Peter Avis

As a young man Peter Avis joined the Communist party and became areporter on the Daily Worker (later the Morning Star)

The veteran journalist, Peter Avis, who has died aged 83, worked and contributed for years to the Observer as a writer and subeditor. He had a lifelong love of France, and made tireless efforts to overcome the deep-rooted French-hating tendencies of the English. Peter had a flat in Dieppe for the past 10 years, and was made an honorary citizen of the town. The Dieppois were won over by a bon vivant, a perfect networker always ready with a smile and often a pertinent suggestion for improvements to the town and the preservation of the cross-Channel ferry link.

Born in London, he was educated at Surbiton grammar and the London School of Economics, and at the Sorbonne in Paris. As a young man Peter joined the Communist party and became a reporter and subeditor on its newspaper the Daily Worker (later the Morning Star), eventually appointed diplomatic correspondent. When the party imploded in the early 1990s he threw in his lot with the breakaway Democratic Left; in more recent times, he transferred his energies to the Greens in Brighton, the other town that claimed his loyalties and where he lived for much of the time.

During his long connection with the Observer, he worked on many sections, news, travel, syndication. In France, he was employed by l’Humanité, the leftwing newspaper, with the difficult job of interpreting British affairs for a sometimes bewildered French readership. He took great pleasure in interviewing and reporting on the bigwigs of his day, but one of his most enjoyable tasks was writing his Taste of Dieppe, a very individual and offbeat guide to the resort which was provided free to ferry passengers from Newhaven.

From 1976, Peter organised and led an annual Great Dieppe Trip for mainly Brightonians. The groups consisted of politicians, former mayors, artists, journalists, teachers, of all shades of opinion, from truculent anarchists through New Labour to unreconstructed Stalinists and well-behaved Marxists. Somehow Peter was able to ride shotgun with this multifarious crew, and interest them all with visits to the cultural jewels of deepest Normandy.

Throughout the year, he also laid on exhibitions and trips to the port by students, amid his crowded journalistic agenda. In the town, he was a familiar, bustling and well-loved figure, a vigorous cannonball of a man, calling in at his favourite restaurants, shopping in the street markets and gossiping with neighbours.

A tireless campaigner, Peter remained above all delightfully human, as well as a humanitarian. It did not take much persuading to get him to sing, a glass of wine in one hand and a roguish twinkle in his eyes, a chorus or two of one of his favourite songs: The Wild Irish Rover.

He is survived by his third wife, Elzbieta; and by two children, Sean and Siobhan, from his second marriage, to Liz. His son Tomas, by his first wife, Jirina, was killed aged 29 in a road accident.

peter avis

Peter worked his first subediting shift at the Observer in the 1960s and worked for the paper periodically over the next four decades, finally departing in 2003 after 14 years’ continuous service. In the 1970s he was a reporter for the Morning Star, ultimately becoming its diplomatic correspondent, and in the 80s edited the journal of the ACTT, the film technicians’ union. A lifelong francophile, he spent his last 30 years shuttling between England and France, annually publishing A Taste of Dieppe, a popular guide to the French resort for British tourists, and becoming an honorary citizen and resident of the town. He also worked until the end of his life as London correspondent of l’Humanité, the French leftwing daily. Avis filed news stories and features for the Observer and Guardian until 2012. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the annual Brighton Festival and cultivated his connections in the British labour movement by hosting parties for leading lights of the Labour party whenever its conference was in the town.

He was a long-standing member of the Communist party, yet in 1989 during Czechoslovakia’s “velvet revolution” he marched with the dissidents and was harassed by the police. More recently, he supported the Green party in Brighton.

The Observer’s deputy editor, Paul Webster, said yesterday: “Peter was a man of passionately held convictions, who threw himself into everything he cared about – journalism, radical politics, his beloved Dieppe, his many friends and his family. His one-man crusade to burnish links across the Channel, fuelled by endless bonhomie, was characteristic of a much-loved man.”

Ron Gillings

January 2013