Sixty-five years ago today, the world lost a remarkable young man who could almost have been my father, but never quite made it.
Peter Donald Fox, 30-year-old journalist from Preston in Northern England, with a bright future ahead of him. When he visited a friend in Cyprus in December 1956, Peter had no idea that he would never be coming back home. He had no idea that he would never realise his dreams to be a foreign correspondent, never write the book he had started drafting. Perhaps most sadly of all, he had no idea he would never again see the girl he loved. Never marry her, never have children with her, never grow old with her. The thing is, Kismet had other surprises in store for him.
In many ways I have always thought of Peter Fox as my father. I have always loved him, admired him, even envied him – his cleverness, his striking looks, his intrepid spirit – all this based on the countless stories my mother brought me up on. Tales of Peter Fox. The name almost became biblical to me. A name to be cherished, remembered, adored. Peter Fox, my mother’s lost fiance; my almost-father.
On December 8th 1956, Peter was standing outside the Katsellis cinema in the fishing village of Kyrenia, trying to decide which film to go to. He was staying with his friend, also a journalist, who happened to live and work in Cyprus. (My future father, as a matter of fact – but that’s another story.) Peter had been on the island three weeks by then, temping for The Times of Cyprus. He’d thought himself lucky – a vacancy had arisen shortly after his arrival due to the untimely death of the previous journalist at the hands of a Greek-Cypriot terrorist. A hater of the English. Oh, the dark irony of it all. Peter had considered staying longer in Cyprus, perhaps reporting on the recent Suez Canal crisis that the entire world was ranting about. How inspired he was, how excited; how proudly he wrote home to his fiancee. And there she was, the young and naive Molly Williams, pining away for him back in the Victorian backstreets of Preston.
Oh, the dark irony of it all.
While Peter was pondering which film to go to, a black car cruised along the sun-baked street, slowed down, and stopped. The shaded driver wound down the window. Narrowed his eyes. Aimed his automatic at the tall Englishman. Pulled the trigger.
Direct hit. Peter died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.
These are the words my mother read the following day.
I don’t think she ever fully recovered from that telegram. I always remember her telling me, right from my childhood, “The day Peter died, something died in me as well.” But at least she had her own small claim to fame, thanks to the interest of the local newspapers in Preston and Nicosia. Small comfort in the grand scale of things, but at least some comfort. Knowing that her unendurable loss was publicly acknowledged.
Knowing that Peter, who had been a passionate journalist, was now the very subject of other journalists’ articles.
Peter died a solitary man: unmarried, childless, with nothing to leave behind other than a boxful of letters to my mother. I now have those letters. The world should have been his oyster; instead, it was his executioner. But now, via the pages of my novel, Infinite Stranger, he will be resurrected. His life will not have been in vain.
Did you have a good look at the title photo I chose for this post? The one of Peter and my mother standing side by side, both of them like two Hollywood film stars? I always loved that photo: the vintage elegance, the chiseled profiles, the entwined legs, the star-crossed togetherness of those two beautiful young people. In my childhood I once asked my mother what she was looking at through the lens of her binoculars. She said:
“The future, darling. The future Peter and I should have had.”
So here’s to their born-again future.
8 thoughts on “Peter Fox – lost in time”
A beautiful, but tragic, story. The picture at the top really does feel like it’s from a movie, and it feels so full of hope and promise. But then, after learning how the story ends, the picture just fills one with a sense of grief and sadness over what might have been…
…but, if he had been your father, you would have ended up a completely different person, and we wouldn’t be reading this blog right now…
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That is so true! In fact, I wouldn’t be here at all!
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After bumping into Angela in Penwortham recently and enquiring how you were, Wendy, I decided to look you up on facebook. Was lovely to read your story and see the newspaper
cuttings of your Mother and her beloved Peter Fox. Molly was indeed a remarkable and kind lady who I still often think about. She holds a special place in my memories and
.of times when we worked together at Securicor. She often gave me invaluable advice. She helped so many people and particularly other colleagues over the years there in her role as Shop Steward. She always gave words of encouragement whenever I had a problem. She was so proud of you and also of Peter (Pepe as fondly called him). i hope you and family are all well.
Best wishes to you all.
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Thank you so much, Margaret. Yes, my mother was a very special lady and adored by many people. A devoted mother, but not always the easiest person to deal with from a daughter’s point of view. I’ve written a novel based on our complex relationship, involving memories of Peter Fox, and also a certain Benedictine monk with whom I fell in love – don’t know if my mother ever told you about him? Anyway, the novel is now finished, ready to submit to agents for hopeful publication one day, fingers crossed! (Please do send me a message on FB – I couldn’t find you…)
Wendy. I am Peter Fox’s niece. Margaret Fox was my mother. The whole Fox family was estranged for one reason or another. Billy,Mary, Raymond, Margaret, Peter.Mum read about the shooting and raced up to Preston. She not only found Molly but also her father who she hadn’t seen since the 1930s. She brought Molly back to our home in Malvern. I know she went back to Cyprus.Raymond, brother #2 Navigator in a Lancaster bomber,shot down over Germany,in Stalag 9 . I met him and also Mary. VERY dim memories of Edna the mother. The whole family fought all the time.
Susan, that is amazing – thank you so much for writing! I thought there was no one left who would remember Peter Fox, and then lo and behold, up popped your comment this morning! I truly feel that I knew Peter, even though he died before I was born. I remember my mother talking about his very complex family, and her weekend trip to Malvern to stay with Margaret, your mother. Here is my FB page: https://www.facebook.com/wendy.skorupski.9/
Please do get in touch, and thank you again for your very meaningful comment.
So wonderful to be in contact with you. ‘Hands Across The Sea’ FYI I was born in 1943.
YEARS ago, when I was ‘digging about’ I came across the name of Charles Foley, editor of the Cyprus Times. I found a US Penguin copy of Legacy of Strife Cyprus from rebellion to civil war.1964. It was originally published as Island in Revolt by Longmans in1962. If you don’t have this book I’d be happy to mail it to you. I wrote to him regarding the UK press reporting that Peter had been mistaken for a UK serviceman. Foley wrote back a very terse note more or less saying Rubbish. ‘Complex family’ How tactful! I have more background. My mother sparked an ‘investigation’ by the police and MI6 after Peter’s death. Somehow she was contacted by the press and said she did not want ‘his death revenged’. This prompted a visit from THE senior police officer in Worcestershire who was completely out of his depth. He stayed questioning her for hours.She ran circles around him BUT she failed to recognize his offer to take her mail to the post office for her. Only later did she realize that her mail was probably opened. NO IDEA whether the phone was tapped; probably not in the 1950s.
I had my DNA done a couple of years ago. I always suspected that Margaret’s family was Irish. There is a reference to William Fox in a Bed and Breakfast in the UK a labourer from Ireland. He called Margaret ‘Patsy Mick’.During the blackout in the war she carried a ‘shillelagh’ for protection. I am almost 50% 50% Irish and Scandinavian which fits in with both my parent’s background. Looking at a family tree I think there was a son Paul born in 1914 who must have died in infancy.
Thank you so much for sharing all that, Susan. Do you use Facebook? There’s so much I want to ask you and talk to you about regarding Peter Fox, but I’d prefer to do it via a private Facebook message than on this public forum for comments. In the meantime, I can just say that yes, I have a copy of Island in Revolt (but thanks anyway for the kind offer to send me one), and my mother also met Charles Foley. She often talked about him, as well as her visit to Peter’s sister Margaret in Malvern. Those must have been strange times for her, just following Peter’s death, when she was still grieving and in shock. Did you ever actually meet Peter? From all the photos I have, he certainly looks tall, distinguished and handsome!