Sneak Peek Extract:
Stop Press, 11 April 1955
Eric Wharton, the popular newspaper columnist, was today drowned in a fall from New Brighton ferry.
From an editorial, 13 April 1955
So Eric Wharton has gone on his way; on the way we must all one day follow. He will leave a gap in many lives. Popular alike with his colleagues and his many readers, he was a true man of the people who told the truth as he saw it without fear or favour. Liverpool- born, he travelled the world but always stayed true to his roots. He was admired by most, and even those he criticised in his column respected him. He once famously wrote that if he were a stick of seaside rock, the word he would want to be printed all the way through him would be Honesty. He need not have feared, and surely now that quality has earned him his place in Heaven.
NEWSPAPERMAN’S LAST WORDS DISPUTED.
JOURNALIST “DISTRACTED” BEFORE DEATH.
The Liverpool coroner today recorded a verdict of accidental death in the case of newspaper columnist Eric Wharton.
On the afternoon of the 11th of April, Mr. Wharton fell overboard from the Royal Iris ferry. Crewmen were alerted by members of the public, but were unable to rescue Mr. Wharton. His body was subsequently recovered by the Liverpool coastguard.
In court, colleagues of the journalist described how he had seemed “preoccupied” or “distracted” in the weeks preceding the accident, to the extent that he became unable to write his popular newspaper column. An unfinished draft was found in his typewriter, complaining of his inability to think and ending with the apparently random words “looking over my shoulder.”
Passengers on the ferry, on which Mr. Wharton regularly used to travel to his home in New Brighton, observed that he gave the impression of “looking or listening” for someone on board. Several passengers reported that he appeared to be trying to brush ash or some other substance from his clothes, though he had apparently not been smoking. His preoccupation may have left him unaware that he was dangerously close to the rail, where his actions caused him to lose his balance. While a number of witnesses agreed that he uttered a cry as he fell, there was dispute as to whether the word was “leave” or “believe.”
Mr. Wharton’s housekeeper, Mrs. Kitty Malone, was overcome by emotion several times while giving an account of her employer’s mental condition. She described how Mr. Wharton became critical of her tidiness, which he had previously praised in his column, and would straighten the bed she had made “as if he thought I’d left some nasty thing in it.” She further testified that Mr. Wharton seemed to grow determined to embrace his faith in his final days, frequently repeating the word “Christian” to himself.
The coroner concluded that while the balance of Mr. Wharton’s mind may have been to some extent disturbed, there was no evidence of intent for suicide, and insufficient reason for a verdict of death by misadventure.
Eric Wharton was born in Liverpool in 1904. He attended St. Edward’s College and subsequently went up to Oxford. In the Second World War he was awarded the DSO…