Christopher Morris on John Sargeant

My
breakthrough into journalism came courtesy of the Daily Mail back in
July 1953 when I entered an essay competition and was chosen to be one
of 12 school children judges for the National Children’s Television
Award.

I voted for the BBC’s popular Children’s Newsreel but it was the junior soap of those days, The Appleyards, that won the award.

However,
basking in the fame of my first brief appearance on TV, and agonising
over a future career, I was inspired to write a 2,000-word article –
“Iron Bars Do Not A Prison Make, Nor Bricks a TV Wall” – for my local
newspaper, The Luton News.

John Sargeant, the editor-in-chief,
seemed impressed by the initiative since he rewarded me with a cheque
for one guinea, and I was duly summoned to his office for an interview.
A kindly man, of military bearing with a clipped moustache, I’ve often
wondered what convinced him to offer this naive 15-year-old a job.

I
remember showing him a letter from Jeffrey Truby, a Daily Mail
executive, who’d advised me that most editors preferred then to “take
on fellows who have just left grammar school or secondary school…
because it was quickly found that young men with academic distinctions
were not really suited to the hurly-burly of newspaper work and were
perhaps a little lacking in experience of the outside world that is so
important to a journalist”.

Sargeant must have agreed with that
sentiment and so I was recruited, initially as a copy-holder in the
reading room, for the princely sum of two pounds and five shillings a
week. It was a brave decision by the editor since these were the
fabulous Fifties and as a young entrepreneur I was running a jazz band
and a jazz club in my spare time. It soon became clear that jazz and
journalism didn’t mix. Certainly Sargeant did not appreciate the
raucous trad jazz blaring from the club opposite the newspaper’s
headquarters every Wednesday night, providing plenty of distractions
for the printers ogling the girls in their figurehugging tops and bell
skirts!

Nor did he really applaud my publicity-seeking stunts
with a skiffle group after I recruited the Duke of Bedford on washboard
when he was desperately trying to pay off £4m in death duties.

But
I’m forever grateful to Sargeant for taking that gamble and giving me
my first break in journalism. It would lead to an exciting career
spanning 50 years in 120 countries, reporting for national daily,
Sunday and evening newspapers, and for radio and television with ITN,
BBC TV News and Sky News.

Christopher Morris is managing director of Omnivision

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