Tony went into hospital on Easter Sunday with no one knowing just how ill he was. On the Tuesday he could only walk with difficulty. He was getting frustrated because no one seemed to be able to diagnose what was wrong with him so Tony, being Tony, threatened to discharge himself because he was just plain bored.
On the Wednesday he was very much worse, breathless, exhausted and in pain. And yet across the ward Liz could hear him talking on the phone to his boss at The Times.
He assured Mark that he would be writing up all the interviews in his notebook for the forthcoming supplement: Top 50 Employers For Women or Top Tottie as he reduced it to in his deliberately non-PC way. There was no need to commission anyone else. And there was no need to commission anyone else for the piece he was writing about Rotterdam. That he would write as soon as he was out of hospital. But of course he never left hospital. He died early on Sunday morning.
And in many ways the qualities that he showed in those last few days of his life were the qualities that shone through his life and particularly his journalistic life.
I knew him in the Seventies when we both worked in the Sunday Times newsroom. He was fun, he was good and he was loud. Loud ties, loud shirts and loud voice. He faced stiff opposition. We had a medical correspondent who SHOUTED down the phone questions about the most intimate subjects which you would much rather not hear about; we had an education correspondent who was a little deaf and thought that if he needed shouting at then so too did everyone else. We had a local government correspondent who was shouting at her many connections in Ireland, not about local government, but about her horse. Despite his voice Tony was almost a horse whisperer in comparison. But more important he was dogged, persistent, committed and as Magnus Linklater former news editor of The Sunday Times says ‘he would never let you down.’
He rose through the Sunday Times ranks, ending up as News Editor himself. One reporter looking back on those days says ‘He was absolutely the outstanding news editor of my career.’ From there he went to the Daily Express where he worked with the investigations team led by Jack Crossley. Sue Peart, now editor of the Mail on Sunday You Magazine recalls ‘ One kind of knew that he was the absolute beating heart of the newspaper where all the really big stories were generated. I think it was a couple of years before I even dared speak to Tony! But he really was a gentle giant a lovely man with a tremendous sense of humour.’
Next he moved to The Times where, again led by Jack Crossley he covered major events like the Kings Cross Fire, and the SAS shootings in Gibraltar. From there to the Sunday Express, landing up as Deputy Editor before being made redundant in the endless game of musical chairs that the Express was playing at the time.
It was his last staff job, he became freelance in 1991 and although he got no more titles he managed to survive in newspapers much, much longer than most of us. Finding a congenial slot at The Times, he commissioned pieces, wrote pieces, had a Travel column for 15 years, represented The Times at functions, had a desk, a computer, a phone – and yet he wasn’t on the staff or even on a retainer. Pretending a certain amount of incredulity he explained ‘I am a person of no position whatever, but they keep asking me to do things.’ I think this remarkable feat of survival was largely due to his writing and editing skills, but also because whenever managers were looking for their inevitable cuts there was no Tony; since he wasn’t on the staff and he wasn’t on a contract, he was invisible – to them at least.
When he worked on the Sunday Times the paper was swiftly becoming famous for its investigations and there was considerable rivalry between the sixth floor where Insight hung out and the Fifth floor where we worker bees were slaving away. And while Insight ran away with most of the glory it was on the fifth floor that many investigations were being pursued week after week and Tony was at the heart of them. In particular he was the leading investigator in one of the biggest scandals of the 70’s involving the architect John Poulson who bribed his way across North East England, using local councillors and others in his pay to get the contracts to re-develop their cities. Del Mercer, his news editor at the time says now ‘I chose Tony for the Poulson scandal because he was a good investigative reporter, tenacious, and good on detail. It was a long slog, it needed persistence and Tony had it.’
Tony had shown that determination from early days. In 1966 he won a place on the Thomson graduate training scheme for journalists and promptly abandoned his degree course at Liverpool University. His first job was with the Middlesborough Evening Gazette as a reporter although he wrote an occasional column called Tony Dawe Speaks Frankly which I am sure he had no trouble at all in writing. Two years later, aged 22, he got a job on The Sunday Times and he was on his way.
And as he climbed up the ladder he was happy to give back what he had learned. Reporter Michael Bilton remembers getting off a plane from the Caribbean with a good and exclusive story on how the banana company Geest was treating or rather mistreating their workers. Now of course the problem was that he had to actually write the story. Michael says: ‘Tony’s advice was simple: Start with one character, tell his story in two or three pars then move on into the broader story background. Tony shepherded me through the process, he was a terrific mentor.’
But Michael says what he will always remember Tony for is his understanding when his wife lost their baby at full term. ‘No one could have supported us more than Tony. He was kindness itself and told me only to return to work when the family was settled. I was absent for five weeks and when I went to tell him I was ready to go back to work he took me out to lunch.’
Yet although Tony led an exciting journalistic life he never went on about it. Nigel Williamson, former news editor at The Times, who worked with Tony for several years read his obituary in the paper and added ‘I didn’t know half the stories in this obituary. There are some reporters who would never have stopped reminding the rest of us of their glorious byline history if they had covered the Vietnam War and an expedition to the North Pole, yet I was unaware that Tony had reported either of those stories until this morning’s paper. He seemed to operate on the basis that he was only as good as his next story – not the last one- and that speaks volumes for the man’s modesty and professionalism.
But of course concentrating on this serious side of Tony is to tell only part of the story. Take nicknames they are a very mixed blessing. Who wants to be called Tricky Dicky, or Milk Snatcher, or Paddy Pantsdown. Tony was just about the only journalist I knew who had a nickname, two actually. There was the simple one T Dan Dawe after T Dan Smith a major villain in the Poulson case, and the slightly more complicated one: Two Dinners Dawe. There are differing accounts of how he acquired this nickname but the one I like the best comes from his cricketing days. He regularly opened the batting for his beloved Coldharbour Cricket Club – usually successfully. But on this one occasion –unfortunately an all day match – he was out for a duck. Thus there was a long day ahead of him and when he came back to the pavilion he could only console himself by polishing off not one but two lunches, washed down with the requisite amount of port. No wonder former chairman of the Club, Clive Acres, in his address at Tony’s funeral called him ‘more galleon than gazelle’ and said that Tony had certain specific batting rules for batsmen joining him which included: ‘no quick singles and no running three.’
But the thing is that unlike the politicians these were fond nicknames acknowledging that Tony was a slightly larger than life character, someone who everybody warmed to. The temptation at this point is to fill the church with anecdotes to illustrate this, but maybe they are for The Humble Grape. I think two short ones will suffice one from his life in journalism the other from his cricketing life.
Peter Wilby who was education correspondent at The Sunday Times in those days remembers Tony for his humour, conviviality and good journalism and good lunching. ‘We once went to lunch in a nearby restaurant where the service was unusually quick and we had finished eating and even had coffee by 2pm. I said to Tony ‘I suppose we should get back to the office.’ ‘No we can’t go back to the office NOW,’ replied Tony ‘They’ll think we’ve quarreled ‘ And he immediately ordered another bottle of wine.
But I will leave the last word to Patrick Kidd the Times’ political sketchwriter and diary editor who knew Tony as a much-loved friend and colleague.
‘I recall him playing cricket for my charity team at Audley End in a match which ended in a sudden rain shower. I still have the vision of Tony walking out onto the outfield in this deluge wearing only underpants – he was of course a statuesque figure – and clutching a bottle of shampoo so that he could have a natural shower. God knows what visitors to the English Heritage house must have made of it. The sign of a good life is being remembered with a smile after you have gone and Tony certainly has provoked a lot of smiles.