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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.

In his welcome to the journalists’ church, just off Fleet Street, the Venerable David Meara acknowledged that it had been “a difficult and challenging year for journalists.”  He said the carol service (held on 19 December 2011) offered a chance for friends and colleagues to remember those facing harsh times or whose lives were clouded by sickness or bereavement. 

In thanking the sponsors, the communications consultancy Luther Pendragon for their continued support, the charity’s Chairman Bill Hagerty said that in “these difficult times” for the country as well as the media industry, there was a greater need than ever for their charitable work and all the more reason to remember the inspiration which the author had provided.

Dickens started to write novels after working as a parliamentary reporter; seven years after the publication of The Pickwick Papers in 1836, he published A Christmas Carol.  His output was hardly dented when he returned to journalism, briefly, as editor of The Daily News.

“Throughout his working life he fought for social justice, propagating in novels – markedly Dombey and Son, but others too – education reform, sanitary measures, and slum clearance,” said Mr Hagerty.

“We are not certain that he was among the group of parliamentary supporters who in 1864 met in a London pub – where else? – to set up a fund to help fellow journalists and their dependants who had fallen on hard times – but, as the newspaperman tells James Stewart’s character in The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance, ‘When the legend becomes fact, print the legend’.

“We at the Journalists’ Charity continue to believe  that Dickens’ values in striving to help the less fortunate remain intact and a driving force for us almost 150 years after he was – or maybe wasn’t – in that pub where it all began.”

St Bride’s choir delighted the congregation, especially with their rendition of Donkey Carol (John Rutter) and the topicality of the readings struck the right note: Michael White of The Guardian read an excerpt from The Pickwick Papers and Sarah Montague, presenter of the Today programme on Radio 4, read The Happy Journalist by Hilaire Belloc.

Other readings were by Laura Kuenssberg, business editor at ITV, Tracey Corrigan, editor, Wall Street Journal Europe, and Huw Edwards, presenter of the BBC’s Ten O’clock News.

 

Nicholas Jones 20.12.2011