Michael Cassell, who has died aged 71 after a long illness, was a star of the Financial Times’ reporting ranks. He was as adept at interviewing royalty as he was writing about the vicissitudes of the machine tool industry.
In a 30-year career on the FT, he wrote knowledgably and lucidly about business and industry, was a highly valued senior member of the political reporting team, and masterminded a daily diary column that combined wit and humour with acute observation.
A brilliant reporter and analyst who always maintained FT standards of accuracy and objectivity, he had the rare gift of writing humorously without descending into heavy sarcasm and the ability to use a few deft words to paint an atmospheric picture.
He was born on 2 June 1946. His father’s family had fled pogroms in Poland; his mother’s were jewellers and auctioneers in Birmingham.
School and college in Solihull were followed by a traineeship on the Solihull News. While on a train in Switzerland with fellow West Midlands trainees from his journalism course, a passing train with an open door smashed their carriage windows.
The teenage Cassell made a beeline for the nearest telephone. It was the Solihull News he rang with the story, not his parents to say he was safe.
The Birmingham Post followed. There he covered Enoch Powell’s infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech while also helping establish the newspaper’s new business section.
Then came the business desk of the Daily Express and, in 1971, the industry team of the FT, reuniting him with his old Birmingham boss, Harold Bolter.
It was about to be a time of great change on the FT as the newspaper gave much more prominence to hard business news, increased its pagination and developed its international reach — just the place for an ambitious young reporter.
Cassell rose magnificently to the challenge. From industrial reporting, with an emphasis on the West Midlands companies he knew so well, he became a specialist writer on building, construction, and building societies.
Politics had always been a great interest, and so his move to this beat — becoming the FT’s chief political correspondent — was a natural progression. Cassell’s reporting skills and his understanding of the interface between politics and business, plus his good judgment, meant that he shone — to the great benefit of the FT’s readers.
After politics came the FT’s Observer diary column. Carefully tending to the two goldfish he kept in a bowl in the office, he wrote with wry humour about the “panjandrums” of bureaucracy, the “conquistador” Michael Portillo and much else besides.
Outside the FT, he wrote definitive histories of, among others, Nationwide Building Society and concrete products company RMC, and set up and chaired a community association in Pimlico where he lived, to secure improvements from Westminster council.
In 2000 he left the FT to establish a new home for himself and his wife Linda on the French Riviera. He had, he said when he left, had a wonderful time and done things and seen places he could otherwise only have dreamt of, but it was time for a change. FT readers, however, continued to benefit as he recounted his French experiences in a regular column (excuse the pun), So Var So Good.
He never stopped writing — it was too much fun. There were articles on the French property market, hotel reviews for FT Weekend, corporate histories, a column in A Place in the Sun magazine. There were even contributions to the Bentley owners’ magazine, which involved driving luxury cars to exotic places.
In addition to France, he and Linda had a home in Essex and he remained in touch with many former colleagues at the FT. “It was an honour to work with him, know him and learn from him,” said one. Another summed up Cassell as a “great human being . . . a man full of good-heartedness and completely lacking in malice”.