It was with great sadness this week that I learned of the death of a friend, colleague, mentor and former Doncaster Free Press journalist of high repute.
Peter Whittell has gone to the ‘great newsroom in the sky’ (they would have been his words, not mine) and his handiwork graced the pages of this newspaper back in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s.
His stint in the town was the final chapter for the Doncaster-born reporter who enjoyed an illustrious career working on The Sun, Daily Express and Daily Star, rubbing newsroom shoulders with the likes of Sir Michael Parkinson and going drinking with George Best and Alex Higgins in the glory days of when hacks were more likely to be in the pub than the office.
I first encountered Peter in the twilight of his career, in 1992 when I was a young trainee and he was the news editor of the DFP.
I used to sit in awe as he imparted his stories of colourful characters from the heyday of journalism but at the same time, passing on his vast wisdom and knowledge on how to craft the perfect news story.
His love for news and journalism was obvious. The buzz at a big story coming in, the way he would gently coax tales out of people – being able to talk to the great and the good and the little old dears with trifling complaints in equal measure.
All this was infused with an unstoppable supply of enthusiasm and fun – more often than not you’d find him marching around the newsroom bellowing stock phrases such as “Whittell’s the name, news is the game” and “a happy staff makes for a happy newspaper.”
And indeed it was and indeed we were.
More often than not, working days would end in one of Doncaster’s hostelries where Peter, a true master of the old school could hold a bar in the palm of his hand with anecdotes amid the company of a selection of colourful characters from all walks of life.
Among all the fun, he’d also worked on some of the biggest stories of recent times, risking his life during The Troubles in Northern Ireland and covering the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper.
And as a raw 16-year-old, he had the task of breaking the news of the 1958 Munich Air Disaster to the family of Doncaster’s own Busby Babe, David Pegg, one of the eight Manchester United players to perish in the tragedy.
I’ve got plenty to thank Peter for – as have many others who worked with him back in those days and have gone on to greater things.
A real legend, one-off and raconteur, when they made Peter, they broke the mould.
RIP mate, have one up there for me.