Sir Christopher Chataway, who has died aged 82, was the athlete who paced Roger Bannister to the first sub-four minute mile, finishing second himself. He later served in the governments of Harold Macmillan, Lord Home and Edward Heath; was a pioneer of commercial broadcasting; and served as chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority.
Although “built all wrong for running” and fond of a post-race cigar, Chataway was a world-class competitor from the half-mile to the half-marathon, with a fearsome final kick. He broke the world 5,000 metres record; competed in the 1952 and 1956 Olympics; and in 1955 broke the four-minute barrier himself, finishing second to Laszlo Tabori at White City in 3 min 59.8 sec.
A “really fast mile” had been promised when the Amateur Athletics Association met Oxford University at Iffley Road on the blustery afternoon of May 6 1954 as Bannister, a medical student, set out to beat his British record of 4 mins 3.6 sec.
With Chris Brasher, Chataway set a cracking pace, recording 4 mins 7.2 sec. Bannister excelled with laps of 57.5 sec, 60.7, 62.3 and a final 58.9. As he collapsed through the tape, three timekeepers certified the result, then Norris McWhirter took the loud-hailer. Cheers drowned him out as he gave the time as “Three…”. Bannister had shattered Gunder Haegg’s world record by two seconds with a run of 3 mins 59.4.
For Chataway, the bridge from athletics to politics was television. The reader of ITN’s first bulletin on October 11 1955, he was one of a cluster of contemporaries who became household names: Robin Day (with whom he shared ITN’s debut), Ludovic Kennedy and Geoffrey Johnson Smith. Setting up commercial radio as Minister for Posts and Telecommunications, he would spend 12 years with the medium as chairman of LBC.
He was in the vanguard of social reform, co-sponsoring Humphry Berkeley’s Bill to legalise homosexuality and telling for the Ayes in the 1964 vote to end capital punishment. As leader of the Inner London Education Committee, he upset grassroots Tories by letting comprehensive plans for seven boroughs go ahead, before securing a reprieve from the Labour government for 44 grammar schools.
Pro-European and very much a Heath man, Chataway left Parliament in 1974 , moving effortlessly into the boardroom before his appointment by John Major to head the CAA. He remained an athlete at heart, querying Harold Wilson’s creation of a Sports Council, opposing Mrs Thatcher’s efforts to force a boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics and chairing the Commonwealth Games Council and UK Athletics. Taking up running again after stopping smoking, he turned in a 5 mins 48 sec mile at the age of 64.
With three friends, Chataway was prime mover of World Refugee Year, which raised £9 million in Britain alone and brought him the 1960 Nansen Medal. He was an early chairman of Oxfam, and went on to chair Action Aid and the Bletchley Park Trust.
Christopher John Chataway was born in Chelsea on January 31 1931, spending his childhood in Sudan, where his father was in the political service. At Sherborne he excelled at rugby, boxing and gymnastics and did not win a race until he was 16. He caught up fast, finishing second in the Public Schools’ championships despite losing a shoe, and in 1950, running for the Army, clipping 2.4 seconds off the Inter-Service mile record to 4 mins 15.6 sec.
Reading PPE at Magdalen College, Oxford, Chataway won a cross-country Blue in his first term. Early in 1952 he cut Bannister’s Oxford mile record to 4 mins 10.2 sec; that July he knocked five seconds off the British all-comers’ two-mile record.
In the 1952 Helsinki Olympics he tripped going for the lead in the 5,000 metres, recovering to finish fifth, 12 seconds behind Emil Zatopek. In his last year at Oxford, in the Varsity match, he cut his best for the mile to 4 mins 8.4 sec, then the third fastest by a Briton. In May 1953 Bannister set his record of 4 mins 3.6 sec, paced by Chataway.
Chataway joined Guinness as a transport executive, but continued to run. Gordon Pirie and Australia’s John Landy had talked of breaking four minutes, but the barrier stood until that day at Iffley Road. At White City in July, two months after he had helped Bannister make athletics history, Chataway and his fellow Briton Fred Green broke Gunder Haegg’s world three-mile record, with a time of 13 mins 32.2 sec.
Then, on October 13, again at White City, Chataway captured the world 5,000 metres record, beating Russia’s Vladimir Kuts in 13 mins 51.6 sec. Although Kuts regained his record 10 days later, the Soviet authorities made Chataway a Master of Sport. The drama of this clash — millions had followed the race on television to see the Briton win in the last few strides — made him the BBC’s first Sporting Personality of the Year, ahead of Bannister. After running his only sub-four minute mile, on July 30 1955 Chataway broke his own world three-mile record by nine seconds.
Before the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, Chataway set a personal best for the 880 yards of 1 min 53.3 sec. He should have taken on Kuts and Zatopek in London, but the Russians withdrew after their team-mate Nina Ponomareva was caught allegedly shoplifting hats in Selfridges. Melbourne was a disappointment, Chataway fading in the final stages of the 5,000 metres, and he retired from the track.
Chataway joined ITN two months before ITV went live. He excelled, but wanted to do more reporting — and in 1956 he moved to the BBC as an interviewer with Panorama.
In 1958 he was elected to London County Council, and in 1959, at 28, won Lewisham North from Labour by 4,613 votes. He played himself in slowly at Westminster, supporting the Rev David Sheppard’s refusal to play cricket against South Africa and probing an alleged “colour bar” at a dance hall in Catford. He wrote on athletics for The Sunday Telegraph and continued to broadcast.
Early in 1961 Richard Wood, Minister of Power, made Chataway his PPS, and the following year Macmillan brought him into his government as Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Education. His priority was doubling the number of trainee teachers.
Chataway held Lewisham North in 1964 by just 343 votes. In opposition he remained an education spokesman until the incoming Edward Heath moved him to overseas development.
Defeated in the Labour landslide of 1966, he rejoined the BBC, presenting Horizon. But he had to limit his broadcasting when, the following April, he became leader of Ilea’s education committee; his personal assistant was Jeffrey Archer. Seeking another seat, Chataway was defeated for the Reigate nomination in 1968 by Geoffrey Howe. But early in 1969 he was selected for Chichester, which he won in a May by-election, his majority of 26,087 making it the Tories’ safest seat. That October he rejoined the front bench as environment spokesman.
After winning the June 1970 election, Heath made Chataway, not yet 40, Minister for Posts and Telecommunications. He came under immediate pressure from Mary Whitehouse to “clean up” programmes, and from colleagues to stop jamming pirate stations such as Radio Caroline and to legalise commercial radio.
His 1971 White Paper, and subsequent Sound Broadcasting Bill, created an Independent Broadcasting Authority and up to 60 local commercial radio stations, with the BBC limited to its existing 20. He resisted pressure for breakfast television and a fourth channel.
In April 1972 Heath promoted him to the new sub-Cabinet post of Minister for Industrial Development. Chataway spent much time brokering the survival of lame ducks: the collapsed Upper Clyde Shipyards under new ownership, Cammell Laird, Rootes Motors (under Chrysler), BSA and International Computers.
On deciding to leave Parliament in late 1974, Chataway went into merchant banking with Orion, where he was a managing director until 1988, heading mergers and acquisitions. He joined the boards of BET, Fisons, Allied Investments and Macquarie Securities, and later chaired British Telecommunications Systems, United Medical Enterprises (his share options made him £360,000 on privatisation), Kitcat & Allen and Isola 2000.
When bidding opened for a breakfast television franchise in 1980, Chataway chaired the unsuccessful AM Television, backed by Pearson. From 1981 to 1993 he was chairman of LBC, the London news radio station set up under his legislation.
In 1991 Chataway took the chair at the CAA. His greatest challenge was bringing on stream the computerised NERC air traffic control centre near Southampton. He defended BAA’s monopoly control of London’s three main airports, but rebuked the government for allowing British Airways to take over Dan-Air, and accused BA and Virgin of price-fixing, while trying to resolve their public feud over “dirty tricks”.
He was knighted in 1995, and retired the following year.
Christopher Chataway married first, in 1959 (dissolved 1975), Anna Lett, with whom he had two sons and a daughter. He married secondly, in 1976, Carola Walker, with whom he had two sons.
Sir Christopher Chataway, born January 31 1931, died January 19 2014
© Daily Telegraph 20th January 2014