Goodbye to my pal Chris, a journalist of fine repute
My friend, journalist Chris Buckland, has died at the age of 73 and newspapers everywhere will never be the same again. That's a statement I make advisedly because Chris loaned his silky skills to so many journals whose editors were eager for him to enrich their columns.
In his time, he added to pages in dailies like the Mirror, the Mail, the Express, the Times and the Sun, but it would be simpler to list the ones he didn't work for.
Chris and I met in the Belfast office of the Daily Mirror when the Troubles were at their height and he, Syd Young and I were the nucleus of a dedicated staff. Buckland and McIlwaine shared important bylines, adventures and misadventures. There was one occasion in Derry he saved my life during a riot, when he pulled me down behind a wall as a stray bullet ricocheted inches above my head.
And there was the hilarious afternoon when, a bit the worse for a pint or two, I had to lock him in the car while I was interviewing evangelist Billy Graham, who might have tried to save his soul.
Once in Derry, during a lull in a riot, we were relaxing in the bar when he turned to me and said: "I'm just stepping outside for a breath of fresh gas."
Cigar-puffing Chris had an unfailing sense of humour.
One afternoon, he phoned me from Cyprus where he was covering an uprising for the Sun and declared as he complained about his hotel: "The first casualty of war isn't the truth - it's room service."
And another story involving him to bring a smile: a Belfast church was struck by lightning and suffered quite a bit of damage. Chris asked the rector if the church was insured: "No, we aren't covered for acts of God," came the reply.
Politicians of the day like Minister of Home Affairs Bill Craig, Enoch Powell and Bernadette Devlin had a liking for and a trust in Buckland whose passion for the political scene was born at an early age.
Chris, born in Burnley, told me how his mother died when he was only five. As the eight-year-old son of an RAF sergeant he queued up at Westminster to get a ticket for the public gallery.
He told me once how his passion for journalism began as a young lad one day in 1953 when, as a paperboy, he stopped to read every front page's coverage of the conquest of Mount Everest by Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing.
Chris battled cancer bravely for eight years, but never lost his sense of humour or skill with a pen.