Nick Jones

Journalists’ Charity

Two pressing concerns for journalists were addressed head on by the Home Secretary, Mrs Theresa May, in a speech at the Journalists’ Charity’s annual reception at the Embassy of Ireland in London.

She gave an assurance that action was being taken to guard against the identification of journalists’ sources, and that there would be new safeguards on the length of time accused people could be held on pre-trial bail without charge.

Mrs May, welcomed by the Ambassador of Ireland Mr Dan Mulhall, was on fine form, complementing the charity on all the work it did to look after journalists who had fallen on hard times or were in need of help.

MPs at Westminster recognised the problem, and the House of Commons shared the concept of helping colleagues in distress, “but we just call it the House of Lords”.

She raised another laugh when describing how gripped she had been by Sunday television viewing on the BBC, “watching all those characters in War and Peace coming out in support of Mother Russia, and not least of all, Andrew Marr interviewing the Labour leader”.

Few occupations can claim to have had a greater impact on the daily life of the royal family than that of news reporter, and the presence of the Queen at the 150th anniversary reception of the Journalists’ Charity was an occasion to celebrate an enduring relationship.

The Queen, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, met young journalists from across the country together with editors, press proprietors, broadcasters and also the trustees and supporters of a charity that over the decades has helped tens of thousands of journalists in need.

Stationers’ Hall, midway between Fleet Street and St Paul’s Cathedral, was the imposing venue for an event that once again highlighted the strength of the industry’s charitable tradition and its historic links with royalty.

Successive monarchs have been patron of the charity, a role that dates back to the reign of Queen Victoria who in 1890 granted a royal charter to what was then the Newspaper Press Fund.

Guests attending the 150th anniversary assembled in the main reception room of the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers to greet the Queen and Prince Philip.

A tribute to Charles Dickens’ invaluable contribution in helping to establish the Newspaper Press Fund was one of the highlights of a thanksgiving service at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, when media executives, editors, reporters and their guests gathered to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Journalists’ Charity.

Dickens, a former Parliamentary reporter, was one of the Fund’s earliest supporters and the author’s love of journalism was captured by the actor Simon Callow.

For the fifth reading at the service, Callow took an extract from Dickens’ address to the NPF’s second annual festival in May 1865. Dickens was in the chair at the festival dinner, held in the Freemasons’ Tavern in Queen Street, just off Fleet Street.

The thanksgiving service (20.2.2014) was a key event at the start of the charity’s 150th anniversary year and the chairman of the trustees, Laurie Upshon, thanked St Bride’s and Nokia, the sponsors of the service, for helping to organise such an appropriate service in “the Cathedral of Fleet Street, the Street of Dreams”.

The four readings which preceded Simon Callow’s extract from Dickens’ speech were also from the works of celebrated journalists of the past – and they were delivered by some equally powerful figures from the media world of today.

Shop stewards are few and far between in the upper reaches of the Conservative Party and mothers of the chapel are even rarer but her roots in local journalism are a badge of honour for defence minister Anna Soubry, chief guest at the Journalists’ Charity’s annual reception at the Embassy of Ireland.

She regaled members, supporters and friends with tales of her early days as a trainee reporter on the bi-weekly Alloa and Hillfoots Advertiser and Journal in Stirling.

There was even more amusement when she chided the charity’s chairman, Laurie Upshon, her former boss at Central Television, where she was a journalist and presenter and became mother of the chapel for the National Union of Journalists.

Ms Soubry was welcomed by the Ambassador of Ireland, Dan Mulhall, who spent eight years as a press spokesman for the Irish government and who said he was delighted to welcome guests at an event in the London embassy (30.1.2014) that brought together so many British and Irish journalists and their friends.

He said the Embassy of Ireland was proud to host an annual reception that celebrated the many close connections within the British and Irish media world.

Ms Soubry, MP for Broxtowe and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Defence, described her initial training as a journalist as one of the happiest years of her life. The Alloa and Hillfoots Advertiser and Journal had two reporters and a couple of sub-editors.

Carols at St Bride’s Church, just off Fleet Street, never fail to provide a much-loved festive curtain raiser for the Journalists’ Charity.

This year’s service was all the more memorable because it was the fourteenth – and the last – to be conducted by the Venerable David Meara who has been unstinting in his support for journalists in need.

From the Vicar of Fleet Street as he has become known, there were words of comfort for journalists and their families facing troubled times and encouragement for those under pressure from news deadlines and schedules or working away from home.

As in previous years St Bride’s was packed for one of the charity’s most popular events (16.12.2013) which was hosted once again by the communications consultancy Luther Pendragon.

Senior figures from print and broadcasting gave the readings.  The first three were by Eleanor Mills, editorial director of The Sunday Times, Ian King, business and city editor of The Times, and Sue Peart, editor of the Mail on Sunday’s YOU magazine.

The death at the age of 97 of the veteran BBC space and aviation correspondent Reginald Turnill is a timely reminder of a by-gone age in Fleet Street. Turnill, a fifteen year old school boy, joined the Press Association news agency in1930 as a reporter’s telephonist.  After five years as a copytaker he was promoted to reporter – and seventy years later he was still just as busy writing and broadcasting.

I had the good fortune to come to know and respect Turnill at several points in my career: in the early 1960s, again in the 1980s and as recently as 2011 when he reflected on his days as an industrial correspondent with both the Press Association and the BBC and contributed to my book The Lost Tribe: Whatever Happened to Fleet Street’s Industrial Correspondents?

My first encounter with Turnill was in 1962 when, after seeing him at work as the BBC’s aviation correspondent, I decided that I too wanted to become a broadcaster.  Two decades later he encouraged me in my own writing after reading articles I had written for The Listener.  Turnill’s advice was invaluable: he told me to always keep my BBC scripts because they were a reliable source of information which could not be bettered by newspaper cuttings.

Turnill put his own advice to good use and his many articles and books on manned space flight and the development of aircraft such as Concorde are a testimony to the legendary accuracy of his reporting – an accuracy which had been instilled in him from his early years copy taking and performing the menial fact-checking tasks which were then demanded of reporters.

Like Turnill I was an early school leaver, starting out as a magazine editorial assistant at the age of 17; and just Turnill was forced by the BBC, against his will, to retire at the age of sixty, so too was I in 2002. In recent years I renewed my contact with Turnill at receptions organised by the Journalists' Charity, of which he was a long-standing member and of which I am a past chairman of the trustees.

I reproduce “Advice from Reg”, my contribution to a collection of tributes to some of the best-known names in journalism, which was published by The Journalist's Handbook in January 2002:

An exclusive Christmas poem written by the broadcaster and former Independent MP Martin Bell – and a star appearance by the BBC presenter Kate Silverton and her baby daughter – were two of the highlights of the Journalists’ Charity’s annual Christmas carol concert.

St Bride’s Church, just off Fleet Street, was packed for one of the charity’s most popular social events (17.12.2012) which once again was hosted by the communications consultancy Luther Pendragon.

In his address, Bill Hagerty, the charity’s chairman, predicted that the vast majority of British journalists had the resilience to throw off a tarnished year and once again become the ‘envy of the rest of the world’.

Martin Bell’s poem, written specially for the service, wished Christmas-tide good will to ‘bloggers, blaggers and to hackers and to all who work with pen and quill’. 

Mr Hagerty’s reading of the poem – a surprise contribution by one of the charity’s prominent supporters – was preceded by another show-stealing moment when Clemency, the one-year-old daughter of the BBC presenter Kate Silverton, looked on as her mother joined other distinguished journalists in giving the readings.

While many journalists were understandably fearful that the outcome of the Leveson Inquiry might be used as “payback time” by politicians, the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg struck a helpful note at the Journalists’ Charity’s annual reception at the Embassy of Ireland (7.11.2012).

In thanking him for his support, the charity’s chairman Bill Hagerty said Mr Clegg was the first journalist turned politician to become Deputy Prime Minister and it was gratifying to hear him sounding positive about his former profession.

Mr Clegg was warmly welcomed by the Ambassador of Ireland Mr Bobby McDonagh who said a meeting later in the week in Dublin (9.11.2012) between the Deputy Prime Minister and his opposite number was a further illustration of the close relationship between the British and Irish governments.

But pleasantries aside there was no hiding the reality of the moment: journalism was at crossroads and, as the chairman remarked, journalists were not all sleeping easily as the Leveson Report loomed. Mr Clegg said he recognised it was a time of heightened interest in the interaction between the press and society in the wake of recent scandals which had shaken politics and the news media.

A grim year for journalism was hardly the most promising backdrop for the annual carol concert held by the Journalists’ Charity but readings from the works of Charles Dickens and Hilaire Belloc ensured a hearty, uplifting finale for the congregation at St Bride’s Church.

News of the celebrations planned next February for the 2012 bicentennial of Dickens’ birth provided another optimistic note and an opportunity for the charity’s supporters to reflect on the author’s role in helping to encourage the formation of the original Newspaper Press Fund.

David Cameron could hardly have done more to highlight the role of the Journalists’ Charity when he made a guest appearance at the annual reception: it was, said the Prime Minister, a brilliant example of the Big Society at work. He delivered his tribute after being welcomed by the Ambassador of Ireland, Mr Bobby McDonagh, who was the generous host once again for the charity’s most popular get together held in London on Wednesday 3 November.