Retro: Tribute to reporter who flew to US for pioneering story

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In March 1948, a young Northamptonshire Telegraph reporter flew to the US for a special report about one of her colleagues, who was undergoing then-pioneering treatment for Parkinson’s Disease.

Monica Fyles was only 22 years old at the time, but already had six years’ experience in journalism under her belt having joined the paper at the age of 16 when the Second World War was still being fought.

monica fyles-lee

monica fyles-lee

Her daughter Sarah Lee contacted the Telegraph this week to say her mum Monica had died in August at the age of 89.

Her mum’s mission to the US began when the then chief reporter at the Northamptonshire Telegraph, Harold Blake, became the first Briton to undergo a revolutionary brain operation at a hospital in St Louis, Missouri, which was hoped would cure his Parkinson’s Disease.

Monica also had a brief to write about the American boot and shoe industry and to contrast everyday life in the US to that of post-war austerity Britain.

Her flight to the US left from Heathrow airport.

In office, ET copy pic Saturday June 23rd 1945 Profumo filmed. 'Thursday, 20 March 2008

In office, ET copy pic Saturday June 23rd 1945 Profumo filmed. 'Thursday, 20 March 2008

The story of her departure from Heathrow was covered by Telegraph reporter Tony Ireson and photographer Sonny Cragg.

The first leg of the trip was a two-hour flight to Shannon Airport in Ireland and the rest of the journey was an overnight flight.

On her arrival in the US, Monica stayed with cousins of Harold Blake’s who organised a sightseeing trip around New York including a trip up the Empire State Building – which was the tallest building in the world at the time.

Eventually, Monica travelled to St Louis and met Harold, who was involved in an intensive physiotherapy programme following his operation.

Sadly, although he made initial good progress following the pioneering treatment from Dr Ronald Klemme, Mr Blake died after returning to Kettering.

During her trip, Monica also visited the head office of the International Shoe Company.

Monica contacted the Telegraph in 2008, 60 years after her trip to the US, and wrote, in her own words, what the experience had been like.

In the March 27, 2008, edition of the paper, she said: “I spent time browsing the shops in St Louis and New York.

“They were stocked with all the ‘goodies’ we in Britain had learned to do without during the war.

“There was an unbelievable choice and abundance of all types of food and shoppers were loading up what I described as ‘huge wire baskets on wheels’ – the British shopping trolley had yet to be invented.

“Naturally, in that land of plenty, I ate well, but I decided that a taste of some food needed to be acquired.

“I tucked into plate-sized steaks, succulent roast chicken and delicious fruit and chocolate desserts thick with cream.

“From chats with American housewives I learned that most American women had many more labour-saving devices than their British counterparts, including electric ironers used sitting down.”

Monica’s daughter Sarah said her mum spent eight happy years at the Telegraph.

She added: “She said she had always wanted to be a reporter. When she started working at the paper a lot of the young men were still away fighting, so she had to learn very quickly how to cover courts and councils.

“She met my dad, Eric Lee, who was also a reporter at the Telegraph at the time, and they were married in 1949. My mum became Monica Fyles-Lee after that.

“Her trip to the US was a very big deal at the time.

“My mum was quite young to be chosen for it, and she was also a woman – and at the time female reporters would normally be chosen to write very light articles.”

Monica was eventually offered a job working for the Fleet Street tabloid Daily Sketch, a newspaper which ceased publishing in 1971, after being headhunted by its editor.

However, she turned down the job in favour of getting married and moving to Portsmouth.

Both Monica and Eric eventually moved to Portsmouth where they worked at another newspaper.

Sarah said: “Mum also wrote a couple of books on members of our family.

“We are related to Henry Walter Bates, the Victorian-era Leicester-born naturalist, and she wrote another on the slavery abolitionist George Thompson.

“Mum was always fascinated by genealogy.

“She carried out very extensive work researching our family tree all the way back to the 1200s, and when she died I went through her address book to contact people and there were ninth and tenth cousins in there who lived in the US or New Zealand.

“I got so many lovely letters and messages back from people.”

Sarah said her mum preferred to research her family tree the ‘old fashioned way’ – by hunting through family records.

She added: “She did begin using the internet. She would often get in touch with me to ask me to look up things on the computer for her.

“She then got her own broadband set up and started using the internet herself and even bought a Kindle.

“She loved reading and when I looked at the Kindle it had 2,500 books on it.”

Sarah’s dad Eric passed away in 1998. Apart from Sarah, the couple had another daughter, Alison.

After retirement, the couple had bought a caravan park in Cumbria called Camelot, which Monica continued to run up until her death.