Hugh McIlvanney wins Edgar Wallace award

Hugh McIlvanney, probably the best-known of British sportswriters, was honoured at today’s London Press Club awards at Claridge’s when he was named as the winner of the Edgar Wallace award for fine writing.

McIlvanney, 73, pictured right, continues his work at the Sunday Times following notable spells at The Scotsman, the Daily Express and Observer. He is the second member of the SJA to take the Edgar Wallace award in as many years, following the late Ian Wooldridge 12 months ago.

The Edgar Wallace award is named after the Fleet Street correspondent – he covered the Boer War for the Daily Mail and was a friend and contemporary of Rudyard Kipling – who later became the world’s best-read crime writer. It is yet a further accolade for McIlvanney, who has already won the Sportswriter of the Year award seven times and who is the only sportswriter ever to have been voted the Journalist of the Year.

Over his career, McIlvanney’s reputation has gained him unique access to several leading sports personalities, including Muhammad Ali, Jock Stein, George Best and Sir Alex Ferguson, while the Scot’s ability to turn a phrase usually awes his colleagues. It was McIlvanney, for instance, who accurately observed that British heavyweight Joe Bugner had “the physique of a Greek statue but fewer moves”.

David Randall, in his book The Great Reporters, described McIlvanney thus:

Although his features were sometimes filed to a deadline that bore no relation to the one we in the office were working on, he could, if it came to it, ad lib down the phone a 2,000-word report of a major event that was, when you received it, as inventive, lucid and considered as if it had been written with a goose-quill pen over three weeks. To this talent, he added a capacity for reading and research that bordered on the compulsive. His quest for precision and talent for getting to the essence of anything was best shown in his report on the death of the young, painfully shy boxer Johnny Owen following a bout in Las Vegas:

“Boxing gave Johnny Owen his one positive means of self-expression. Outside the ring he was an inaudible and almost invisible personality. Inside, he became astonishingly positive and self-assured. He seemed to be more at home there than anywhere else. It is his tragedy that he found himself articulate in such a dangerous language.”

The London Press Club‘s awards this year were newsworthy for naming Alan Johnston, the BBC’s kidnapped Gaza correspondent, as broadcasting journalist of the year. Johnston’s father, Graham, and the BBC director general, Mark Thompson, accepted the award on behalf of the journalist, who was seized at gunpoint in Gaza City on March 12 and has not been seen since.

“We nominated Alan for the broadcasting journalist of the year award long before his abduction in Gaza – in recognition of his outstanding journalism over the last three years,” Thompson said. “Alan stayed there so long, and stayed after so many other Western correspondents had left, because he wanted to tell the story of Gaza, and to tell it not from a studio in London or by voicing over pictures taken by an agency or a freelancer thousands of miles away, but on the ground and among the people of Gaza.

“And he wanted to do that with real journalistic values: with humanity but also with objectivity and impartiality. “We are absolutely delighted that Alan’s long-term professionalism and dedication has been recognised by this award but – at the same time – saddened that, in recent weeks, he has had to pay such a high price.”

Other winners at today’s awards, organised by the 115-year-old London Press Club, included the Daily Mirror, which won daily newspaper of the year and scoop of the year for its story about deputy prime minister John Prescott’s affair with his diary secretary Tracey Temple.

The Mail on Sunday won the Sunday newspaper of the year award.

Read Hugh McIlvanney’s recent Sunday Times columns by clicking here