Saturday 24 February 2018

Leslie Mallory

Dermot Mullane

LESLIE MALLORY, who died last week aged 81, was a journalist of the old school. He regarded factual accuracy, correct grammar and, not least, proper use of words and spelling as all-important.

To the end, he joined these to an insatiable interest in people and events of all varieties. Add to that an acute, analytical mind and a wry, if sometimes understated and frequently mischievous sense of humour, and one has something of the essence of Les.

No one who worked with him was likely to forget him. He was a consummate professional who, after retirement from RTE, continued to contribute from his home in west Cork a column of acutely observational musings to this newspaper almost to the end.

A child of hard economic times, Les was only seven when his father died, and his mother moved to England to find work. This left him to be raised largely by his grandparents, who lived in Ringsend. He rarely, if ever, spoke of his childhood but throughout his life proudly proclaimed himself to be a "Raytown" or Ringsend man.

A period of youthful service in the Army during the Second World War left him with a life-long fascination with weapons and munitions. The Army was followed by a brief and less memorable period as a bus conductor in Dublin. It was during this second uniformed incarnation that he began submitting material to newspapers. Les had found journalism and, it is true to say, journalism had found Les. Under the tutelage of the late Liam MacGabhann, an outstanding reporter and feature writer, he blossomed.

A job with the short-lived Irish News Agency was followed by a move to London and further agency work with Associated Press. This further honed his ability to write accurately, concisely and speedily. Recognition of his abilities soon led to a job on the News Chronicle, at that stage still one of the great English national newspapers and home to an extraordinary stable of talented journalists.

Les soon established himself as an outstanding writer, specialising in featured interviews and show business, embracing film, theatre, television and radio. A weekly page of his own, a subsidiary role as deputy theatre critic, the companionship of like-minded colleagues as well as a good deal of travel, were everything that Les had ever wanted.

The idyll, however, ended with the closure of the News Chronicle in the Sixties. Les was taken on by its successor, the original Sun, but left within a short time to form a production company, which made commercial films for a number of major multinationals. He also demonstrated his writing talent with contributions to That Was the Week That Was, the satirical programme featuring David Frost. It was also at this stage that Peter Sellers, who, with the other Goons, he knew well, paid him £500, a considerable sum, to write the script of a feature film.

In 1970, the call of home and a growing belief that his future might lie in radio and television rather than print, brought Les back to Ireland, first as the Dublin correspondent for Belfast's Downtown Radio and then to RTE. There, a brief spell on the radio desk as a sub-editor was followed by a move to the television desk and then to the television foreign news department as a senior sub-editor and occasional studio presenter. By the time of his retirement, he was senior foreign editor.

This was another happy period of life for Les. Apart from doing his own work conscientiously and well, he served as mentor to a generation of television journalists who honed their scripting and editing skills under his largely benevolent tutelage: largely benevolent, for any lack of enthusiasm or care was likely to provoke his undisguised ire.

Laughter seemed never very far from his presence. A determination to make sure that nothing was missed in a story as broadcast led to the creation by his colleagues of the "Rubinstein".

THIS was a late development in a story which, moments before air, compelled a complete rewrite and edit: a "Rubinstein", because the unwanted turn in events was always heralded by Les waving a piece of copy and crying: "This changes the complexion of everything!"

Army experience was reflected in his ability to "acquire" equipment he deemed vital to the efficient running of the department. An irked superior once commented that it was akin to having a journalistic Sergeant Bilko on the staff, after yet another hue and cry surrounding the arrival of some item in the foreign department which, allegedly, belonged elsewhere.

Les was unabashed. "Look," he explained patiently. "In the Army there are two kinds of unit. There's the one you take out on an exercise and station it in a muddy field in the middle of winter. You come back a week later and they're cold, wet, miserable, eating cold food, and with no facilities.

"There's another kind of unit. You come back to the same field a week later. They've hot-and-cold running water, mains electricity, hot food, piped television, proper beds - the lot. I know which kind of unit I intend to belong to." He did his best, sometimes by unorthodox means, to ensure that he and all around him had an unmistakable style as journalists.

Les is survived by his loving and patient wife, Patsy, to whom he was devoted, and by the children of his first marriage, Mark and Criona.

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