It is with great sadness that we mark the passing of Sir Christopher Chataway, legendary British athlete, broadcaster, politician and businessman.
Sir Chris had been diagnosed with cancer two and a half years ago and passed away at St John’s Hospice, London in the early hours of Sunday, January 19th 2014 (GMT). Despite his illness, he had agreed to be interviewed for A Life Unexpected in November of 2011, making the trip down to Oxford University to reunite with long-time friend Sir Roger Bannister on camera and, according to his son Mark, continued to use his exercise bike up until a few weeks ago. He had also continued his running for as long as possible, telling director, Sally McLean, via email in late 2012 that he was still doing “a few gentle miles” each day.
In Sir Chris’ obituary in The Scotsman, Sir Roger is quoted as saying he would “sorely” miss his friend of more than five decades, describing him as “gallant to the end”.
“Our friendship dated back over more than half a century. We laughed, ran and commiserated together.
“People will always remember him for the great runner he was, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that he had an extremely distinguished career off the track.”
We agree. It was a joy and a privilege to meet and interview the man who was the first newsreader for ITV London, a former journalist for the BBC’s Panorama and Horizon programmes, the creator of an Independent Broadcasting Authority and legalization of up to 60 local commercial radio stations in the UK, the former Chairman of LBC Radio and latterly the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority – for which he received a knighthood for services to aviation in 1995 – just to name a few of his achievements in his long and varied career.
Sir Chris was also heavily involved in social reform and environmental issues – as a Tory MP he was the co-sponsor of Humphry Berkeley’s Bill to legalise homosexuality in the UK in 1965 (which would be successfully enacted in 1967) and a supporter of South African sporting event boycotts in the face of Apartheid, was a major player in the creation of the UN 1960 World Refugee Year (which raised £9 million in Britain alone), and became chairman of Groundwork (an environmental charity), before taking the position of chairman of ActionAid and treasurer of the National Campaign for Electoral Reform, among many other notable efforts.
But many will remember him best for his successes on the sporting field as one of the two runners (the other being Chris Brasher) who supported Roger Bannister to break the Four Minute Mile record in May of 1954, his place as a duel Olympian for Great Britain (1952 & 1956) and for his spectacular win against Vladimir Kuts at White City Stadium, London in the 5,000m – televised live to a reported 12 million viewers in 1954, which resulted in Chris breaking the 5,000m World Record and winning the inaugural BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.
We are so grateful to have had the opportunity to speak to Sir Chris on camera for the documentary and ensure his memories and thoughts about his time training with Franz, Roger and Chris Brasher are on tape for posterity. And we feel privileged to have witnessed and engaged with the strong friendship between Sir Chris and Sir Roger that came through so joyously during their joint interview for the film, beside the track that made them household names.
Chris was a delightful human being, a scholar and a gentleman, with a keen wit and a mischievous sense of humour who touched the lives of so many in such positive ways – and he most certainly left the world a better place through his work and achievements.
Our thoughts and condolences go out to his wife Carola, his children and extended family and friends at this sad time.
We are the richer for his presence and he will be truly missed.
Sir Christopher Chataway: 31 January, 1931 – 19 January, 2014.
Sir Christopher Chataway Obituary (The Guardian):
Sir Christopher Chataway Obituary (BBC):
Sir Christopher Chataway Obituary (The Scotsman):
Christopher Chataway’s World Record Breaking run against Vladimir Kuts, White City, 1954: