Chris Moncrieff, one of the most respected lobby journalists of his generation, has died. He was 88.
The former political editor of PA, who was hailed as “the one journalist who mattered” by former prime minister Tony Blair, died in hospital on Friday morning after a short illness, his family said.
Paying tribute, Mr Blair described the veteran reporter as “the man, the doyen of the lobby” while former defence secretary Lord Heseltine recalled with fondness how Moncrieff broke news of his resignation from the Cabinet to his wife.
Pete Clifton, PA’s editor-in-chief, said: “Moncrieff was the ultimate news agency journalist – great contacts, always close to the action, working some epic hours and obsessed by getting stories out before everyone else.
“He had no interest in any political agenda or viewpoint, just making sure he was first to write about it.
“On the rare occasion he took a holiday, we could expect him to file news stories he had picked up on the promenade, and until very recently he was still filing us the ‘quotes of the day’ feature for the newswire, as well as drawing on his extraordinary memory to file a weekly politics column for our regional newspaper subscribers.
“The word ‘legend’ gets overused, but there’s no doubt Moncrieff was a PA legend and a remarkable political reporter.
“We are profoundly sad today, but cheered by the many stories of Moncrieff we can share.”
Described in Westminster as “the man with the lived-in face and slept-in suit”, Moncrieff’s style was classic news reporting and he roamed Westminster with order papers stuffed under his arm and notebooks in his pockets as he encouraged MPs to call him at any time of day or night.
He joined the national news agency’s parliamentary staff in 1962 before becoming a lobby reporter in 1973 and chief political correspondent (later political editor) in 1980.
Westminster’s The House magazine said he was a “one-man dynamo for whom news is food and drink is Guinness”.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “When I first arrived in Parliament, Chris was a legend already.
“He had several retirement parties but kept returning.
“Chris was a fountain of wisdom and knowledge in a pre-computer, pre-mobile phone era.
“He was an ever-present feature in lobby and will be missed by a great number of people.”
Lord Heseltine described Moncrieff as “a jack-in-the-box”, saying he “always gave the impression of being sympathetic to what you were saying – and he must have listened to both great statesmen and absolute scoundrels”.
The peer also described how Moncrieff got the scoop which nearly brought down Margaret Thatcher’s government after he furiously resigned as defence secretary in January 1986 following the Westland Helicopters affair.
He said: “When I resigned from the Cabinet, he (Moncrieff) was the one who broke the news to my wife.
“I left the Cabinet meeting halfway through, must have been about 11am. People wouldn’t have been looking for a story.
“But before I got back to the Ministry of Justice offices in Whitehall, my wife got a phone call from Chris Moncrieff asking her for her reaction to my resignation.
“She knew Chris, of course, he had our home telephone number. But, still, I think she was amazed.”
Mr Blair praised Moncrieff’s attitude, describing him as “the last of the extraordinary journalists who would work their socks off getting away the latest copy in the days before the internet and social media took over”.
The former prime minister said: “When I first became an MP he would phone me for quotes on anything and everything and when I needed to get a story out, I could call him any hour day or night and he would be awake and ready to get to work. He was also charming, polite and great fun.”
Former Labour leader Neil – now Lord – Kinnock described Moncrieff as a “prodigious reporter, an unforgettable character and his instinct for news was unerring”.
In 151 years, PA never had a finer reporter than Chris. Getting stories first, and getting them right. And still calling the news desk and writing columns right up to his death. Farewell to a proper legend. https://t.co/P0lQVHqZag— Pete Clifton (@peteclifton) November 22, 2019
He said: “With scruffy shorthand notebook and pencil in hand, Chris buzzed like a comment-hunting hornet around every corridor, lobby and bar in the Commons at all hours and on the phone at weekends.
“Few resisted his invitations to ‘cast a few pearls’ on every epic and absurd issue and, as a result, he made some reputations and put others in deep freeze.”
Moncrieff retired after 32 years at Westminster in 1994, but returned to work the next day and continued to contribute to the agency until his death.
The press bar of the House of Commons was named after him in 2007 and he trended on Twitter as politicians and journalists shared their memories following the announcement of his death.
He had four children with his late wife Margaret, and lived in London.