Lionel Walsh • My Life and Times

Chapter fifteen

I move back to Reuters

 

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The last story that I can recall handling for the BBC World Service was putting out the urgent announcement at the beginning of a news bulletin that the Turkish army had invaded Northern Cyprus. The date: 20 July, 1974. Under BBC rules, we needed the same report from two wire services before we could go on air with the story.

A few days later, after a weekend’s rest at home, a two-storey detached house at 45 Craiston Way, Great Baddow, near Chelmsford, I reported back to Reuters at 85 Fleet Street.

I was almost immediately appointed Economic Affairs Editor, tasked with reporting economic and business news for a general media audience. Services to the finance industry were handled by Reuters Economic Services (RES).

The job involved a number of assignments abroad, including the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank in New York, and an economic summit in Stockholm at which Special Drawing Rights (SDR) on the IMF, dubbed “paper gold”, were created. It was claimed that SDRs would save the world from the economic disaster that then appeared to be imminent.

Another assignment took me to Algeria, where the newly formed Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), held a Summit attended by Sheikh Yamani, the Saudi Arabian brain behind the OPEC cartel in its early days, and the Shah of Iran, then still in his heyday but relatively soon to to be deposed.

Another assignment took me to Nairobi for the fourth United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD 4).

Many years later, when I was working at the International Energy Agency, my friend Peter Gaskell at the OECD told me that my reports from Nairobi on attempts to set up a common fund to support commodity prices had been widely circulated within the OECD.

When I took my place as Bureau Chief in Paris, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing was President, to be succeeded when I left Reuters in 1981 by François Mitterrand. On my last day at work, I attended a rally of Giscard’s Gaullist (Rally for the Republic) party, at which Giscard vainly called on voters to “faire la bonne choix.” They didn’t.

My Paris assignment produced stories aplenty, among them the kidnapping of the Belgian industrialist Baron Empain in January 1978 and the death, elocuted in his bath tub, of pop singer Claude Francois, popularly known as “CloClo.” CloClo by the way wrote the original version of Frank Sinatra’s hit “My Way”, known in French as “Comme d’habitude”.

Baron Empain’s kidnappers demanded a ransom of 100 million francs, and cut off the Baron’s forefinger, depositing it in a box in a left-luggage compartment of the Gare de Lyon. He was eventually let go, and was found wandering alone outside the Opera metro station.

Another big crime story during my Paris assignment was the escape from the Santé prison of the notorious criminal Jacques Mesrine, who was killed in a police ambush in Paris in November 1978.

In March 1978, too, there was the excitement of legislative elections in which the rightwing alliance of Giscard's UDF party and the Gaullist RPR, led by a future president, Jacques Chirac, emerged clear winners.

I also found myself back in Bonn during my Paris assignment, covering the fourth summit of the G7 powers, hosted by Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. At the time, the world was in the throes of yet another economic crisis, and this was the main theme of the leaders’ deliberations.

My downfall at Reuters was spelled by a project known as the New World Information Order, promoted through the Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization by Sean MacBride, Nobel Peace Prize winner and former IRA hero. My ultimate boss at Reuters, Gerry Long, disliked the New World Information Order, which aimed to provide a world news service fo developing countries.

At the time, I was President of the Anglo-American Foreign Press Association, which arranged lunches for mainly political newsmakers. Sean MacBride was the guest at one of these lunches. MacBride, who spoke with a beautiful Irish brogue, said: “I don’t understand what Gerry Long has got against me.” My old friend Bob Mauthner, formerly of Reuters and now with the Financial Times, muttered loudly: “There are a lot of us in this room who ask ourselves the same question, Mr MacBride.”

Gerry in fact persisted in his disapproval of my coverage of the UNESCO story.

Eventually, I received a visit from my old friend Michael Reupke, now Editor of Reuters. He told me that I was being recalled to London. I had anticipated this development, and had aleady found another job as Director of Communications at the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris with the help of David Lawday, another ex-Reuter man and then with The Economist. I told Michael I was not returning to London and was instead joining the ICC. So once again, I quit what was laughingly known to many of its correspondents as “the Family news agency.” 

French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing

 

 

Claude François

 

Baron Empain: 100 million franc ransom

 

 

Public enemy Jacques Mesrine

 

Giulio Andreotti, Takeo Fukuda, Jimmy Carter, Helmut Schmidt and Valéry Giscard d'Est aing at the G7 Economic Summit in Bonn, Germany

 

Sean MacBride

 

 

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Copyright © 2008 Lionel Walsh