Godfrey Grima, former FT correspondent and publicist, dies aged 79

Irreverent political analyst who straddled the world of politics and advertising has died of COVID-19

Godfrey Grima. Photo: James Bianchi
Godfrey Grima. Photo: James Bianchi

Long-time publicist and journalist Godfrey Grima has passed away. He was 79. 

Grima died after contracting COVID-19. 

He was a regular contributor to Maltese news programmes and chat shows, always ready to pick a bone with establishmentarian opinions. He was probably the most irreverent and independent-minded journalist of his generation, with his extensive insight into Maltese politics sought after by many. In 2017, he was awarded the Medal for Service to the Republic for his services to journalism and communication.

Prof. Carmen Sammut, the media academic, said Grima’s loss will be felt in both journalism and public relations. “It took too little for you to join your friend Oliver Friggieri. I hope you will enjoy a long walk together and stop for a good glass of wine... smile upon us as you see us argue, worry, and deal with the ills, great and small, of the world of the living.”

Grima founded the Associated News Group, his publicity firm, in 1986. He was its long-time chairman. He used his strong experience in journalism to grow TBWA\ANG from a two-person team to a significant player within the industry. Securing Coca-Cola as one of his first big clients, Grima kept on attracting top clients, and the company joined the TBWA collective shortly after signing McDonald’s as a client.

He started his journalistic career as a reporter for the newspaper Il-Ħaddiem, before moving to London in 1967 where following stints with the Daily Mirror and the Daily Express, served as one of the first recruits to the Financial Times’ foreign desk during its international expansion.

Grima, a specialist in political and economic analysis, later was the FT’s correspondent in Malta in 1971 where he covered Malta’s closer relations with Libya and the military run-down of the British services. He worked under editor Gordon Newton. The FT office in Malta was closed in 2010.

In the 1990s he presented two seasons of the current affairs programme Dahrek Mal-Ħajt on Television Malta. “I had asked David Frost what the trick was to interviewing... he told me ‘I have 32 researchers backing me up, how many do you have’. I had none of course! Secondly, he told me I had to leave my guest feeling like he had won. He said I have to send my viewers at night going to bed feeling sympathy for my guest. ‘You are being paid, you don’t need sympathy for anybody...’ And that’s what I did... you ask all you want, but with respect.” 

His office at ANG was adorned with photos with the great and good of British journalism and politics, such as Private Eye founder Richard Ingrams, amongst many others.

His close relationship with the Malta Labour Party coexisted with his publicity firm’s deep roots in private sector advertising.

Grima, brother of the late Labour minister turned broadcaster Joe Grima, was critical of Labour’s authoritarian style in the past and of Dom Mintoff at the time.

At the time of the Labour election in 2008 he likened Mintoff’s Labour to a Chinese communist-style party, “where everybody claps when the leader appears... Even though I was an outcast, I had ministers telling me what a rotten man he was, that you couldn’t trust him, that he was a liar, that he hardly got it right, that he was in the stratosphere… it just didn’t manifest on the outside, it was a semi-dictatorship.” 

In 2008, he had supported Joseph Muscat’s nomination for Labour leader, and predicted that Labour’s battle was a matter of “branding” and “delivering on efficiency”. 

“As parties from the left and right converge to the centre, the next election will be fought on efficiency. I can imagine Joseph agreeing with an observation such as that of John Dalli, who after 20 years of Nationalist rule, says hospital waiting lists are unacceptable. We’re not talking anymore about ideology – it’s what the services we get from the taxes we pay that count.” 

Grima was also a member of the University Council as well as a consultant for various public and private entities.