We came from far and wide this week to bid a final fond farewell to prince of words Peter Corrigan, who went to the great press box in the sky last month at the age of a par-busting 80.
I can hear Peter now saying, “Well I beat the 100.”
He made a late career out of writing golf columns under the pseudonym of The Hacker, and we followed him like rabbits as he somehow fashioned a virtue out of never having beaten the ton in competitive play.
There were lots of wistful smiles and tearful laughter as we listened to a beautifully composed eulogy from rugby writing wizard Peter Jackson, addressing a full-house congregation at All Saints’ in Penarth.
Cogs would have cracked a joke about Fat Stan Flashman, the ticket spiv king of the sixties and seventies, making a fortune selling seats in the standing-room-only church.
If you were ever in Peter’s company laughter was not far away. He was one of the wittiest and wisest people to cross my well-trodden path, and I am proud and privileged to have had him as a pal in the summertime of our lives.
I wore my 50-year-old Insignificant Seven tie as a gesture of respect for a magnificent journalist. In case you haven’t heard the story …
It was in the mid-60s when the Daily Mail’s exceptional chief football writer Brian James was overheard making the dismissive remark: “The No2 football reporters these days are such an insignificant lot.”
Instead of getting angry and precious we No2s were highly amused, and at an impromptu meeting agreed to form a club called The Insignificant Seven. We took it very seriously and had a special tie manufactured by Spurs maestro Dave Mackay (his sideline: he had the sports market tied up).
Brian James was installed as President, and we had plans for golf days and liquid-propelled jaunts. The Insignificant Seven founder members were Peter (Sun, later Mail), Steve Richards (Sun), Harry Miller (Mirror), Brian Scovell (Sketch, later Mail), Bryon Butler (Telegraph, later BBC), Peter Blackman (Evening Standard) and – most insignificantly – me.
Sadly, our little club fell apart because too many insignificants proved themselves somewhat very significant in the pursuit of the written word. I was always threatening our dishonourable treasurer Corrigan with legal action, because when the club folded there was to my certain knowledge seven shillings and sixpence still in the kitty. In every conversation we had in the last few years I would tell him that it was time for a share out of that 37.5p, with the added 30-plus years of interest of course.
Peter had the last laugh by becoming Sports Editor of the Observer and then chief sportswriter for the Independent on Sunday. Many of his old colleagues made it to Penarth for an emotional farewell. It was like a meeting of SJA members – a deadline of writers – as we shared memories and magical moments from our happy years working with a hugely talented yet modest man whose next boast would have been his first.
I went through the list of journalists present with Peter’s brother Chris, these days a casual (nicely laid back, a Corrigan trait) sub-editor on the Guardian. We came up with this Who’s Who of newspaper people and broadcasters:
Ken Jones, Mavis Nicholson, Hugh McIlvanney, Peter Jackson, Donald Trelford, Jonathan Davies, John Mullin, Phil Shaw, Neil Morton, Stephen Brenkley, Carolyn Hitt, Chris Hewett, Steve Bale, Iain Carter, Stan Hey, Eamonn McCabe, Nick Duxbury, James Mossop, Tony Stenson, Neil McLernan, John Cobb, Tim Glover, Ewan Murray , Martin Dempster , Hugh Bateson, Peter Higgs and Paul Mahoney.
If I’ve missed anybody, I blame Chris, who reminds me that numerous young writers and production specialists began their press careers on the Observer sports desk under Corrigan’s coaching. Cobb, Simon Kelner and Henry Winter are just a few of them.
Peter passed on his writing gift to son James, who is the Daily Telegraph’s authoritative golf correspondent far removed from the army of hackers to whom Peter was a Messiah who preached that one day the meek would inherit the fairways.
Chris and I both agreed that the tribute that got closest to capturing Peter’s presence was from Carolyn Hitt, who wrote in a Walesonline obituary: “There are those who get to the top of the career ladder and draw it up after them. There are others who reach down and give a helping hand to those clinging nervously to the lower rungs. Peter was definitely in the latter camp.”
Significant words in deed.