Paul Foot

For the comedian, see Paul Foot (comedian).

Paul Mackintosh Foot (8 November 1937 – 18 July 2004) was a British investigative journalist, political campaigner, author, and long-time member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP).

Early life and education

Foot was born in Haifa, Palestine, during the British mandate.[1] He was the son of Hugh Foot (who was the last Governor of Cyprus and Jamaica and, as Lord Caradon, the British Ambassador to the United Nations from 1964 to 1970) and the grandson of Isaac Foot, who had been a Liberal MP. He was the nephew of Michael Foot, later leader of the Labour Party,[2] with whom the younger Foot was close. He spent his youth at his uncle's house in Devon, in Italy with his grandmother and with his parents (who lived abroad) in Cyprus and Jamaica.

He was sent to what he described as "a ludicrously snobbish prep school, Ludgrove [near Wokingham in Berkshire], and then to an only slightly less absurd public school, Shrewsbury, in Shropshire."[3] Contemporaries at Shrewsbury included Richard Ingrams, Willie Rushton, Christopher Booker and several other friends who would later become involved in Private Eye.

Anthony Chenevix-Trench, subsequently the Headmaster of Eton College, was Foot's Housemaster at Shrewsbury between 1950 and 1955, a time when corporal punishment in all schools was commonplace. In adult life, Foot exposed the ritual beatings that Chenevix-Trench had given. Nick Cohen wrote in Foot's obituary in The Observer:

"Even by the standards of England's public schools, Anthony Chenevix-Trench, his housemaster at Shrewsbury, was a flagellomaniac. Foot recalled, 'He would offer his culprit an alternative: four strokes with the cane, which hurt; or six with the strap, with trousers down, which didn't. Sensible boys always chose the strap, despite the humiliation, and Trench, quite unable to control his glee, led the way to an upstairs room, which he locked, before hauling down the miscreant's trousers, lying him face down on a couch and lashing out with a belt."[4]

Exposing him in Private Eye was one of Foot's happiest days in journalism.

After his national service in Jamaica, Foot was reunited with Ingrams at University College at the University of Oxford, where he read jurisprudence,[1] and wrote for Isis, one of the student publications at the University. He briefly edited Isis, resulting in the publication being temporarily banned by the university authorities after Foot began to publish articles which found fault with university lectures.[1]

Years in Glasgow

Via Michael Foot, the younger Foot made the acquaintance of Hugh Cudlipp, the editorial director of Mirror Group Newspapers, who offered him a job with the company and Foot joined the Daily Record in Glasgow. He was expected "to sort out the Trots" in his journalism,[1] but instead the experience of living in the Scottish city changed his whole outlook. Foot met workers from shipyards and engineering firms who had joined the Young Socialists. He read, for the first time, Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, Leon Trotsky, and the multi-volume biography of Trotsky by Isaac Deutscher.

While living in Glasgow he met Tony Cliff, "an ebullient Palestinian Jew". Cliff argued that Russia was state capitalist and that Russian workers were cut off from economic and political power as much as, if not more than, those in the West. Persuaded by what he heard and saw, in 1963 Foot joined the International Socialists, the group in which Cliff had a leading role, and the organisational forerunner of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP).

"Of all the many lessons I learnt in those three years in Glasgow," he wrote later, "the one which most affected my life was a passing remark by Rosa Luxemburg. She predicted that, however strong people's socialist commitment, as soon as they are involved even to the slightest degree in managing the system on behalf of capitalists, they will be lost to the socialist cause."

Foot covered the West Lothian by-election, 1962 as a political reporter for the Daily Record. He asked of the Labour candidate, Tam Dalyell: "How on earth is it that the West Lothian Constituency Labour Party with six coal-mines in the constituency can choose somebody from Eton and King's College, Cambridge, as their candidate?" Dalyell was saved by H. B. Boyne, a political correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, who reminded Foot of his own background. The incident did not stop the two men becoming friends.[5]

Journalism and public career (1964-78)

In 1964, he returned to London and began to work for The Sun, as the trade union newspaper, the Daily Herald had become, in a department called Probe. The intention was to investigate and publish stories behind the news. However, the whole Probe team resigned after six months. "The man in charge turned out to be a former Daily Express City editor."[6]

Foot left to work, part-time, on the Mandrake column on The Sunday Telegraph. He had previously contributed articles to Private Eye since 1964[7] but decided, in February 1967, to take a cut in salary and join the staff of the magazine on a full-time basis, working with its editor, Richard Ingrams and Peter Cook, by now in possession of a controlling interest in the magazine. When asked about the decision later, Foot would say he could not resist the prospect of two whole pages with complete freedom to write whatever he liked. "Writing for Private Eye is the only journalism I have ever been engaged in which is pure enjoyment. It is free publishing of the most exhilarating kind."[8]

Foot got on very well with Cook, only realising after the latter's death in 1995 how much they had in common: "We both were born in the same week, into the same sort of family. His father, like mine, was a colonial servant rushing round the world hauling down the imperial flag. Both fathers shipped their eldest sons back to public school education in England. We both spent our school holidays with popular aunts and uncles in the West Country."[4]

Foot's first stint at Private Eye lasted until 1972 when, according to Patrick Marnham, Foot was effectively sacked by Richard Ingrams who had come to the conclusion that Foot's copy was being unduly influenced by his contacts in the International Socialists.[9] Ingrams has denied this: "It was said at the time that he and I had fallen out over political issues. In fact, we very seldom disagreed about such things, the only tension arising from Paul's belief that whenever there was a strike he had to support the union regardless of any rights or wrongs."[10] In October 1972 he left to join the Socialist Worker, the weekly newspaper of the IS, "confident that a revolution was coming", as he explained decades later.[11] He became editor in 1974.[1]

He unsuccessfully fought the Birmingham Stechford by-election in 1977 for the SWP (gaining 1% of the vote).

Career (1978-2004)

Six years later he returned to Private Eye but was poached in 1979 by the editor of the Daily Mirror, Mike Molloy, who offered him a weekly investigative page of his own with only one condition attached: that he was not to make propaganda for the SWP.[12] In 1980, Foot began to look into the case of the Bridgewater Four who had been falsely convicted of the murder of newspaper boy Carl Bridgewater.[13] He repeatedly returned to this case, to the occasional consternation of his editor, but believed this practice would lead to new witnesses coming forward.[13] Foot and his colleagues looked through many thousands of pages of evidence and statements. When his book Murder at the Farm: Who killed Carl Bridgewater? was published in 1986, Stephen Sedley wrote in the London Review of Books that Foot had not managed to "answer his own question", but did succeed in demonstrating "that if a jury had known what is now known about the case, it would not have inculpated" the defendants.[14] Their convictions were overturned at the Court of Appeal in February 1997 and the three surviving men (one had died in prison) were released.[15]

Foot stayed at the Daily Mirror for fourteen years, managing to survive at the paper during the years Robert Maxwell was in control from 1984. Foot wrote in 2000: "Maxwell demeaned everyone who worked for him, myself included, but I was able by sheltering behind the editor to protect myself from his more monstrous excesses”.[16] He finally fell out with the new Mirror editor, David Banks in March 1993, nearly seventeen months after Maxwell's death. Banks, he claimed, had accused him of being "mad",[17] and a contemporaneous boardroom coup had introduced, according to Foot, a "systematic campaign of union-busting" at the company.[17] He left the Mirror in 1993 when the paper refused to print articles critical of its new management and placed him on sick leave. "This is Stalinist psychiatry," he said at the time. "If you don't agree with us you must be mad."[18] Banks also revealed Foot's salary as being £55,000 at the time of the row over the unpublished column, although Foot himself said that it was actually a few thousand less.[17]

He then rejoined Private Eye for a third time, now with Ian Hislop as the magazine's editor,[19] and began his regular column for The Guardian.

From 2001 he was a Socialist Alliance candidate for several offices. In the Hackney mayoral election in 2002 he came third, beating the Liberal Democrat candidate. He also stood unsuccessfully in the London region for the Respect coalition in the 2004 European elections.

Foot's last book The Vote: How It Was Won and How It Was Undermined was published posthumously in 2005. Foot's friend and Private Eye colleague Francis Wheen, in his Guardian review, concluded: "Passionate, energetic and invincibly cheerful: the qualities of his final book are also a monument to the man himself."[20]


Foot wrote Red Shelley, a book which exalted the radical politics of Shelley's poetry. He was a bibliophile, following in the steps of his grandfather Isaac and uncle Michael. He also wrote a book about the radical union leader A J Cook

Awards and campaign journalism

Paul Foot was named journalist of the year in the What The Papers Say Awards in 1972 and 1989 and campaigning journalist of the year in the 1980 British Press Awards; he won the George Orwell Prize for Journalism in 1995 with Tim Laxton, won the journalist of the decade prize in the What The Papers Say Awards in 2000, and the James Cameron special posthumous Award in 2004.

His best known work was in the form of campaign journalism, including his exposure of corrupt architect John Poulson and, most notably, his prominent role in the campaigns to overturn the convictions of the Birmingham Six which eventually succeeded in 1991. Foot also asserted that a former British intelligence officer, Colin Wallace, had been framed for manslaughter with a view to suppressing Wallace's allegations of collusion between British forces and Loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland during the 1970s.[21]

Foot took a particular interest in the conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi for the Lockerbie bombing, firmly believing Megrahi to have been a victim of a miscarriage of justice at the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing trial.[22]

He also worked tirelessly, though without success, to gain a posthumous pardon for James Hanratty, who was hanged in 1962 for the A6 murder. It was a position he maintained even after DNA evidence in 1999 confirmed Hanratty's guilt.

Private life

Paul Foot was married twice, to Monica (née Beckinsale, 1962–70) and Rose (Roseanne, née Harvey, 1971–93) and had a long-term relationship with Clare Fermont.[18] He had three sons (the two eldest from his first marriage) and a daughter from these three relationships: John Foot is an academic and writer specialising in Italy, Matt Foot is a solicitor,[23] and Tom Foot is a journalist.[23] With Fermont, Foot had a daughter, Kate.[24]

He was a great admirer of West Indian cricket (he used to say that George Headley had taught him to bat) and a faithful follower of Plymouth Argyle FC. He was also a classy opening batsman and a passionate golfer.

Death and memorials

Foot's gravestone in Highgate Cemetery (2007)

Paul Foot died of a heart attack at age 66.[18] A tribute issue of the Socialist Review, on whose editorial board Foot sat for 19 years, collected together many of his articles, while issue 1116 of Private Eye included a tribute to Foot from the many people with whom he had worked. Three months after his death, on 10 October 2004, there was a full house at the Hackney Empire in London for an evening's celebration of his life. The following year, The Guardian and Private Eye jointly set up the Paul Foot Award for investigative or campaigning journalism, with an annual £10,000 prize fund.

Foot is buried in Highgate Cemetery, London, near Karl Marx's tomb,[25] with the grave of Chris Harman, another long-time SWP member, adjacent to Foot's.

Wikiquote has quotations related to: Paul Foot



See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Richard Stott "Foot, Paul Mackintosh", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, January 2009
  2. Obituary: Paul Foot, The Economist, 25 July 2004
  3. Introduction Words as Weapons ISBN 0-86091-527-1
  4. 1 2 Cohen, Nick (25 July 2004). "The epistles of Saint Paul". The Observer. Retrieved 22 October 2009.
  5. Tam Dalyell Obituary: Paul Foot, The Independent, 20 July 2004
  6. Paul Foot Words as weapons: selected writing, 1980-1990, London: Verso, 1990, p.xi
  7. Harry Thompson Biography Of Peter Cook, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1997, p.116
  8. Paul Foot Words as Weapons, London: Verso, 1990, p.xii
  9. Patrick Marnham "A great ‘campaign’ socialist", The Spectator, 17 December 2005
  10. Richard Ingrams "One in the Eye", The Guardian, 1 October 2005 (edited extract of My Friend Footy)
  11. Judy Cox "Paul Foot: Tribune of the People", Socialist Review, No.241, May 2000, p.10-11, as reproduced by the Marxists Internet Archive
  12. Richard Ingrams, My Friend Footy, pp82-83 (Private Eye Production, 2005, ISBN 1901784428)
  13. 1 2 Tony Harcup Journalism: Principles and Practice, London: Sage, 2009, p.103
  14. Stephen Sedley "Who didn’t kill Carl Bridgewater?", London Review of Books, 8:17, 9 October 1986, p.15-16 (subscription only)
  15. David Graves, "Bridgewater Four convictions quashed", Daily Telegraph 31 July 1997. (Archived
  16. Paul Foot Articles of Resistance, introduction, cited in Geoffrey Goodman "Foot – at the door", British Journalism Review, 11:4, 2000, p.70-71
  17. 1 2 3 "Paul Foot resigns from Mirror", The Herald (Glasgow), 31 March 1993
  18. 1 2 3 "Paul Foot". Daily Telegraph. 20 July 2004. Retrieved 6 February 2014.
  19. Richard Ingrams, My Friend Footy, pp87-88 (Private Eye Production, 2005, ISBN 1901784428)
  20. Francis Wheen "Up with the swinish multitude", The Guardian, 26 February 2005
  21. See Who Framed Colin Wallace by Paul Foot, Pan 1990, ISBN 0-330-31446-7, and, also by Paul Foot, The final vindication, The Guardian, 2 October 2002, and "Inside story: MI5 mischief", The Guardian, 22 July 1996
  22. Paul Foot "Lockerbie's dirty secret", The Guardian, 31 March 2004
  23. 1 2 Simon Hattenstone "Fighting for legal aid is my family tradition", The Guardian, 4 January 2014
  24. Patrick Sawer "Paul Foot Dies at 66", Evening Standard, 19 July 2004
  25. "Highgate Cemetery, East Cemetery". Retrieved 19 August 2016.

Further reading

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Media offices
Preceded by
Roger Protz
Editor of Socialist Worker
Succeeded by
Chris Harman
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