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Allan Fotheringham fondly recalls his time as prime-ministerial punching bag

Dr. Foth came back to Ottawa Thursday – not to skewer politicians but to launch his memoirs recalling the politicians he skewered.

Allan Fotheringham, renowned journalist and bon vivant, is 79. And he has just come out with his ninth book: Boy From Nowhere: A Life in Ninety-One Countries.

He's an old man now, smaller, moving a little more slowly than those heady days when he ruled Ottawa and famously took on the prime ministers of the day. Pierre Trudeau, Jean Chrétien and Brian Mulroney were notable targets on the back page of Maclean's magazine.

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But, boy can the man dress. Impeccably decked out in a grey suit with a subtle check, a pink shirt (cufflinks, of course) and an elegantly colorful tie, Mr. Fotheringham spoke at the National Press Club of Canada Foundation's lunch.

He said of all the prime ministers he covered as a journalist, Mr. Trudeau was his favourite. And he recalled how, during his tenure, Trudeau paid him exactly three compliments – one when he was surprised to learn Mr. Fotheringham was a journalist because he didn't "dress like one," according to Trudeau; when after a press conference the prime minister would punch him in the chest to acknowledge, at least so Mr. Fotheringham thought, that he had read his column; and finally the time Mr. Trudeau drove up to Rideau Hall in his Mercedes convertible to resign, driving over Mr. Fotheringham's foot when he saw him waiting outside.

"And I took that as the third compliment," the writer joked.

His memoirs detail more prime ministerial encounters, including how Mr. Chrétien deliberately mispronounced his name, making it sound like a profanity – and how his publisher censored it from his fifth book, Last Page First. (It's no exaggeration to say he was ticked off the reference was cleaned up, but you'll have to read the book for the punchline.)

In his memoir he also writes about how he almost died four years ago after a colonoscopy led to a serious infection and then a medical mistake led to septic shock. He was given last rites and his children were called in from Vancouver to say goodbye. But his wife, Anne, nursed him back to health.

It was a long recovery – four months – during which he writes he "almost died more than once." But thankfully for his fans, "I am healthy and here to tell the tale."

Known for his love of women, Mr. Fotheringham also talks in is book about his famous female friends. And with them he is not so harsh.

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Of Mila Mulroney, he says it's impossible for her to do "anything without looking stylish." Maureen McTeer, he writes, is "noble and a strong woman." Barbara Amiel "has the most fantastic body of any 70-year-old in the Western world." And the late broadcaster Barbara Frum "dressed expensively" but "her clothes were a little too busy" – to which he adds: "She would have killed me if she heard this."

He takes a page and a half to list some of his "Fothisms." Among his trademark turns of phrase are "the Jaw That Walked Like a Man," to describe Brian Mulroney; "Pierre Elliott Reincarnation," of Mr. Trudeau; "Ottawa, Sparta on the Tundra" or "the Town That Fun Forgot"; and in describing the former Tory prime minister, "Jurassic Clark" and "Joe If" instead of "Joe Who."

But Canada didn't provide his only fodder; he was posted to Washington as well. So fittingly, his latest book has found its way into the White House.

His wife, Anne, who is with the Canadiana Foundation that deals with the country's historic furniture and other treasures, was in Washington this week where she and her colleagues were invited to the presidential residence. She dropped off a copy with the White House curator, who said he would give it to the First Lady's office for it to be passed on to the Obamas.

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