Farewell to Tony ‘Two-Dinner’ Dawe

tony dawe


From The Times, 15th May, 2017

When one of the biggest postwar scandals in British public life broke in the early 1970s Tony Dawe was the obvious choice to cover the story for The Sunday Times. Dawe, who had a reputation for dogged professionalism, was ideal to report on the intricate network of corruption and bribery woven by John Poulson, a crooked architect. He spent months following the twists and turns of Poulson’s dealings as they emerged through investigations and the courts.

Poulson had used extensive kickbacks to get public works contracts. He was linked to T Dan Smith, the Labour leader of Newcastle city council, local officials, civil servants and Westminster politicians, including Reginald Maudling, twice contender for the Tory leadership who resigned as home secretary over his links to a Poulson company. The scandal produced one of the longest corruption cases in legal history and earned Dawe the nickname of “T Dan Dawe”, a humorous compliment to his unflagging determination.

A less flattering nickname was “Two Dinner Dawe”, acquired when he was head of investigations at the Sunday Express. There were only two fax machines in the building, one being located in Dawe’s office. The machine was meant to be used for leaked documents but was often busy receiving menus from London’s finest restaurants, a weak spot for Dawe. In the space of one lunchtime he was spotted dining in a number of different restaurants. He denied having more than one meal, insisting that he had enjoyed a starter at one, a main course at another and his pudding at a third.

During a career in Fleet Street lasting nearly 50 years Dawe deployed his well-honed investigative skills whenever needed. While working at The Times he reported on the aftermath of the King’s Cross fire in 1987, in which 31 people died, and then the controversial shooting of an IRA bomb team by the SAS in Gibraltar the following year. He also delved into the background to the collapse of Robert Maxwell’s empire in 1991.

An enthusiastic, affable and generous man, Dawe was working at The Times into his seventies and never considered retiring. In hospital days before he died he was still discussing plans for new work when he was discharged.

Harold Anthony Conrad Dawe was born in 1945 in Carshalton, Surrey, the son of a teacher. He went to Wallington County Grammar School and then to the University of Liverpool to read Hispanic languages and linguistics. He also edited the university newspaper, winning a national award. He became so smitten with journalism that he abandoned his course and applied for a journalism graduate training course. He was accepted, despite the absence of a degree, to work for the Middlesbrough Gazette.

Still in his early twenties, Dawe arrived in Fleet Street to join The Sunday Times newsroom as part of a young and iconoclastic team, which under Sir Harry Evans was a force in British campaigning and investigative journalism in the 1960s and 1970s.

One of his first assignments was to report on the British Trans-Arctic Expedition under Wally Herbert. Following the team in 1968 as they trekked across the North Pole, Dawe very nearly died from hypothermia after falling into the sea from a boat. He returned to London having invested in a sealskin jacket that he continued to wear in cold weather for the rest of his life and which he baptised “Eskimo Nell”.

After assignments overseas in the early Seventies, including reporting as part of the team covering the Vietnam war, Dawe, regarded now as one of the best reporters on the newspaper, was tasked in 1973 to investigate the Poulson scandal.

He also canvassed for the Labour Party during the second election of 1974.

Two-Dinner Dawe was seen at several different restaurants

Soon he had become deputy news editor and then news editor at The Sunday Times, overseeing its coverage of the Falklands conflict in 1982. Although an easygoing character, he could be sharp and critical if a reporter’s copy was not up to scratch. Remembering Dawe recently, Evans praised “a strong intellect he shielded most of the time in a diffident and amiable personality”.

He did not like the attention that birthdays brought and was always very vague about his age. Every time his friends asked him, when celebrating his birthday, which one it was he always replied “not a significant one”. This, a friend later discovered, included his 65th and 70th.

By the mid-1980s Dawe had become disillusioned after the takeover of The Sunday Times by News International and moved to the Daily Express as an investigative reporter with a number of campaigns to his credit. He became deputy editor of the Sunday Express, but lost the job after a change of editors.

Faced with the vicissitudes of Fleet Street life Dawe eventually decided that he would become, as he put it, “a man of no position” and went freelance, a status he retained for the rest of his life. Nonetheless, after starting work for The Times as a senior and investigative reporter he stayed with the newspaper until his death. By the mid-1990s Dawe had become a writer for The Times special reports section as well as contributing weekly travel columns. He also wrote travel guides and commissioned work for the paper.

Dawe was a lifelong cricket fanatic, playing until the age of 67 for the village team in Coldharbour, near Dorking in Surrey. He lived in the village with his first partner Linda and their children, Katrina, who now lives abroad, and Linton, a freelance music journalist. They survive him. Later he settled with Liz Grice, a fellow journalist, whom he met on The Sunday Times. She and their son James, an IT consultant, also survive him.

He will be buried in Coldharbour close to his beloved cricket ground in the Surrey Hills, where he had often walked.

Tony Dawe, journalist, was born on September 11, 1945. He died from cancer on April 23, 2017, aged 71

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From The Times, 19th May, 2017

Patrick Kidd writes: Tony Dawe’s love of cricket was noted in his obituary (May 15). For many years he hosted the annual Times Over-40s vs Under 40s match. He would prepare the pitch and tea before putting the youngsters in their place. I also have an abiding memory of Tony playing in a charity match I ran at Audley End stately home. The match ended in sudden and heavy rain and Tony, discovering there were no shower facilities, walked out on to the outfield in this deluge wearing only his underpants and clutching a bottle of shampoo. God knows what the visitors to the English Heritage house thought as they left past this vision of a rather portly sexagenarian covering himself with suds at deep mid-wicket.

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Nigel Williamson commented on The Times website: It is worth adding that he was also a diffident man and not one of those journalists given to lording it over younger colleagues with stories about 'when I was covering the Boer War...'

I worked with Tony for several years and had the pleasure of playing cricket with him – yet I didn't know half of the stories in this fine obituary. There are some reporters who would never have stopped reminding the rest of us of their glorious byline history if they had covered the Vietnam war and an expendition to the North Pole, yet I was unaware that Tony had reported either of those stories until this morning's paper. He seemed to operate on the basis that he was only as good as his next story, not his last one – and that speaks volumes for the man's modesty and his professionalism. 


© 2005-2017 Alastair McIntyre