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How John Major saved my life

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A former Derby schoolboy who only ever wanted to be a journalist, Chris Moncrieff has spent nearly 40 years bringing the country the biggest stories from Westminster. Working for national news agency the Press Association, dad-of-four Chris rose from lobby reporter to political editor and has now written a book, Living on a Deadline, which details PA’s history.

If it wasn’t for the former Prime Minister, parliamentary correspondent Chris Moncrieff may well have gone to the great copy room in the sky.

On a routine trip shadowing the Conservative Prime Minister during a trip to China in the early 1990s, the Derby-born 70-year-old was rushing along the Great Wall, struggling to keep up with the PM’s entourage.

“I was lagging behind for some reason so I burst into a trot that turned into a considerable gallop,” he remembers.

“I actually couldn’t stop myself and I was going to go over the edge and fall hundreds of feet into someone’s collective farm. But the Prime Minister, who’s a great cricketer, fielded me like he was at long on or somewhere. He saved my life.”

“I thought for this act of mercy,” Major noted later, “he would say thank you. But I misjudged the great man. He stopped, looked up and said: ‘Can I use this story?'”

Chris’s version of events after his near disaster is slightly different – he says he only made something of it because an American press agency caught the moment on camera – but nevertheless, it’s a good yarn and just one of a considerable stock of shaggy-dog stories from a parliamentary reporting career stretching back nearly 40 years.

Chris was born in Cherry Tree Hill, Chaddesden, in 1931, the son of a scientist. When he was five or six, the family moved to Station Road, in Borrowash.

He said: “To my great shame I went to the Moravian Girls’ School. My parents sent me there because they didn’t think the council schools were good enough and there were no other suitable ones around.

“There were other boys there, but it was still very embarrassing.”

The family moved away from Derby when Chris was 12, moving to Halifax, and Chris would never live in these parts again. But by then he’d decided on two things: he wanted be a journalist and would always follow Derby County.

These are, he reflects, lean times for Rams fans but helping Chris share the burden is Geoff Hoon, the defence secretary and MP for Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, who is an avid fan, and ex-MP Lord Pendry, the former shadow sports minister who is now in the House of Lords.

After leaving school Chris went to London to pursue a legal career – a path his parents encouraged – but managed to sidestep a life as a legal eagle by diligently writing application letters to papers up and down the land.

He was accepted by a paper in Harrogate, covering local fetes – the bread and butter of the grass roots hack – and progressed into the Coventry Telegraph and then the Nottingham Post.

In 1962 Chris made a break for national journalism and wrote a letter to the London-based news agency Press Association, which offered him a job. PA gathers stories and sells them to papers all over Britain, which print them.

Chris originally wanted to cover general news but was instead sent to cover Parliament. Reluctantly, Chris agreed – and has never looked back.

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