I have just had a sad phone call from Quentin Letts to tell me that Frank Johnson, one of the greatest journalists of our generation has sadly died. Frank is best known for his columns in the Daily Telegraph and the Spectator but he also, over the years, wrote for The Times, The Sun and NOW.
Frank Johnson was hugely important in the creation of Thatcherism. In 1975 he and John O'Sullivan persuaded Telegraph editor Bill Deedes that Margaret Thatcher was potentially a political phenomenon, and the Telegraph's support in the difficult days of the early 1980s was crucial in enabling her to beat the Wets. Frank was a tremendous nexus of political gossip and knew where all the bodies were buried. It is a real shame he never wrote his memoirs!
Frank had been ill with cancer for some time but his writing was as crisp as ever. Only last weekend he travelled to Milan to the opera, but when he got back his health quickly deteriorated. He was visited last night by many of his friends and colleagues but slipped away this morning.
Frank Johnson was not a typical Tory but he did become typical of a Thatcher-supporting, working class Tory. He was the son of a pastry chef and never went to university.
Quentin Letts described Frank to me as an "exceedingly nice, kind man who used to encourage sketchwriters like me to become less beastly to politicians." Frank may not have succeeded in that, but he did succeed in becoming one of the 'must-read' right of centre journalists of his time.
My own tribute is this: Frank Johnson's writing was instrumental to me becoming interested n and involved in politics in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He had a writing style people like me can only dream about. His wit was legendary. We'll all miss him.