Ann Pacey

When I heard that Ann Pacey, after the demise of the Daily Herald, was coming to work at the Sunday Mirror I was, to put it mildly, not pleased. I was even more dismayed to learn she was to occupy a desk immediately opposite mine.

At the time I was the film critic of the Sunday Mirror and Ann had been my counterpart on the Herald. We had crossed paths in the fuggy atmosphere of Soho’s preview theatres and I perceived her to be unbelievably snooty. Very much a man’s woman she seemed to me, as she would sweep past without so much as a nod, to regard other women as so much dirt beneath her feet.

To my surprise, what developed over the following months and years was a deep and enduring — albeit odd — friendship between two people with nothing really in common. I discovered her to be not just a talented and perceptive journalist with a wonderful way with words, but warm, funny, loyal, and shirt-off-her-back generous.

It is no secret that Ann was addicted to alcohol. Sadly, it was both her making and undoing, her best friend and her worst enemy. Under its influence, she sparkled. She became pretty and witty, irresistibly raunchy and irreverent.

In her periods of drying out, funded by the then sympathetic, journalistfriendly Mirror Group, she became a pale shadow of herself. Once she lasted like this almost a year, only to be defeated by the temptation of Christmas conviviality. She was never able to refrain again, nor ever wanted to. And in the end, inevitably, the demon drink did her in, as she knew it would.

After the Mirror could no longer hold on to her, Ann retired to a bungalow in Surbiton, Surrey, and a colleague, Jean Carr, and I would make a point of visiting her at Christmas. Each year there was a marked deterioration in her physical well-being, but never in her mind or spirit. What she loved best was a good old gossip about Fleet Street, especially its glory days.

Latterly I have been living for long periods in South Africa, and managed to see Ann only rarely on fleeting visits to London. Instead she kept in touch via those blue air-letters, now almost museum pieces. I would look forward to their regular arrival, with her "Notes from the Home Front" which invariably included hair-raising accounts of her numerous ailments as her health spiralled to a standstill, and of her subsequent incarcerations in hospital. But even when she could barely stay upright or hear the racing results on TV, she never lost her sharp, self-mocking sense-of-humour and her quirky slant on the ways of the world.

She defied you to pity her and I never did. But I will miss her. She was truly a one-off. Sometimes exasperating, always self-destructive, but never dull.

by Madeleine Harmsworth

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