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Alexander Chancellor - a great and supportive bureau chief

I was fortunate that Alexander was my first bureau chief when I was assigned to Rome in the early 1970s as a green and callow trainee. I was at first wary of somebody so evidently from a privileged background. But I soon realised that his upper class aura, eccentrically scruffy appearance - his favourite sweater had large holes in each elbow - and a frequent and unique laugh that sounded like a pressure cooker releasing steam, concealed the incisive brain of a top hack.

I was overawed by the ease and apparent lack of effort with which he produced beautifully written copy and tapped innumerable top sources, as well as his knowledge of Italy. Such accomplishments could be intimidating. But while astutely pointing out and trying to correct my shortcomings, he was never brutal and was a kind, friendly and approachable boss. He also gave me a bit of advice that proved invaluable as long as I remembered it: don’t pick a fight with the London editors unless you KNOW you can win.

Of course Alexander went on to become the highly respected and influential editor of The Spectator and other high profile roles, but he was a great and memorable boss to have on your first Reuters posting. ■