Alix Palmer, journalist whose career took her from Aberfan to Idi Amin

She fought off dictator's guard with a mosquito net

Thursday, 28th July — By Dan Carrier

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Alix Palmer

WHEN senior executives at The Sun in the 1980s realised that not only was their reporter Alix Palmer serving as a shop steward for the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) but also married to their features editor, they became uneasy.

It wasn’t long after a Christmas party where they had arrived together, that Alix and husband Bob Coole were shown the door.

The pair always blamed their departure on her union activism, and typically when they were offered a small sum of money in compensation, they fought their corner and eventually doubled the pay out.

It was one of many scrapes Alix, who has died aged 83, encountered during a 50-year career which began in the early 1960s at the Yorkshire Post and would lead her to Fleet Street where she worked for The Sun, The Mirror, The Mail on Sunday, The Daily Star, Today, the Evening Standard and the Daily Express.

She worked for magazines including Woman’s Own and wrote a column for the publication during its 1980s heyday.

Alix was born in Portsmouth in 1939. Her mother, Vera, worked in factories and her father, Reg, was an aircraft fitter.

The couple’s relationship ended during the war and her mother raised her alone.

Alix won a place at prestigious grammar school Petersfield High School but life was not plain sailing. She had a stammer and was shy.

Many years later, in a column, she recalled how an English teacher called Joyce Bunnett took her under her wing and put her in the school play.

Alix went to Manchester University in 1957 and, after gaining a degree in politics, philosophy and economics, she completed a masters in education. Alix planned a career in teaching but, as she recalled, she found herself suffering.

“I wept buckets over a child,” she wrote.

“The eldest of five, she was responsible for getting them washed and dressed, fed and off to school while her mother earned what little money she could. One morning, the poor girl came in forgetting to leave the key under the mat.

“The woman beat up her daughter right in front of me.”

She turned to journalism. In the early 1960s, Alix became a reporter at the Yorkshire Post and showed talent. A move to the nationals beckoned and in the mid-1960s she moved to The Express.

In 1966, aged 27, she covered her first major story. Alix was one of the first reporters on the scene at the Aberfan disaster in Wales, when 144 people died after a colliery spoil tip engulfed the village.

A letter home to her mother, reprinted in The Guardian on the 50th anniversary of the tragedy, described the experience and is testimony to Alix’s powers and approach to her job.

The following year, she was sent to the border of Israel and Egypt to cover the 1967 Six Day War.

Another scoop was an interview with the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. Her trip to the presidential palace had long-lasting effects.

The night before being granted an audience with the dictator, she stayed in Amin’s palace. She was attacked in her room by a guard, who she fought off by wrapping him up in a mosquito net. The guard managed to inflict damage with a knife – scars remained for years – and the story had a tragic end. Her attacker was executed – something that haunted her for a long time afterwards.

Alix settled in London and had her first child, Leon, in 1972.

Later, she met Bob and the pair fell in love. They would go on to have Daisy in 1983. They moved into a flat above Lloyds Bank in Rosslyn Hill, Hampstead, and lived there for 30 years before moving to West Hampstead.

Alix loved music. She met Harry Belafonte, Prince and Beatles producer George Martin for articles. Theatre and musicals brought her great pleasure, while her favourite actor was Robert Redford.

She loved Out of Africa, and went on holiday to do a “Karen Blixan” tour – the name of Meryl Streep’s character in the film.

When Daisy joined Fitzjohns School in Fitzjohns Avenue, she set up music festivals, one lasting 24 hours. Calling on her extensive contacts and bundles of charm, names on the bill included guitarist John Williams and harmonica player Larry Adler.

She took these skills to Hampstead School where she became chair of governors.

She was a trustee of the Young Music Makers Saturday music school and joined the Camden Youth Jazz Band on international tours.

Alix would work as a freelancer in her later years, and used her time on governing bodies, charities, campaigns and politics as the secretary of the Hampstead Labour Party.

Her tenacity, skill, passion and empathy meant she made a huge impact on many.

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