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.
The congregation hardly needed reminding of the trials and tribulations of a difficult year for journalists. In his welcome to St Bride’s, the ‘spiritual home of journalists’, the Reverend George Pitcher, formerly religious affairs editor of the Daily Telegraph, coupled his greeting with an acknowledgement that it had been a ‘challenging year for all journalists’.
Mr Hagerty, the charity’s outgoing chairman, thanked Luther Pendragon for their continued support and reminded the congregation that at last year’s service he had highlighted the fact that 2012 was the bicentennial year of Charles Dickens, one of the founders of the original Newspaper Press Fund; and, in the Dickens tradition, the year had seen ‘the best of times and the worst of times’ for journalists.
He said the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, the Olympics and Paralympics’ Games had provided the opportunity for some fine journalism across print, television and radio but, for the media industries, this if not ‘the worst of times’, had certainly been a period of turbulence and trouble that had cast a long shadow across the whole of journalism.
‘Because of the criminal behaviour, stupidity and/or incompetence of a few, the entire British press and the world’s finest broadcasting organisation, the BBC, have been subject to scrutiny, investigation and – hastily by their fiercest critics – condemnation.
‘However, as we prepare to greet a New Year, I believe that journalism can also look forward to a new dawn. Lord Justice Leveson and those determined to shackle the press and shake the BBC until its teeth rattle may not agree, but the vast majority of journalists are good enough, brave enough and resilient enough to see the trade through whatever further difficulties it may face.’
Mr Hagerty said that as departing chairman after a two-year term, he was confident the media industry would continue to help its less fortunate members and that ‘journalism will emerge from its tarnished recent past into a future where once again it is the envy of the rest of the world.’
He then read Martin Bell’s poem, written specially for the occasion, a contribution from one of the charity’s ‘keenest supporters, an outstanding journalist, a former Independent Member of Parliament and a part-time writer of verse’ who had a collection of poems published earlier this year.
Clemency, the one year old daughter of the BBC presenter Kate Silverton, arrived in her mother’s arms and was soon quite at home. As her mother gave the second reading, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ by Clement Clarke Moore, Clemency gurgled on cue. She was sitting on the floor and there was the odd cry as mum read the line ‘children snug in their beds’ but father Mike was on hand with a comforting bottle.
Other readings were by John Witherow, editor of the Sunday Times, James Quinn, deputy business editor of the Sunday Telegraph, Sarah Baxter, editor of the Sunday Times Magazine, and Andrew Pierce, consultant editor of the Daily Mail.
The St Bride’s choir ended with their contributions with the entrancing A Spaceman Came Travelling (Chris de Burgh, arranged by Matthew Morley). Clemency saved her finale until the choir’s farewell rendition of We Wish You and Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year – she gave a whoop of joy which in the words of Sarah Baxter would have done ‘a gospel singer proud’.
(Nicholas Jones, 18.12.2012)