Spear carrier exits to laughter

Peter Geofroy Holt Tory, October 3rd 1939 – October 9th 2012

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ASHLEY WALTON reports on the memorial service for the former editor of the William Hickey column held at St Bride's Church, Fleet Street, on April 18th, 2013

Peter Tory's St Bride's Memorial was a delightful and moving mixture of theatre and Fleet Street, with beautiful music, lots of laughter and even a touch of Shakespeare.

It was a fitting farewell to a man described as more actor than journalist, not a "proper reporter", but a gentle, kind and generous man, who above all was very funny.

David Tory described his brother as "always an actor, always an entertainer, a keen fisherman who never caught anything because he couldn't bear to kill his catch. He was a superb raconteur who loved Shakespeare."

When Peter, a good looking chap, joined the RSC Edith ("a handbaag!") Evans was said to have remarked: "God, I wish I were 70 again!"

Peter worked for the Mirror, was William Hickey on the Express and a columnist on the Daily Star (a period in which he was famously likened to a "piccolo player in a Rastafarian band") before rejoining the Express to write many witty and memorable pieces.

Jeanette Bishop, who first met Peter in 1980 when she went to work for him on the Hickey page and moved together to the Star, said: "Peter was an absolute joy to work for, we became firm friends and remained so for more than 30 years until the end."

She read two excepts from his Express column of the late 90s to remind us of that wonderful, whimsical sense of humour:

"There seems to be no end to the spread of this hideous epidemic of pointless social kissing. The habit, so it occurs to me after several months in America, has now become a major aggravation and is a good reason not to go out at all.

"The truth is we all loathe it, but we're trapped. At least you once had a choice. Now it is deemed inexcusably rude, if after a brief introduction to often unsavoury members of the opposite sex, you don't purse your lips like a tropical fish and engage in the required double-kiss ritual. One way or another, surely, the kissing has to stop. I blame Blair."

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After the laughter finally stopped, even the choir were in hysterics, Jeanette read Peter's take on the horror of cocktail parties full of strangers.

"We've all been there of course. We've all stood against the wall convinced that we are boring, charmless and ugly.

"Indeed there is most probably no more intense form of loneliness and rejection, however brief. There is little you can do, though I developed a technique over the years which I am happy to pass on. At least it gives the impression that you are occupied. The thing to do is constantly to move from one position to another within the crowd - a small sandwich in one hand, a glass of wine in the other - as if you are purposefully making your way to a friend on the other side of the room.  There is no friend needless to say.

"But then, you see, there is an important lesson here.  Most of the time, at a party or not, no one except your partner, your Mum and your cat, gives much thought about you anyway.

"I know of one or two people who think that all of life is a kind of social gathering in suspended animation until they make an entrance, deluding themselves that we all await in eager anticipation their glorious life enhancing presence. And it's THEY, damn it, who have no trouble at parties."

Former Mirror Editor Mike Molloy described Peter as "A perfect English gentleman".  He said Peter hated doing his expenses and finally gave up trying although "no one at Express Newspapers seemed to notice".

He said that Peter loved women, all women, and seemed to have the knack of learning their most intimate secrets.  He told how Peter suffered from deep depression all the time presenting himself to the world as a joker.

Robert Maxwell called the keen amateur pilot "Boggles" mishearing his office nickname of "Biggles".

In his last words to his partner Jacquie Govier, in August 2012, shortly before his death, Peter said: "I do hope you are well. I wish I could say the same for myself, but one mustn't be greedy about these things.  I have had a hundred lifetimes all pressed into 73 years service, so to complain would be chumpish. But we press on and prevail."

The last words went to Jacquie:

Sunday quiet, 

soft rain fall …

Distant birds

singularly call

Words gather-glide

like the sheets on this bed.

But here in this room

nothing is said.

You are not here

and my world is undressed

unable to wear

its Sunday best.

Jacqueline Govier, October 2012

The gathering afterwards at the Press House Wine Bar went on amid more laughter, until late afternoon. Peter, famous for his long lunches, wouldn't have had it any other way.

Peter Tory died on October 9th 2012 aged 73.

Not a journalist, just a resting actor – Mike Molloy's eulogy

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