Chris Moncrieff, the former political editor of PA, who was hailed as ‘”the one journalist who mattered” by former Prime Minister Tony Blair, died last week at the age of 88.

A political editor and writer for PA for many years, he was much more than a legendary figure among fellow journalists and politicians.

He was also declared by a British prime minister on the Great Wall of China to be a “national treasure”.

Sir John Major made the announcement to bemused Chinese government figures after saving Moncrieff from falling on a steep slope.

Sir John later recalled: “Moncrieff emerged from the mist hurtling downhill. His feet were out of control in the way his pen never is. He headed irresistibly towards the edge of the Great Wall and the drop over the side. I put out my arm to steady him and the great man was preserved for posterity.”

Margaret Thatcher, a great admirer, appointed him CBE in the 1989 New Year Honours – a rare distinction for a reporter.

Tony Blair, speaking to an audience of politicians and journalists, said as a young MP he soon realised that “Moncrieff was the gateway to the nation... the one journalist who mattered”.

When he retired as PA’s political editor in 1994, the BBC and ITV ran stories on him.

He was invited to give a valedictory address at the Labour Party conference, where he reduced some leading figures to tears of laughter.

There were also newspaper features and 123 MPs tabled a Commons motion recording his “enormous contribution to reporting politics and the proceedings of this House”.

It was the shortest retirement on record. Next day, Moncrieff was back at his PA desk.

Although no longer in the Westminster front line, he continued to pour out a stream of profiles, background stories and analysis that enhanced the PA service.

In his prime Moncrieff made workaholics look like couch potatoes.

An 18-hour day, seven-day week was his norm. He took just a fortnight’s holiday a year – in Hunstanton on the Norfolk coast. But if a story broke anywhere nearby, the break would be duly interrupted.

MPs were keen to oblige as his assistants: he was way ahead of rivals on the leadership ballot which led to Mrs Thatcher’s overthrow because a Labour MP was holding the nearest phone open to his newsdesk.

His style was classic news reporting: the most important fact and best quotes in the first few paragraphs, the details stated clearly and simply, quotes in direct speech and any interpretation clearly defined.

Even his closest colleagues never knew Moncrieff’s own political views – he would probably have cast his vote for the candidate or party which provided the best stories.

For many years Moncrieff existed on a diet of draught Guinness. A group of MPs presented him with a framed share in the company to acknowledge his contribution to its profitability.

There were even rumours that a supply was smuggled into Saudi Arabia during a visit.

But in 1983, in a Road to Damascus conversion, he switched to lemonade and food. His explanation was that to enliven a Labour Party conference in Blackpool he popped into a clairvoyants’ gathering for a reading of new leader Neil Kinnock’s future.

“Madame Fifi looked at me and said: ‘I’ll tell you this for nothing – if you don’t give up drink you’ll be dead within a year’,” was his version.

It was probably the one time in his life Moncrieff took medical advice.

Despite his supposed retirement, Moncrieff, remained a familiar face at Westminster and in 2007 a new catering area was named after him. The then 75-year-old said he was “hugely honoured” that the media bar and food area was to be called Moncrieff’s when it reopened after being refurbished.

He said he was “tickled pink” at the prospect of seeing his name immortalised in the watering hole.

His late wife of many years, Margaret – “my good lady Maggie” – coped with unending cheerfulness with his workaholic lifestyle and the stream of telephone calls.

They had four children.