Tony Heath obituary

·3 min read

My father, Tony Heath, who has died aged 96, was a journalist, local politician and campaigner for justice. Over more than 30 years he wrote for newspapers and journals including the Guardian, Independent, Observer, New Statesman, New Society and Private Eye.

Writing for Tribune magazine in August 1973 as its education correspondent, he was the first person to use the term “Thatcherism”, signposting its shortcomings as a political philosophy. He wrote: “It will be argued that teachers are members of a profession which must not be influenced by political considerations. With the blight of Thatcherism spreading across the land that is a luxury that only the complacent can afford.”

One of two sons of Jimmy Heath, a pit foreman at the Tredegar colliery, and Kathleen (nee Harding), Tony was born in Tredegar, south Wales, and went to the local school. He was called up for second world war service, and took part in the D-day landings.

On 25 April 1945, he was serving with the 13th/18th Royal Hussars Armoured Corps on the outskirts of Bremen when the Sherman tank he was in took a direct hit from a German tank. Tony managed to bail out but saw his best mate, Eddie Moulding, trapped and burned to death. Tony’s hearing was permanently damaged and for the rest of his life he suffered nightmares about what he had witnessed.

After the war Tony took part in the clearing-up process, including escorting trains from one sector in Berlin to another to exchange supplies. On his return to Britain he worked for PR companies in London. His last PR job was for the American-owned advertising agency Foote, Cone and Belding in Baker Street. His departure followed his decision to take a day’s leave and hand out leaflets at the FCB entrance calling for the withdrawal of American forces from Vietnam.

In London he met Dorothea Smither (nee Hill), a widow with two sons, who was then working as a fashion model. They married in 1954 and settled in Reigate, Surrey. In the 1960s Tony was elected a member of Surrey county council for the Labour party. He gave vociferous support to staff from the Guildford School of Art who in 1968 were sacked by the council for having supported a student sit-in.

In 1974 my parents upped sticks to Blaenau Ffestiniog, north Wales, where Tony resumed his career as a journalist. In the 1980s, reporting for the Guardian on the second homes bombing campaign and the Sons of Glendower nationalist movement, he was tipped off that a cache of arms from Ireland would be landed at Black Rock sands in Gwynedd in the small hours. As he hid in the dunes and waited for the boat, his watch was interrupted by armed Security Service personnel who wanted to know what he was doing there. Possibly alerted by their bright lights, the boat never arrived.

My father never formally retired and his byline continued to appear in various publications when he was into his 80s. Dorothea died in 2012, and Tony spent the last nine years of his life in a residential home in Hay-on-Wye.

Tony’s brother, Peter, predeceased him. He is survived by me.

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