Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Dandy with a Core of Steel; the Mail's Ross Benson, Who Died Today, Was a Bon Viveur and Brilliant Foreign Correspondent. Here a Colleague Pays Tribute to His Unique Talent

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Dandy with a Core of Steel; the Mail's Ross Benson, Who Died Today, Was a Bon Viveur and Brilliant Foreign Correspondent. Here a Colleague Pays Tribute to His Unique Talent

Article excerpt

Byline: KEITH DOVKANTS

IT WAS the beginning of the Intifada in Jerusalem in September 2000.

Ross Benson and I were covering the funerals of some Palestinian fighters and the atmosphere was very tense. As we walked towards a barricade where a crowd of youths were stoning Israeli soldiers, there was a burst of gunfire behind us. We both dived towards a very slender tree to take cover as the Israeli soldiers fired back.

In moments, a full-scale gun fight had broken out with us in the middle of it.

"Now what?" I shouted at Ross.

"Now," he said, standing up and brushing off his trousers, "we run like f***!"

And run we did. Many times afterwards, Ross would joke about how quickly one can run when truly frightened. But I have often wondered whether Ross really was afraid. It was all a splendid game to him, a game played by putting oneself in danger and then writing about it. The more danger, the better the copy. When I was told that Ross Benson had died at home in Belgravia, in bed this morning of a massive heart attack, aged 56 my first reaction was disbelief. This was a man who had courted death and laughed about it afterwards.

All who knew him expected him to carry on doing it for years to come.

We met often over the past 25 years, sometimes in war zones, sometimes in the bar of a firstclass hotel. Ross was equally at home in both. With his immaculately coiffed, wavy blond hair, elegantly cut suits and a flowing silk handkerchief he may have appeared to some to be a fop. He had a languid manner that may have reinforced the impression of a dandy, but Ross Benson was all steel within.

We first met in Buenos Aires in the Spring of 1982, when Britain and Argentina were squaring up for war in the Falklands. Over the next three months we saw each other every day as we covered the war from the Argentinian side and, when time allowed, indulged in a game of Ross's beloved football.

We didn't see much action in Argentina, apart from the occasional riot and hostility from locals, but Ross had, by then, already been in the thick of one of the world's most perilous war zones. In 1979, when he was working for the Daily Express, he and the paper's distinguished photographer John Downing linked up with the Mujahideen forces fighting the Russians in Afghanistan.

The two, disguised as Mujahideen, covered the cruel attrition of the guerrilla war for six weeks and, for the dispatches Ross sent back to London, he was awarded Foreign Reporter of the Year.

He was just 30, and had already been in Fleet Street for 11 years. He was brought up in Glasgow, although his rather clipped voice bore no trace of a Scottish accent, and he was educated at Gordonstoun. He told me once that he had shared classes with Prince Charles and, during his early career in Fleet Street, had written some harmless piece about their school days. …

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