BUCKLAND: ‘The first casualty of war is not truth, it’s room service.’
Pictures: NEWS GROUP NEWSPAPERS LTD
ALAN FRAME remembers one of the funniest and most charming of his Fleet Street colleagues
I suspect that there is not a person alive who did not like Chris Buckland from the moment they met him. He was that sort of chap; very funny, very talented and, since the ‘80s, very sober.
Chris died on February 28, finally succumbing to cancer. But rarely did he moan about the disease, approaching it as he did with most things in life – with great good humour.
We first met when he joined the Express – somehow we had managed not to bump into each other when we were working in Belfast in 1965-6. It was there, years later at the height of the Troubles, that he was blown off his feet and through a shop window when a no-alert bomb exploded. He was lucky not to have been killed and put his survival down to the fact that ‘with my height there is not much surface area for the blast waves to hit’.
In 1987 and at the height of his ‘well-refreshed period’ he was returning with Thatcher from the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ conference in Vancouver when he thought it might be a good idea to leave the plane. The snag being it was flying at 36,000 feet.
It prompted his editor at the Mirror, Mike Molloy, to send his driver to meet Chris off the flight and transport him straight to Holborn. By the time he arrived the necessary arrangements had been made with the Priory. I asked him years later if he remembered his last drink. ‘Of course I do, it was a bottle of malt in the office waiting for them to take me away haha.’
At the Express in charge of politics Buckers, pictured right with former Tory leader Michael Howard, was superb. His contacts were spread across the Westminster spectrum as I witnessed when having a drink with him in the Press Bar (now renamed Moncrieff’s after that other legend Chris Moncrieff, the long-time PA parliamentary editor.)
His considerable talent as a pianist was put to good use during a weekend Express ‘think/drink tank’ in Le Touquet. We had returned to our hotel from dinner and gone straight to the bar. A female member of our little group had become tired and very emotional and picked a silly argument with Nick Lloyd the editor. It ended predictably with her storming off to bed in tears before returning, 40 minutes later, as if nothing had happened. Cue Buckers, who decided that the best way to calm the situation was to play – expertly – Scott Joplin rags on the piano in the bar. It worked and by morning the only thing we were talking about was the impromptu recital.
Robert Hardman remembers Chris in a line-up to meet the Queen. During a conversation with HM our hero revealed that he had damaged some property of hers. ‘And what might that be Mr Buckland?’ ‘Well Ma’am when I arrived in Albania at the height of Communism I realised that they might take exception to my British passport.’ ‘And why might that be?’ ‘Because Ma'am it lists my occupation as Writer. I thought it might be prudent to change that. By defacing the passport and changing that to Waiter.’
As Roger Watkins points out: Chris wrote this memorable sentence in a despatch from Kuwait. ‘The first casualty of war is not truth, it’s room service.’
Thanks Buckers, you were such fun. You were also the only teetotaller with whom I have twice enjoyed a five-hour lunch. It was a two-bottle, three-cigar marathon. I drank. He smoked.