Surrey CCC were saddened to hear of the recent death of Honorary Life Vice President Ken Lawrence, who passed away last week aged 90.
Below, Richard Spiller, pays tribute to a great man of Fleet Street, cricket and Surrey CCC.
Ken Lawrence was a journalist who saw sport in many dimensions.
As sports editor of the Daily Express and then Sunday Express over a quarter of a century, he led teams of journalists who provided comprehensive coverage in the heyday of Fleet Street, when print editions sold many millions of copies each day, their reach more widespread than the limited coverage which existed on television at the time.
Lawrence appreciated the importance of all sports, yet cricket was his first love and he saw it as far more than a vehicle for selling newspapers. A long-time member of both Surrey and MCC, he was proud of his lengthy involvement with the Lord’s Taverners, which included being chairman in 1995-96.
A passion for encouraging youth to participate in sport, he was the inspiration behind the Taverners’ inner-city programme for youngsters and the Daily Express Boys Golf Tournament.
Lawrence was heavily involved in the organisation of the Surrey Youth Year in 1990, designed to build on and promote the success of the Nescafe-sponsored coaching scheme which had produced so many homegrown players for the county squad. Working in tandem with appeal chairman Mike Soper, it raised in the region of £200,000, helped by its patron John Major, who duly celebrated by moving from No 11 to No 10 Downing Street towards its climax, although not even Ken’s extensive organising abilities and network of allies could have swung that.
But the reach of his contact book was quite formidable, built up over many years at the Express offices in Fleet Street, known as the Black Lubianka because of its darkened glass frontage. Competition with other national newspapers was formidable and the benevolent Lawrence, who had been the paper’s northern sports editor before moving to London, was owed an opening by hundreds of journalists over whose lives and careers he maintained a benevolent interest.
Lawrence, having begun his career in Berkshire, had to deal with editors as disparate as Alastair Burnet, Derek Jameson and Larry Lamb – who as a fan of Geoffrey Boycott kept an especially keen eye on the cricket coverage – in an age of journalism utterly alien to the modern day. It was before mobile phones or the internet had been invented and contact between journalists and sportsmen was often direct, rather than going through press officers.
Trust was a key element with many close friendships formed. Knowledge of where to find key contacts – and staff – required an encyclopaedic knowledge of where they socialised as much as where they lived.
A prime example of his work came in 1978, following the football World Cup, when he heard that the Argentinian pair Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa were about to sign for Spurs. It became a “world exclusive” for the Express and Lawrence also ensured they gained the first interview with the duo by despatching a reporter to intercept them en route at Madrid Airport.
After leaving the Express, Lawrence became media liaison officer for the Test & County Cricket Board but always felt more comfortable as poacher rather than gamekeeper. His long involvement with cricket continued for many years and involved authoring “A Century of Cornhill Tests” in 1995. Even in retirement he would invariably know the story behind the story, which would be divulged with the familiar wolfish smile.
He was made an honorary life vice-president of Surrey in recognition of his lengthy involvement with the club.
Married to his wife Jean for 66 years, Lawrence leaves a son and a daughter – many hours were spent in the nets with sixpences as reward for achievement – and four grandchildren. His health had deteriorated in recent years and such a sociable man found the side-effects of the pandemic especially difficult.
“It’s time for me to be off,” was one of Ken’s last remarks. Remaining a journalist to his fingertips, he never liked to miss a deadline.