Tony Cornell: driving force of TV and paper sports desks

NORMAN GILLER pays tribute to the former Daily Mirror sports editor, Tony Cornell, who has died after a short illness

Tony Cornell was not the biggest tree in the Fleet Street forest, but the giants could not have grown so strong and resplendent without his skilled planning and plotting, and his planting of ideas in their heads.

Mirror papersA polite and pleasant man, Tony was always generous with his time and the sharing of his talent. He died at the weekend after a mercifully short battle with lung cancer, leaving two empires mourning his departure. He was 82.

Tony straddled the worlds of newspapers and television, usually in the background yet prominent in the final analysis of the coverage of many major sporting events.

He was the driving force on the sports desk of the Daily Mirror for 42 years, and wearing his TV hat he was the hidden dynamo that made Grandstand and Sportsnight tick for the BBC with a smoothness that disguised much of the off-camera pressure and panic.

Tony was the King of Deskmen, the unheralded heroes without whom the newspapers would not meet their deadline and the television programmes would fall off-air.

Always self-effacing, Tony said when dragged kicking and screaming into retirement: “I joined the Mirror in 1956 and hated it so much I only stayed for 42 years.”

We were always friendly rivals, acknowledging each other across the Fleet Street fence. He was never less than likeable, and it hurts to think he has left us so soon after another Daily Mirror master in Monte Fresco.

As well as his dynamic newspaper and television work, Tony also played a blinder on the Reuters desk, always the hidden puppeteer behind the men getting the bylines and the glory.

A prominent and enthusiastic member of the SJA for many years, his last entry in our Yearbook read: “With Mirror blessing, I successfully moonlighted at BBC Television for 32 years, starting with two pilot shows and then the real thing when Grandstand kicked off in 1958. I was also involved from the beginning with both Match of the Day and Sportsnight.”

He also represented the BBC backroom team at the Munich and Moscow Olympics.

Tony never made the headlines. But he was the man who made the men who made the headlines. A true hero of our profession.

Rest easy, old friend.

  • The funeral, at the Surrey and Sussex Crematorium in Crawley, will be on March 6 at 1.45pm. Those friends or colleagues wishing to attend are asked to email Tony’s daughter, at, so that an estimate of numbers attending