I first met Bob, inevitably in a bar, when we were freshly arrived undergraduates at the LSE in 1967.
It was love at first sight.
He walked up and said I understand you are Welsh and think you can play rugby. I have to tell you Wales is not a proper country, I have never liked Welshmen and you’ll turn out to be rubbish at rugby.
We were firm friends for the next fifty-three years.
Bob was many things: an award-winning investigative reporter, a brilliant editor, campaigner, journalistic leader, raconteur, devoted husband, doting father and the ultimate behind the scenes fixer.
It did not matter whether you were the royal family or a penniless student. If you had a problem the best person to seek out to solve it…. was Bob.
At the LSE, Bob was captain of the legendary third fifteen, the Strollers. I was captain of the first fifteen, but Bob’s was the party team that everyone wanted to play for.
You didn’t get hurt, had far more fun and the bar was always awash with beer after the game.
One of our key needle matches every year was against UCL.
Their ground was way out, beyond North London, near St Albans.
When we played them in 1968 my first team were offered seats in the UCL specially chartered team coach.
Bob’s Strollers were told they could take the train to St Albans and then get on a Green Line coach…. if they could find one.
Despite this huge discourtesy, Bob, unabashed, took his lads off to Kings Cross.
Our coach arrived at the UCL’s ground at Shenley and we were left waiting anxiously in the car park wondering whether the Strollers would also make it.
We did not have to wait long, within five minutes an enormous BRS lorry swept in and pulled up outside the clubhouse.
The driver leapt out, carefully lowered the tailgate of his enormous pantechnicon and Bob led out his Strollers team, fully changed and ready for the fray.
Apparently, they had missed the bus and Bob persuaded the BRS driver to give the whole team a lift as he did not want to be late for the three o’clock kick off.
A group of fourteen of us, who had played and, occasionally studied, with Bob at the LSE stayed close across the years after university. There were regular dinners, occasional lunches and odd meetings in dubious Fleet Street haunts, all orchestrated and organised by Bob.
It was he who kept us together. He was the glue, our constant friend and companion.
Bob, of course, left the LSE to enter the world of journalism.
He joined the Lancashire Post, rising from trainee to associate editor. Within seven years he was Journalist of the Year and Crime Reporter of the Year in the British Press Awards. An astonishing feat for a provincial journalist still in his twenties on a regional evening newspaper.
I was plying my trade on the other side of the Pennines on the Sheffield Telegraph and looking on in envy.
Before long he was in Fleet Street as Assistant Editor of the News of the World before returning to regional journalism as Editor of the Cambridge Evening News in 1984.
Fleet Street was always a tough place, which sometimes sat uneasily with gentle-hearted Bob. He once spent a week in a scruffy drinking den called the Zanzibar trying to rescue a very depressed, but talented News of the World crime correspondent, who drank himself insensible four nights in a row. Each night Bob arranged for one of the newspaper delivery drivers to get the sozzled reporter home. On the fifth night the driver refused.
Bob still felt responsible. So, he hailed a cab and took the crime man up to his home in Highgate and rang the bell.
A furious woman arrived and demanded why Bob kept delivering this drunk to her door.
Because he lives here replied an indignant Bob, while propping up his drunken employee.
No, he doesn’t, thundered the woman… he lives next door.
Bob quickly settled into Cambridge and turned the Evening News into one of the best and most admired newspapers in the UK.
Awards rolled in. It was twice newspaper of the year and despite growing competition Bob kept upping the circulation.
It was one of the happiest times of his life. He was at the top of his game and with his incredible wife Michelle at his side, he built a happy family life in Girton.
He was also a growing industry figure, a man of influence, always a man people could turn to, always the problem solver.
And it was no surprise when he became the founding director of the Society of Editors in 1999. A post he held with great distinction and honour until he suffered a terrible stroke in 2017.
There was no finer champion of a Free Press, he held the trust of every senior editor in the land.
He was always ready to defend them, but he was also always ready to hold them to account.
There was not an industry body he did not sit on or advise. Whether it was the Royal Family, a Government department with a Press dilemma, a major charity, a great cause or a man or woman in the street being harassed by a wayward member of the press, they all knew the man who could help and find a way through.
It was Bob.
Of course, he was also a complete and utter con-artist.
He rang me one day when he was on the Board of the National Council for the Training of Journalists.
The NCTJ needed an ombudsman and would I do it?
No, I said, I am chairing a couple of pension funds, two major charities and a university. I haven’t got the time.
Bob would not give up, of course.
There had been only one NCTJ case that had needed an ombudsman in thirty years and nothing for the past two decades.
I had to do it as there was nothing to do.
Foolishly I agreed, inevitably….. and much to Bob’s amusement…..I had to adjudicate on my first dispute within six months and they have kept rolling in ever since.
He was also the kindest of men and the most loyal of friends.
A few years back Bob was an active member in Cambridge of the Royal Society of the Arts. My wife Vikki was in the midst of her term as chairman of the RSA and had been booked to speak at the AGM of the Cambridge branch. Bob promised to greet, escort and take her for a drink afterwards. The night before he rang up with the exciting news that Michelle had suddenly been offered a transplant, he was ringing from outside the operating theatre. He was not going to make the AGM.
Yet when Vikki arrived in Cambridge. Who was there to meet her and make sure that everything was OK? It was the amazing Bob Satchwell, squeezing in something he had promised to do for a friend, before racing back to the hospital to be with the most important person in the world to him.
Tragically, and within weeks he had to endure the loss of Michelle. The transplant failed. His and our hearts were broken.
He soldiered on, still working endlessly, occasionally sailing, writing, speaking, commentating and debating.
He was not quite the same Bob…. some of the joy left with Michelle and would never return.
Then tragedy struck again four years ago when he suffered a terrible stroke from which he was never to fully recover.
Another of Bob’s great LSE friends Jim Richardson, his wife Lyndsay and I visited him in hospital and later in his care homes.
The old Bob had departed us, but he always greeted us with the broadest of smiles and joined enthusiastically, if somewhat haphazardly, in our conversations.
He spoke in tongues a bit after the stroke.
But I will always believe Bob understood every word of our last conversations.
Why?… Because on one of our final visits, when Jim announced he had to leave… a big grin swept on to Bob’s face.
Good of you to come he said , now bugger off and make sure you take that damn Welshman with you.
What a man, what a life, what a friend.