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John Izbicki obituary | Telegraph Media Group


John Izbicki, who has died aged 91, was a journalist with the Telegraph for 30 years, covering the City, education and then Paris. A Jewish refugee from nazism, he arrived in Britain at the age of nine on 3 September 1939, the day that the UK declared war on Germany following the invasion of Poland.

He had been born Horst Ibicki in Berlin, the son of Selma and Leonard Izbicki, who had moved to Berlin from Kolberg (now Kołobrzeg, in Poland) after the first world war. His father’s haberdashery store was one of 7,500 Jewish businesses attacked in 1938 on Kristallnacht. He always said that he shouted himself so hoarse during the attacks that his vocal cords never fully recovered. His father managed to get visas and train tickets and they prepared to leave.

On his first morning in the UK, Horst and his mother had slept in a Leicester police cell, and woke to the smell of frying bacon. The kindly station sergeant asked the hungry boy his name. The reply, “Horst, sir”, prompted the response: “What sort of name is that?” Over his first bacon breakfast Izbicki and the policeman negotiated, and John emerged both fully committed to bacon and to renaming himself John, after the sergeant’s son.

Eventually the Izbickis settled in Manchester, where John went to North Manchester grammar. He left at 16, did national service with the Royal Army Service Corps, read French and German at Nottingham University, went into journalism in Manchester and in 1959 joined the then Daily Telegraph.

His background gave him a lifelong desire to help all refugees. He was regularly involved in the Jewish community, providing witness evidence, help organise Holocaust memorials, including speaking at Westminster Abbey.

As his autobiography, Between the Lines (2013) recalls, his Fleet Street days included a friendship with Margaret Thatcher, begun when she was education secretary after he rescued her from a drunken journalist at a headteachers’ conference by asking her to dance. He also enjoyed warm relations with the teaching unions, notably the NAHT and NUT, and performed regular comedy turns at their conferences.

John, a campaigner for educational reform, left the Daily Telegraph in 1989 to become public affairs director to the Committee of Directors of Polytechnics and played a leading role in their successful campaign to become universities. He then became became communications director at one, the University of North London.

We became friends in the 1990s when I was editing Guardian Education and John was looking for a school with refugee pupils for a concert in the Royal Albert Hall. I introduced him to my husband, Terry Farrell, then head of a comprehensive in Haringey, St David and St Katherine, where black pupils made up 90% of the school, including many refugees; it also had a gospel choir.

In 1972 John married Maureen Ryan. She died when their son, Paul, was six; Paul settled in Australia, where his son, Tyler, was born.

When in 1986 John married June Walker, a special needs teacher, she already had two children, Patrick and Anna, from her first marriage, so providing what he called his “off-the-peg family”.

He is survived by June, Paul, Patrick, Anna and his grandson, Tyler.