Born prematurely on 13 January 1932, the illegitimate son of Margaret Flynn, a feisty, argumentative Dublin waitress, at Walton Hospital, Liverpool, a newly-decommissioned workhouse, during the worst days of The Depression. Birth initially registered in name of Joseph Flynn, no father identified. Later legitimised (birth re-registered) by biological father, ex-Serjeant-Major Anthony Garrity, an ex-coalminer and remarkable survivor of The Somme, 1916-1917.
Former Roman Catholic. Now Pantheist.
Wife; two daughters; two grandsons.
Around 1936 I moved with my parents to Pimlico, London. On 7 September 1940, parents took me on a ghoulish sightseeing in the East End of London to gawp at the damage caused by early Luftwaffe raids. They had chosen a day later known to survivors as Black Saturday, the massive onslaught of the London blitz: 250 German bombers escorted by 617 fighters dropped 625 tons of high explosive bombs on the surrounding dockland area of Silvertown. Around 440 civilians were killed and 1,600 injured that night. With many others we took refuge in the crypt of St Anne’s Church, Limehouse, emerging next morning to a world we did not recognise: one of fire, water and desolation.
Pimlico, in central London, soon became one of the most intensively bombed areas in attacks on London lasting eight months (243 days and nights). On the night of 16 April 1941 two parachute mines and three high explosive bombs wiped out a block of streets adjoining our home, a basement in Cumberland Street. To add to the chaos, a gas main was on fire. In the later, V1 flying bomb blitz on 30 June 1944 one of these missiles destroyed a building across the street from our home, killing thirteen people and wounding 165. I was buried by debris for some time, and tunnelled out with my pet terrier, Peggy. Aged twelve, I was already a war veteran, imprinted with the distorted, brutalising values of armed conflict and not quite fit for normal life. For an adventurous child, the blitz was fun and terrifying in equal measure.
Thanks to an alert Roman Catholic parish priest, I was given a place at St Vincent De Paul’s primary school, attached to Westminster Cathedral. I was taught by gruff Irish Sisters of Charity who wore their wide, white headgear like the IRA’s broad black brimmers, or the Mafia’s fedoras. Later, with schools closed for much of the war, I had no further formal education until 1944, when I attended Brompton Oratory school in Chelsea, an establishment that was good at music, religious instruction and corporal punishment. Unsurprisingly I failed the 11+ but won a scholarship to Wandsworth Technical College, learned shorthand and typing and determined to become a newspaper reporter.
The war, and minimal qualifications including a Royal Society of Arts certificate for shorthand at 120 words per minute, equipped me rather well for my chosen profession; so well, that after six decades or so, I was elected a Fellow of the RSA. I never attended university though my Oxford School Certificate might have qualified me for entry through one of the back-doors for which the British Establishment is famous. There were three more serious obstacles. First, only 4 per cent of working class children broke through the barriers of elitism to reach university at that time. Second, what few places were available were justifiably claimed by war veterans, most of whom seemed to want to study forestry. Third, had I squirreled my way into uni, my parents would assuredly have felt I was betraying the working class. 'People like us,' as my mother would put it, did not go there.
Material published by newspapers listed above, as well as The Observer; The Spectator; New Statesman; items syndicated around the world by the Sunday Times republished in, eg, The Fiji Times.
For The Guardian I wrote about UK politics in and out of Parliament and was briefly accredited to the Downing Street Lobby. During 14 years with the Sunday Times I reported on conflicts in Africa, the Middle East, Northern Ireland and Western Europe. I was arrested, while working, in Paris 1968, Nigeria 1968 (briefly detained at Oil Mill Street Security HQ, Lagos); Castlereagh Interrogation Centre, Northern Ireland and at my Herefordshire home on 3 December 1998, by seven detectives of the Ministry of Defence Police. [See ‘Brushes With The Law’, below]
Scoops included the Provisional IRA’s penetration of Civil Rights Movement, 1969; exposure of discreet euthanasia at a home for congenitally disabled children; the Angolan mercenary story, 1976 (which generated an assassination contract on me); the Ronan Point tower block collapse in East London, 1968, which led me into the wrecked building to seek the cause. My accurate guesses enraged the authorities.
RAF Hastings parachute aircraft crash near Abingdon, 1965, in which all 41 on board were killed due to the failure of a tail bolt. As a former Parachute Regiment soldier I was shockingly familiar with the aircraft and the equipment, particularly the bloodied seat harnesses. I had trained at Abingdon on just that aircraft and jumped into its proposed drop zone at Weston On The Green. The aircraft’s identification number was also chillingly close to home: TG 577.
The Aberfan disaster, Wales, 1966, when 144 people including 116 children were killed by a massive slide of pit waste. It still generates flashbacks. My small daughters greeted me on my return, "What have you brought home from Wales, Daddy?"