies, he returned home one night after an especially honest report only to find the severed head of one of his journalists laying on his rocking chair.
Shortly afterwards he made the move back to England. By the midEighties he had joined the Kent Messenger Group as a sub-editor and then took the job of chief reporter at the Kent Evening Post.
Not only was Peter famed for his brilliant column, Walkabout, he was the last journalist I knew who still rocked to the romance of journalism.
He just loved being a reporter – and he was a superb one at that. He had no management ambitions and was proud of it. Sitting at his typewriter, with a cigarette burning in his ashtray, he’d amuse us with his own vocabulary. In fact, there were so many Pete phrases that rang around the newsroom the reporters put together a hefty dictionary called “WalkerTalk”.
Such phrases included: “gravel farming” (to grow a story out of infertile ground); “leave a lovenote girl” (keep me posted about what copy has been written overnight) and “pulling bad teeth” (trying to get information out of reluctant contacts).
His sense of mischief was brilliantly illustrated when he brought cheap bloodied meat in a plastic bag into the newsroom. He knew it would wind-up many of the female reporters who were vegetarians. He never ate it. It was all a joke.
I’ll never forget his sign off on the telephone either which was “Peace, Love and Justice”.
Melody Ryall Trevor Sturgess, Kent Messenger Group’s business editor, writes: Peter was born in Lancashire and remained proud of his northern roots throughout his time in the south.
He was a great “character” and a fine wordsmith, who believed that the best story leads came from the pub.
Appropriately, he had just returned home from the pub when he suffered his fatal attack.
He knew the regulars, barmaids, landlords, prostitutes and other local characters in Medway, who provided him with a string of scoops.
He came to Kent by way of the Daily Sketch, Manchester Evening News, Congleton Chronicle, the Blackpool Gazette and Runcorn Guardian. He joined Kent Evening Post, forerunner of Medway Today and the Medway Messenger, after several successful years in radio. He hosted shows in Paris and later moved to Jamaica where he was a leading presenter with celebrity status.
But when Michael Manley became Prime Minister, Peter left Jamaica, which under tough new exchange laws, meant leaving all his assets as well.
As the Post’s chief reporter and news editor he encouraged many young journalists and wrote a weekly column that delighted most readers but outraged those of a more politically correct outlook.
Political correctness was not Peter’s strong point. He loved women but unashamedly wanted them feminine, not feminist. He respected traditional British values and was never comfortable with contemporary boorish culture.
Peter struggled to come to terms with new technology and took some time to switch from his trusty typewriter to a word processor.
He respected military life and was proud of his service in the Lancashire Fusiliers, often recalling the timehonoured six Ps from those days: “Proper preparation prevents pisspoor performance.”
He spoke fluent French and undertook many assignments for KMG’s publication Rendezvous, which looked at what was happening on the other side of the English Channel.
Like many of the “old school”, he drank hard and smoked too much.
You never saw him without a fag and it was easy to imagine his character in The Front Page. But he could write like a dream and in his prime was one of the paper’s finest writers.
He enjoyed the business beat and contributed articles to the awardwinning monthly Kent Business. Every year, he profiled firms entering the Medway small business awards transforming apparently humdrum businesses into fascinating reads.
After retirement, he freelanced to make ends meet, including a spell on the Adscene sports desk in Whitstable.
But he was dogged by ill health in his latter years, with numerous stays in hospital. When he emerged against the odds, he would joke about denying the Grim Reaper a good story yet again. The nurses were a consolation.
However ill he was, he always managed to charm them. But he hated mixed wards. He once escaped to the nearest pub, dragging his drip machine with him. During a recent hospitalisation, he asked visitors to smuggle in some packets of Rizlas in the face of a nurse’s ban on tobacco.
Peter moved to Spain for a while but illness forced him back to England and a flat in Bognor Regis where his late mother – a fearsome Cheshire pub landlady in her time – had spent her retirement.
He leaves two sisters and many adoring nieces and nephews who thought the world of their uncle Pete.
I shall miss a good friend and an inspirational journalist with a wealth of wisdom. He was an entertaining companion with a fund of amusing anecdotes.
Sure, he could be cantankerous, but he was an unforgettable character who made people look at life and the craft of journalism in exciting new ways.