Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

Donating my father’s papers to Wolverhampton Archives was a sobering experience. Tucked away inside voluminous scrapbooks from the 1940s was a letter of dismissal for a failure to carry out his “journalistic duties”. But a refusal to write stories in support of the war effort was a principled stand that would have to be reversed...


A reporter having to struggle with his or her conscience is not the kind of story line likely to win much public sympathy at a time when the headlines have been dominated for so long by allegations of phone hacking and the bribing of police officers.  Journalists do get sacked because of their convictions but examples among my generation seem few and far between.  Indeed I freely admit that during my fifty years as a reporter I cannot remember having such strong feelings on an issue that I felt the need to stand up and be counted in support of my beliefs.

Having had no experience of the inner turmoil which might have resulted if I had ever put my job on the line, I felt increasingly inadequate as I read and re-read correspondence tucked away in long-forgotten family scrapbooks.

Six months after the start of the Second World War, my father Clement Jones wrote a letter accusing his editor of “a violation of principle” for having assigned him to report events being held to raise morale of the troops and boost arms production.

As with many of those who saw active service but were subsequently reluctant to discuss their front-line experiences, so it was with my father; he died without ever describing what it must have been like to get sacked, become a conscientious objector and then within two years be forced by dint of family hardship to have to put his pacifist beliefs to one side and return to war-time news reporting.

Scrapbooks, letters and other personal papers belonging to the late Clement Jones, former editor of the Express and Star, are being donated by Nicholas Jones to Wolverhampton Archives.  The collection reveals how seventy years ago the challenge of reporting events in war-torn Bilston by a conscientious objector helped launch the career of a celebrated Wolverhampton journalist. His reports of the famous war-time parliamentary by-election in Bilston in September 1944 attracted the attention of Lord Beaverbrook  - but Jones turned down the offer of a job on the Daily Express

Bilston in the mid 1940s was unquestionably at the heart of the Black Country: smoke particles were falling at the rate of nearly 1,400 tons per year per square mile over the whole town.

This was just one of the telling war-time statistics unearthed by my father Clement Jones, then an idealistic young journalist, who became the Express and Star’s Bilston reporter in June 1943 and whose reports highlighted what must have been some of the worst living conditions in the West Midlands

The pall of smoke from steel works and factories was so bad – and prevailing winds deposited so much soot, dust and grime on nearby houses – that Bilston became the setting in May 1944 for what Jones reported was a “unique” investigation into atmospheric pollution and the most comprehensive survey of its kind conducted anywhere in the country.

Gauges and dishes were placed around the town. Deposits were collected every two days and by using six different instruments Bilston’s salvage officer Eric Sheldon was able to weigh them to an accuracy of one-tenth of a milligramme.

Jones described how any local housewife would have agreed immediately that the air of Bilston was dirty: if she went to the best room in the house she would be able to “draw her finger over the polished surfaces to show the grime and dust deposited from the air.”

Phone hacking at the News of the World was not simply the “tip of the iceberg of journalistic bad practice” but one of many damning “icebergs” which would be revealed by the Leveson Inquiry.  This is the bleak assessment of Mark Lewis, solicitor for the parents of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.  He was at the forefront of the Hacked Off campaign for the widest possible investigation into the conduct of Rupert Murdoch’s journalists. 

MPs and journalists were put in their place by a feisty panel of four life peers at the annual “cash for questions” evening held to raise funds for the Journalists’ Charity. 

Sky News presenter Anna Botting, who hosted the event, had a fistful of questions from the guests who crowded into a marquee on the terrace of the House of Commons for one of the most popular events in the charity’s social calendar (20.6.2011).

Any understanding of the power of the British news media – and especially that of the national press – has to take into account the differences between journalism here in the UK and other comparable countries such as the USA or our nearest neighbours in Europe.  In many ways British journalists are a race apart; they’re very tribal; they like to hunt as a pack once the chase has begun; and as our politicians are the first to acknowledge, they take no prisoners.  The politics of Britain are shaped and influenced by the media in ways which other parliaments and legislators find hard to comprehend.