O'DACRE email@example.com_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2007-09-15 published
He was first North American reporter to go behind the Bamboo Curtain
Dispatched to China in the 1950s, he covered the Orient and the Middle East for two decades with Associated Press, writes Sandra MARTIN. He ended his career at The Globe and Mail
By Sandra MARTIN, Page S11
A triple hitter as a reporter, editor and photographer, David LANCASHIRE was the Zelig of foreign correspondents. Wherever trouble brewed, he was there reporting back by telephone, telegraph or whatever other communications tool he could commandeer, in prose that was succinct, accurate and sparkling with precise and evocative detail.
The first North American correspondent to report from mainland China in the 1950s, he covered the Orient and the Middle East for Associated Press for two decades.
"David had a certain almost insouciance, which gave his personality the racy, devil-may-care air of a young boulevardier. At its best, his writing could be spectacular with the ability to take the reader along with him on a specific assignment," said Clark DAVEY, a former managing editor of The Globe and Mail.
"One of his many endearing qualities was his modesty," said Marcus Eliason, an Associated Press assistant international editor, "so it took a long time to know that he had scored a huge coup by getting a visa to go into Red China in the 1950s and produced a series of stories that was the first look into this closed society."
The two men worked together in Israel in the small Associated Press bureau in Tel Aviv from 1972 to 1976. "What I saw in him was a wonderful reporter, a man of enormous curiosity, a guy who always found something good to say about whatever culture he was covering," Mr. Eliason said. "He would go to the most exotic, strange and even dangerous places, but he always came back with a little story that brought the people and their lives alive to you." Speaking of Mr. Lancaster as an editor, he said: "In his quiet and unimposing way, he made you feel how a story should work, how to get it right, how to be fair, all the things that we desperately need [to know.]"
David Miles LANCASHIRE was born the year after the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the middle of three sons of Robert Harold LANCASHIRE and his wife Victoria (CAMPBELL.) His father held an eclectic series of jobs from musician to house detective at the Royal York Hotel and his mother was the daughter of Colin CAMPBELL, the city editor of the Toronto Star. By his late teens, he was bored with school and in love with playing the trombone. There's a story he liked to tell about spending the afternoon at what was probably the Victory Burlesque on Spadina Avenue. At the show's end, the lights came on, Mr. LANCASHIRE got up from his seat to leave and spotted his father, also playing hooky, sitting in the seat behind him. Neither one of them ever told Mrs. LANCASHIRE about their clandestine encounter.
Jazz brought him together with artist and musician Michael SNOW on a snowy night in 1948, when Mr. Lancaster paid 75 cents to hear three bands, including Ken Dean's Hot Seven, play at Lansdowne Hall in Toronto's West End. The two men began playing together as part of a group - Mr. Snow on the piano and Mr. LANCASHIRE on the trombone - at venues such as Balmy Beach, fraternity houses and the Snow family living room. In 1953, they went separately to Europe, but kept meeting by chance at clubs in Italy, France and Belgium. Mr. SNOW dropped into a club called La Rose Noire in Brussels and there was Mr. LANCASHIRE, the only Canadian in a Belgian combo. Soon, Mr. SNOW was playing there too. One night, Quincy Jones, Clifford Brown and a few other players from the touring Lionel Hampton Orchestra wandered in and jammed with them. A few days later, in Paris, Mr. Jones wrote and recorded a song he called La Rose Noire. And so it went for a couple of carefree years. "There was something very special about him," Mr. Snow said. "He was one of my very best Friends."
Wandering around Europe convinced Mr. LANCASHIRE, a high-school drop out, that he wanted to become a foreign correspondent, although he lacked any training - including the ability to type. He came back to Canada and talked his way into a job on the Quebec Chronicle Telegraph in 1954. After four months, he transferred to The Montreal Herald, where he worked as a crime reporter for a year. In 1955, he returned to Toronto and landed a job as a general reporter at The Globe and Mail. The late Richard (Dic) DOYLE remembers him in his book Hurly Burly as "a quiet gangling fellow" who was "a jazz nut." He once came across a sale of military drums in a loft on Yonge Street, and persuaded several of his senior editors to fit themselves out with drum kits. Mr. Davey still uses the regimental bass drum he acquired as a coffee table.
Restless from chasing fires and covering press conferences, Mr. LANCASHIRE longed to go to China, which had been largely out of bounds to foreign journalists since the Communist Revolution of 1949 had brought Mao Zedong to power. In September, 1956, Mr. LANCASHIRE wrote a letter to Premier Zhou Enlai asking for a visa. Some time later, he cornered managing editor Tommy MUNNS and offered himself as The Globe's first China correspondent. Mr. MUNNS declined.
Coincidentally, China announced that it would make visas available to American correspondents, an overture that triggered an embargo from the U.S. State Department, denying U.S. citizens the right to apply for a visa. The next day, Mr. LANCASHIRE received a wire from Mr. Zhou saying his application had been accepted. He quit The Globe, shopped his services to news agencies and was quickly hired on a freelance contract by the Associated Press in New York. Mr. LANCASHIRE flew to Hong Kong and walked across the bridge into China, the first reporter for any U.S. news organization on the Chinese mainland since 1949.
Before his two-month visa expired, he travelled more than 8,000 kilometres and produced a lengthy series of stories on life behind what was called the Bamboo Curtain. "Red China today is an immense machine with 600 million moving parts, running at top speed," Mr. LANCASHIRE wrote in an eerily prescient Associated Press story from Hong Kong on December 15, 1956. "Its 600 million individuals are sacrificing individually at Communist behest in an all-consuming drive to change a backward, poverty ridden nation into a modern state.
"China has the largest labour force in the world. And with the straining sinews of the 600 millions, she is struggling to reach a fantastic goal - to leave the middle ages behind and equal the United States in industrial power by the year 2000."
Based on his reportage, he was hired as an Associated Press staff foreign correspondent, a job he kept for the next two decades, filing many wire-service stories that ended up in the columns of his old newspaper. He spent three years in East Asia, reporting from Japan, Jakarta, Singapore, Bangkok and Saigon and almost every other country in the region. In 1960, he moved to Beirut and a new assignment as a roving Middle East correspondent. It was in Beirut that he met Adrienne (Dédée) TELDERS, a young woman from The Hague, Netherlands, who was working as a secretary at the Dutch embassy. They married in July, 1961. Their son Michael was born in 1963, followed by Adriaan in 1964.
"Writing for Associated Press meant covering everything from economics in Tokyo to opium dens in Laos, rigged elections in Tehran and Investiture of Prince Charles in Wales," Mr. LANCASHIRE wrote later. He covered nine wars, including the 1958 civil strife in Indonesia, the Sino-Indian war of 1962, ongoing Mideast conflict, the Turkish assault on Cyprus in 1974 and the overthrow of the Imam of Yemen in 1962. He also reported on Pope Paul VI's visit to Jerusalem in 1964, and Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in Iran.
In 1968, he transferred to London, but he and his wife missed the tumult of the of Middle East and he snapped up an opportunity to move to Israel as news editor for Associated Press in Tel Aviv in 1972, where he covered the 1973 Yom Kippur War and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Selling their London house before heading back to the Middle East was his only regret, he explained earlier this year in a conversation about escalating British house prices.
In the mid-1970s, the LANCASHIREs decided it was time to "Canadianize" their teenaged sons. At about the same time, Mrs. LANCASHIRE was diagnosed with the early stages of multiple sclerosis, a chronic, inflammatory disease of the central nervous system. He quit Associated Press in 1976 and returned to Canada and The Globe, where he worked as chief feature writer.
"I loved the man," Ed O'DACRE, the paper's former features editor, said yesterday. "He could do whatever you asked him to do. Clarity was his forte. His style was simple, perfect, clear English." His writing was not hit-of-the-week stuff that called attention to itself, said Mr. O'DACRE, but it lasted. "That was his virtuosity - you didn't notice his skill."
After suffering a heart attack in the newsroom in 1981, Mr. LANCASHIRE took time off to recuperate and returned to the newspaper as an editor. He was 63 when he retired in June, 1994, after The Globe announced an editorial buyout package. He devoted himself to caring for his wife and kept up a lively correspondence in The Globe's letters page, pointing out slips and inconsistencies in polite but pithy notes. He also reviewed jazz books and wrote travel articles that were rich in anecdotes and experience.
After the first Persian Gulf war, he wrote a piece about Jordan reopening its deserts to tourism with a reprise of the lead he had written 25 years earlier when the country, having lost most of its tourist attractions during the Six-Day War in 1967, launched a camel safari as a lure for foreign visitors.
"The tents are folded and the caravan winds into the desert. The sun pours down like molten brass on a line of lurching camels and hooded riders. Rifles glint from the saddles."
While much was the same, much had changed between his two trips. "On our final night in the desert, we had a fireside feast of mutton and rice eaten with bare hands. Sitting across from the fire, a gnarled old Bedouin suddenly interrupted the conversation. One of the Palestinian policemen translated: 'He says, praise God that tomorrow the rain will fall from the skies again.' "
A wise nomad in tune with the elements, Mr. LANCASHIRE thought to himself. Reverting to journalist mode, he asked the Bedouin how he knew rain was coming. The old man reached into his robe, pulled something out and silently handed it to Mr. LANCASHIRE. "It was a gorgeous little radio - olive-green colour, shaped like an avocado, and into its side was set a little silver plaque that read, Pierre Cardin, Paris."
This past summer, he began cleaning out his files and uncovered a pile of negatives covering his Middle East years. He had the best of them printed, framed them himself, and had a one man photography show in Kilgour's, a pub in Toronto's Annex neighbourhood. He also found the letter that jogged his memory about his 1962 trip to Yemen. It formed the basis for his final Globe article, about a time there when "there were no hotels, no tourists, not even a road to the capital, only a rocky track for trucks and camels."
At the time, Mr. LANCASHIRE was based in Aden, sharing a room in the Rock Hotel with the correspondent for The Observer, a man named Kim Philby - the very same Soviet spy who disappeared from the Mideast four months later and was uncovered as Britain's infamous "Third Manitoba" Ever the professional, Mr. LANCASHIRE captured the traitor's image on film.
David Miles LANCASHIRE was born in Toronto on December 30, 1930. He died of a heart attack at his home on September 10, 2007. He was 76. He is survived by his wife Dédée, his sons Michael and Adriaan, his daughter-in-law Mayte, two grandchildren and extended family.
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