When I started out in science journalism there were three giants of the trade practising on UK national newpapers: Pearce Wright on The Times, Anthony (Phil) Tucker on The Guardian and David Fishlock, my predecessor, on the FT.
David, the last survivor of the trio, died suddenly on Friday at the age 77. He was the FT’s science editor from 1967 to 1991, bridging the worlds of research and business with great skill.
While he covered myriad subjects for the paper – and was adept at identifying new fields that would later lead to important industries – David was known particularly for three things.
The first was his coverage of the early biotechnology companies emerging in the US and UK in the 1970s and early 80s. This culminated in a much-praised book The Business of Biotechnology published by the FT in 1982.
Second was David’s feel for the management of industrial research and development. On retiring from the FT, he founded and wrote a newsletter R&D Efficiency, which explored strategies through interviews with decision-makers responsible for large R&D budgets. He was also a stalwart supporter of the R&D Society.
But David’s greatest professional passion was for nuclear power. He lost no opportunity for write about advances in nuclear science and technology in the FT – though the paper also benefited from his contacts and expertise when things went wrong, as for example during the 1986 Chernobyl crisis.
His only son, Bill, tells me that after retirement David was an active member of SONE, a group of nuclear supporters in which Sir Bernard Ingham, Margaret Thatcher’s ex-press secretary was also involved. He also enjoyed the company of a less formal grouping of veteran nuclear industry watchers, the Windscale Fire Club, who regularly deliberated in a London wine bar.
David was a large and convivial man, loving food, drink and conversation. And, despite heart disease and dire medical warnings, he continued to enjoy himself to the end.
But as FT science editor, he kept himself apart from his fellow science correspondents. He knew the FT needed a different type of science coverage to the other newspapers and would never follow Pearce Wright, Phil Tucker and the rest. For instance he did not attend the great ritual gathering of science journalists – the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (now the British Science Festival) – and covered the BA only from the papers available in advance. When I arrived at the FT as technology editor, he was delighted for me to go and pick up stories at the conference.
David was the right science editor at the right time for the FT. My condolences go to his widow Mary, whom he married 50 years ago, and to Bill.