Chris Chataway

From Academic Kids

The Right Honourable Sir Christopher John Chataway (born January 31, 1931) was a champion athlete, pioneering television news broadcaster, and a Conservative politician.

Missing image
Chris Chataway breaking the world record for the three miles on July 30, 1955

Chataway attended Sherborne School before going up to Magdalen College, Oxford where his studies were overshadowed by his success on the athletics track as a long-distance runner. At the Helsinki Olympic Games of 1952, he took fifth place in the 5000 metres. On leaving university he took an executive job with Guinness. When Sir Hugh Beaver of Guinness came up with the idea of the Guinness Book of Records, it was Chataway who suggested his old University friends Norris and Ross McWhirter as editors, knowing of their liking for facts.

Chataway continued with his running. When Roger Bannister ran the first sub-4 minute mile, his close friend Chataway was one of his pacemakers. He was edged into second place in the 5000 metres at the European Athletics Championship of 1954, recording the same time as the winner Vladimir Kuts, but two weeks later turned the tables at a London v. Moscow athletics competition, setting a world record time of 13 minutes 51.6 seconds. The contest was televised via the Eurovision network and made Chataway a sporting celebrity; that December he won the first BBC Sports Personality of the Year award. After competing in the 1956 Olympics, Chataway retired from athletics.

He used his fame to make a drastic career move, signing up as a newscaster for ITN. He was the first face to be seen on the first news bulletin on the new channel. However, he did not stay long, transferring to the BBC in April 1956 to work in the current affairs department. By this time he was also considering another career, this time in politics. He had been narrowly elected as a Conservative to the London County Council in 1958 in Lewisham North, and was then selected to stand for Parliament in the same seat. Lewisham North was a highly marginal seat won by Labour in a byelection in 1957, but Chataway's charm helped to win the seat with a majority bigger than it had been in the previous general election.

His maiden speech expressed the hope that the England cricket team would refuse to play a tour in apartheid South Africa, a highly unusual opinion for a Conservative at this time which marked him out as an extremely progressive Tory. In Parliament Chataway took up the issue of refugees, especially in Africa, and campaigned so hard during World Refugee Year that he was awarded a Nansen Medal. He served as a Parliamentary Private Secretary before being appointed as a junior Education Minister in July 1962. In the 1964 election, his majority was slashed to 343 and the seat looked distinctly vulnerable; in 1966 he lost.

Chataway then returned to London local government. After the Conservatives won control of the Greater London Council in 1967 he was elected as a County Alderman, and the Inner London Education Authority co-opted him, without election, as a member of the Education Committee, and made him Leader. This was an odd move; it was ordered by Edward Heath who wanted to block the right-wing councillor Seton Forbes-Cockell from taking the post.

With controversy over selection growing, Heath did not want Chataway and the ILEA to launch a confrontation with the Labour government, as Forbes-Cockell would have done. Chataway ran a consensual ILEA that did not attempt a root and branch change to the way education had been run. The London Borough council elections of 1968 increased his majority.

However Chataway was desperate to get back into Parliament, and the opportunity came in a byelection in Chichester in May 1969. He then resigned as ILEA Leader. His closeness to Edward Heath led to an appointment as Minister of Posts and Telecommunications in June 1970. In this post he took charge of introducing commercial radio for the first time, ending the BBC monopoly. After a reshuffle in April 1972 he was Minister for Industrial Development.

When the Conservatives were defeated in 1974, Chataway announced his retirement from politics (at the age of 43) and he did not seek re-election that October. He then went into business, becoming Managing Director of Orion Bank. and a Director of British Electrical Traction Ltd. He was given some public appointments including the Chairmanship of the Civil Aviation Authority; he also remained active in support of African charities. He supported his friend Chris Brasher when he established the London Marathon, and has been President of the Commonwealth Games Council for England since 1990. He was Knighted in 1995.

Preceded by:
new award
BBC Sports Personality of the Year
Succeeded by:
Gordon Pirie
Preceded by:
(post not established)
Leader of the Inner London Education Authority
Succeeded by:
Lena Townsend

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