My friend Andrew Wilson, who has died aged 97, was, quintessentially, a journalist and writer – his last article (co-authored with his wife, Nina Bachkatov) was published less than a month before his death.
Born in Herne Bay, Kent, to Florence (nee Spindler), a nurse, and Andrew Wilson, a retired military officer, he was educated at the King’s school, Canterbury. He volunteered on his 18th birthday and served in the Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment), becoming a captain commanding a squadron of Crocodile flame-throwing tanks. Flame Thrower (1956) is his moving account of their battles from Normandy through France, Belgium, and Holland and into Germany. Demobilised in 1946, he read philosophy, politics and economics at Exeter College, Oxford.
His journalistic career began on local newspapers. He worked briefly for the Daily Express and then for the BBC World Service. An article about a trip to Afghanistan secured him a job at the Observer. In 1961 he published North from Kabul, a fuller account of his journey from Afghanistan to Turkey and Iran.
Andrew found his journalistic home at the Observer. He took pride and pleasure in working for a paper whose values he shared. As Africa correspondent, he and his first wife, Eva (nee Mendelsohn), lived in Nairobi, but travelled widely. In 1962 he fell critically ill, was flown back to London on a stretcher and took many months to get well.
When he recovered he became defence and aviation correspondent (1963–79), then foreign editor (1979-82) and associate editor (1971-89). He also wrote The Bomb and the Computer (1968), The Observer Atlas of World Affairs (1971), The Concorde Fiasco (1973) and The Aegean Question (1980). He and Eva separated in the late 1980s and she died in 1999.
In 1986 he went to Moscow as the Observer’s correspondent. There he met Nina, who was correspondent for the Belgian newspaper Le Soir. From 1988 onwards they commuted between Moscow and Brussels. When Andrew finally retired from the Observer, he and Nina set up the European Press Agency to publish Inside Russia & Eurasia, an online analytical report. They also co-authored Living with Glasnost (1988) and Russia Revised (1992).
They were married in 1999. In 2009, at the age of 86, Andrew was awarded a PhD in military history by the Catholic University of Leuven. He was by far the oldest graduate in the university’s history.
Andrew loved living in Brussels and being part of Nina’s family. He developed deep personal relations with her children and grandchildren. He is survived by Nina, his step-children Denis and Anne-Cйcile, and step-grandchildren Marie, Adrien, Maxime and Henri.
Donald Trelford recalled this anecdote about Andrew. “Heseltine, when he was Defence Secretary, once complained to me (Donald) that Andrew turned up at press conferences wearing a CND badge, I told him that I would urge Andrew to wear his MC at the next one.” Incidentally, you will see from The Guardian piece that there is no mention of the MC. Andrew was a very modest man.