He cast a cool, but never cold, eye over the disparate players of a continent which captivated him from the day of his arrival in southern Rhodesia in 1967 to his death on 28 September in Johannesburg at the age of 70 from the effects of emphysema.
He was a newsman of the highest order and a raconteur with an eye for the absurdities as much as the tragedies of the historic pageant he saw unfolding before him in a changing Africa, says the former Reuters correspondent in Africa who now reports from Paris for the New York Times, Alan Cowell.
Christopher Munnions contemporaries in central, eastern and southern Africa included such legendaries as Peter Younghusband of the Daily Mail and Newsweek, John Monks of the Daily Express, Don Wise from the Daily Mirror, Sandy Gall who was later to be the face of ITNs news at Ten, Peter Hawthorne of Time, Wilf Nussey of the Argus Africa News Service (AANS) and James MacManus of The Guardian, plus scores of other intrepid, complicated, extraordinary men and women who delivered the news from one of the worlds most unpredictable places to breakfast tables and newsstands all over the world.
In his 1993 book Banana Sunday Christopher Munnion tells the story of those people in that time the adventures and misadventures of often young, inexperienced and sometimes dangerously nave British correspondents assigned to a continent fresh to freedom.
Modestly, Munnion described Banana Sunday (Banana was a tiny town in West Africa and correspondents vied to see who could be the first to write under such a prestigious dateline, Chris Munnion winning) as a nostalgic frolic and himself as a belatedly minor player in the drama of Africas transition from colonial rule to freedom and independence.
In it he told of his terrifying incarceration at Makindye Military Prison, Idi Amins torture centre and how he heard cellmates clubbing one another to death in the prison yard on the orders of a man who said he loved the Queen.
But throughout this wonderful memoir, lighter moments prevail. At such a time and in such a place it was, as William Wordsworth expressed before the Terror started in France, great to be alive and young.
Africa in the mid-1960s was a tough place to cut journalistic teeth.
Soon after his arrival in southern Africa in mid 1967, hardened hacks in Salisbury and Johannesburg, many of Afrikaner descent and still angry with the British for winning the Boer War, refused to take him seriously.
When Chris first arrived in southern Africa he was promptly tagged The Novice by other foreign correspondents, says Wilf Nussey, ex- head of Argus African News Service (AANS) in Johannesburg. But he soon disproved that and very quickly became respected for his perceptive insight into affairs here and further afield in Africa and for his very readable style of reporting.
Christopher Munnion was born in Chelmsford on 24 April, 1940, the unplanned war baby of Freddie and Wyn Munnion.
He had two older sisters Katherine and Angela and a brother, Monty, who was killed serving as a merchant navy seaman soon after the end of the Second World War. Chris never saw his brother.
The family home was completely destroyed during a bomb attack over Essex and the Munnions moved to Springfield on the edge of town where Freddie became a tenant/landlord at a pub called The Plough. A lover of song and dance, a heavy smoker and locally famous bar-room raconteur, Munnion Snr. entertained customers and organized concert parties, a popular act which locals dubbed Munnions Funnions. He died from emphysema at the early age of 62.
Chris was a pupil at Kind Edward V1 Grammar School in Chelmsford but left when he was 15. The family later moved to Bournemouth where Chris applied for a job as a cub reporter on the Christchurch Times, graduating later to the Yorkshire Post and then on to the Manchester office of the Daily Telegraph before entering head office and Fleet Street at the age of 21.
His marriage to 20 – year old Patsy ended when Chris was posted to the USA for a short time before his promotion as Africa correspondent in 1967.
Chris immersed himself in Rhodesian life. In July 1970, he married Denise the daughter of an RAF officer who had served in Rhodesia during the war.
As Whitehall railed against Rhodesia, Christopher Munnion, James MacManus, John Monks, Peter Younghusband and scores of other men (and the American woman journalist Robin Wright) travelled around freshly independent Africa telling the world what was happening.
t was impossible for any British horseman to ride by and cast what Yeats called a cold eye on post-colonial Africa and perhaps, sadly, Munnions brave and always well-written reports stiffened the will to resist further African advancement in what was left of white-ruled Africa.
Chris told a longstanding friend in Harare after a long lunch at Meikles Hotel in Harare many years ago: I saw it as my job to keep people like the ex- army colonels on the train from Tunbridge Wells to Charing Cross Station well informed and, with a bit of luck, make them laugh now and again.
While reporting on the viler aspects of life in independent Africa, Christopher Munnion was not taken in by the pomposity of Ian Smith and his Christian civilising mission in Rhodesia.
Just before Zimbabwes birth on April 18, 1980, he interviewed Ian Smith at his home in Salisbury (Harare). Asked about the war that cost at least 34,000 African lives between 1972 -1979, Munnion wrote: Smith knew that he was lying and he knew that I knew he was lying.
He claimed that each time Smith lied, a loud thunderclap could be heard overhead.
Chris left the Daily Telegraph in 1990 but continued to work as a freelance reporter and he established himself as an authority on wildlife, co-operating with Randall Moore who rescued African elephants from zoos and safari parks in the US and brought them back to Africa to reintroduce back to the wild. Chris wrote a book called Back to Africa about this great adventure and was working on another about Randalls exploits when he died.
Rodney Pinder, a former editor at Reuters, says that some of Christopher Munnions best writing was on lighter stories such as his coverage of the Liz Taylor Richard Burton re-match wedding in Botswana 1975. Sometimes his pen ran away with him as when he said the Hollywood couple exchanged vows to a background of mating calls by the hippopotami in the Limpopo River. He should have known better. A retired colonel wrote to the Daily Telegraph pointing out this was not the mating season for the hippo in the Limpopo.
Colleagues who admired him, and friends who loved him, can easily imagine the wry smile that crept across Christopher Munnions face when he read this, the latest and perhaps most amusing, complaint about his work on a continent that he so loved and which he clung to until the end.
Even during his last days, Christopher Munnion retained his sense of the ridiculous. Only a few days before his death he was heard in hospital singing, somewhat breathlessly, Bob Dylans Knockin on Heavens Door.
Those who knew him best say hes bound to be let in.
(Christopher Munnion was born on 24 April 1940 at Chelmsford, Essex and he died in Johannesburg on 28 September 2010. He is survived by his wife Denise and sister Katherine and by Lucy, his daughter with his first wife Patsy and three grandchildren, two boys and a girl).Post published in: News