David Thurlow, one of the longest-serving and most respected Daily Express reporters, has died at the age of 88.
He was in hospital recovering from surgery to pin a broken hip when he contracted Covid. His wife, Jeanne and children were allowed to be with him during his last 48 hours.
Born in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, in February, 1932, David’s 40-year career in journalism started on the Leicester Evening Mail then followed the Welwyn Times, the Northern Echo, the Yorkshire Evening News, the Daily Herald, Daily Mirror, Anglia Television, the Daily Express for 26 years and finally The Times.
David was immensely proud of his time on the Express as area man for East Anglia and later based in Southampton, covering some of the biggest stories of the day, including the hunt for the Cambridge rapist and the trial of Jeremy Bamber for the murder of his family.
With a permanent cigarette in hand, he dictated copy from the kitchen of his home, point… parring his way through a grisly murder story while his family ate their tea.
His daughter Fiona said: “My childhood was spent in a newsroom with Dad clattering away on his portable typewriter while we did our homework. He loved chasing down the story and never lost his passion for news.”
David’s reporting skills – and highly individual shorthand – were legendary, earning him a place on the team in Minehead, filing every word of Jeremy Thorpe’s committal for conspiracy to murder in 1978.
Writing about his time on the Express later, he said: “I was for 26 years part of the best reporting team on the best newspaper in the world.”
He wrote 13 thrillers and, inspired by his reporting, a series of True Crime books. His last was Profumo: the Hate Factor (1992), in which he showed that the real instigator for exposing Profumo’s affair with Christine Keeler was a former MP and socialite called John Lewis.
David’s other life-long passion was athletics. In 1948 he was given the ultimate 16th birthday present – tickets for each day of the track and field programme for the 1948 London Olympics.
A year later he was given a lift from the White City by the 1924 Olympic Gold Medallist, Harold Abrahams, the main character of Chariots of Fire .
David’s own athletics career reached a peak when he won the London AC 3 miles at in 1952. But journalism ended his ambitions: “My last race was an evening road race in 1953, which I won,” he told an interviewer in 2017.
“The year and a bit I was racing was a very inspiring time. I was silly really because I stopped just when I was getting good – when I got a job on the Northern Echo. There was no chance of doing any running at all, I just didn’t have time.”
The spark that had lit David’s enthusiasm was seeing Sydney Wooderson in the 1 Mile at White City in 1945. Years later David wrote the much-praised biography, Sydney Wooderson: Forgotten Champion.
“I met him in the late 1980s. He was a complete amateur, an ordinary man who happened to be able to run very fast. He was a fantastic runner. No other word for him. Typically, Sydney didn’t understand why a book was being written about him. He loved the running, but not the attention.”
David became an acknowledged authority on the sport, interviewing British international athletes from the 1920s to the 1970s for A Difference in Times, published in 2017.
Former Expressman Eddie Laxton paid this tribute: “David was a first rate journalist, a smashing colleague and a kind friend. I had known him since 1960. We joined forces on big stories or when our ‘patches’ overlapped.
“It was always a relief meeting up with David, physical proof that he wasn’t elsewhere probing another angle that might turn into a nasty surprise later.
“He was never one of Fleet Street’s egotistical star-writers, David was a modest and wonderfully accomplished journalist, far happier working from his home-office and contributing day-after-day, very nearly every day, to his paper.
“I last saw David, during the Henley Literary Festival in 2016, we spent a couple of hours laughing and reminiscing, as we did on a previous occasion.
“We were at Royal Mid-Surrey with the Press Golfing Society, David was playing with Arliss Rhind, his former news editor, and I partnered Joe Wood, the Old Bailey doyen. As the captain commented later, we should have won the prize for ‘noisiest four-ball’ – such terrific memories. Thanks for those David.”
Another former colleague Jon Ryan, who met David when he was a reporter on the Daily Mail, said : “I was their Thames Valley man and spent many memorable hours in his company. He was charming, great company, an excellent reporter and the possessor of an extremely dry wit.”
David leaves his wife of 64 years, Jeanne, children, Fiona, Jonathan and Joanna, seven grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. He and Jeanne were living in Chichester, West Sussex, when he died.