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April 11, 2017updated 12 Apr 2017 1:05pm

Denis Cassidy, news agency boss who could ‘charm his way out of any tight corner’, dies aged 81

By Chris Johnson and Don Leigh

Obituary for Denis Cassidy of the Cassidy and Leigh News Agency and President of the National Association of Press Agencies who has died aged 81.

The death of Denis Cassidy, one of the outstanding journalists of his generation, marks the end of an era for the media in the United Kingdom.

As a freelance agency chief and national newspaper reporter, Denis earned the respect and admiration of colleagues and competitors alike

Constantly on the alert for exclusives, Denis led by example, and was renowned for scooping the opposition in a career that spanned more than six decades.

He saw newspapers move from the period of hot lead to the current times of instant online news and always embraced change while maintaining the highest standards of his profession.

Born in Miles Platting, Manchester, in 1935, the son of an optician, Denis loved nothing better than telling a tale.

Whether his target was a single listener, or the millions who read his stories in print, Denis was never happier than when he had the attention of an audience.

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Denis inspired generations of journalists with his unique talents, his passion for the job, his innate cunning, writing talent, and an ability to get the stories that lesser men could not.

He instilled unswerving loyalty in the legions who worked for him and was responsible for training and fostering the careers of literally hundreds of top flight journalists.

Following national service, in the RAF, Denis began his career on the Irlam Guardian and then moved to the Sheffield Star where he famously “fixed it” for his pal Michael Parkinson to land a date with Mary, his wife to be.

From Sheffield he moved to the Empire News – a legendary Manchester broadsheet paper that sold on a Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.

He also worked on the Sunday Pictorial, which became the Sunday Mirror, and in 1961 he opened the Cassidy and Leigh Agency, in Surrey, with his lifelong friend Don Leigh.

Cassidy and Leigh “old boys” include former BBC Director General Greg Dyke and ex-Daily Mail foreign editor Anthony Harwood, along with the late Harry Aspey, one time managing editor of Press Association.

Denis married his Spanish-born wife Maria Isabel in Seville, in 1963 and the couple set up home and raised their family in Hampshire.

Lured back to Fleet Street in the 1960s Denis was appointed senior reporter at the Sunday People in its heyday.

He worked on a series of major stories and crime investigations and covered the Prague Spring in 1968 before going back to the agency full-time in the late 1970s.

To list the stories he covered would take a book, but perhaps his most notable was the series of exclusives derived from the bond of trust he established with the widow of Lieutenant “H” Jones –  the most senior officer killed in the Falklands War of 1982.

In 1974 Denis tried his hand at politics and stood for the Liberal Party in a by-election at Daventry, Northants and attracted 13,640 votes –  more than 21 per cent of the turnout.

Later in his career Denis resisted several offers to return to Fleet Street, including an invitation to become launch news editor of Today newspaper.

In 1982 he was one of the founder members of the National Association of Press Agencies and remained its president and most outspoken advocate to the end.

Charles Garside, assistant editor of the Daily Mail, said: “Denis was one of the great characters of Fleet street whose enthusiasm never diminished.

“I first came across him in 1978 when I became news editor of the London Evening News and ‘Cassidy and Leigh’ were among the most respected and prolific suppliers of copy.

“Later I saw first hand how Denis used his personality to forge the alliances needed for NAPA to achieve a powerful voice on behalf of the members of the most professional agencies – who are the eyes and ears of the national newspaper industry.

“He worked tirelessly on their behalf to get a better deal for agencies as a whole during turbulent times for the industry. Denis loved  life and, like all successful freelancers, journalism was his life.”

Former chairman of NAPA, Chris Johnson, latterly of Mercury Press, Liverpool, said: “Denis was a man of the highest integrity and a consummate professional.

“He was one of those great journalists who could charm his way out of any tight corner, and win the confidence of people to get the story he was after.

“Witty, entertaining, self-effacing, courageous and loyal, I would have trusted him with my life.

“I saw him in hospital a couple of weeks ago, and even though he was weak he was laughing and joking to bolster other people’s spirits.

“He was devoted to his family and it was a joy for him to have them around him.

“I’m proud and privileged to know that he counted me amongst his friends.

“We shall truly never see his like again.”

Denis died peacefully, surrounded by his family, on Sunday 9 April, at Frimley Park Hospital, Surrey.  He is survived by his sons Paul and Ian and daughter Raquel.

His funeral will take place on Thursday 13 April at 1pm – Our Lady’s Church, Kings Rd, Fleet, GU51 3ST. Family flowers only, by request.

A fundraising page has been set up in his memory to raise money for The Tea Leaf Trust, an educational charity working in Sri Lanka.

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