Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

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.