Former science editor of the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror Ronald Bedford overcame disabilities to become one of the most well-respected figures on Fleet Street.
Bedford, who died on 19 May, was born in 1921 in Walton, West Yorkshire, blind in one eye and partially sighted in the other. He also suffered from a speech defect due to a cleft palette.
Realising his impairments meant he could not follow his father in the railway trade, he decided to become a journalist – starting at the Wakefield Express, sweeping the printing room floor as an errand boy, before joining the South Elmsall and Hemsworth Express as a junior reporter. After being rejected for military service, he worked on a string of newspapers before finally moving to Manchester in 1943 to join the northern editorial staff at the Daily Mirror.
Two years later, Bedford moved to Reuters in London where he would become chief reporter in 1946 and would later mentor a young Derek Jameson, who later became editor for the Daily Express, the News of the World and the Daily Star.
Jameson told Press Gazettee: ‘Ronnie not only trained me to be a good reporter – he made me rewrite my first story 14 times – but practically had to teach me how to read and write. I had left school at 14 with only a rudimentary wartime education.”
‘Everyone loved Ronnie,’Jameson says. ‘For all his disabilities, he was a giant of a man, a consummate professional with a great sense of humour. Hugh Cudlipp thought the world of him, not least because Ronnie was a brilliant jazz pianist who livened up many a Mirror party.”
Bedford returned to the Daily Mirror in London in 1947 and later became science reporter in 1950, where he would make his name, as science editor from 1962 until 1985 when he retired. Bedford’s skill at explaining complex, scientific facts in a simplified manner to the Daily Mirror’s 15m readership of the time, was appreciated by the editorial director Hugh (later becoming Lord) Cudlipp, who gave him almost free rein to report scientific and medical news.
Frequently reporting on the Apollo missions from Cape Canaveral and Houston, including the first moon-landing by Apollo 11, Bedford was often the first to break stories. Roy Greensdale in The Guardian last week retold the event of the 1969 moon landing: ‘During delays due to bad weather journalists spent a lot of time in a local bar (naturally) where Ronnie was often persuaded to play the piano.
‘One of the reporters, John Edwards, later told how a man burst into the bar while Ronnie was playing and shot his unfaithful wife.”
Evidently, an untroubled Ronnie went on playing.
‘At the final press briefing before blast-off, Ronnie dared to ask the question that American journalists were too polite to ask.
‘Finally, he stood up and said: ‘What my colleagues are trying to ask is whether the astronauts will be carrying cyanide kits to the moon.’
‘[Brian] Hitchen, who was sitting next to him, recalls that the silence was electrifying until flustered NASA officials started whispering to each other. Then one said: ‘We have considered all contingencies.’
‘Ronnie was having none of it: ‘You have not answered my question. Are the astronauts carrying cyanide pills, or any other form of suicide kits in case they become lost in space or marooned on the moon?’
‘Grudgingly, an official replied: ‘No sir, the astronauts are not carrying suicide kits with them to the moon.’
“‘Thank you’, said Ronnie. And that was the splash in the next day’s Mirror.”
Medical journalism also remained a passion for Bedford, becoming a founding member and chairman of the Medical Journalists Association from 1977 to 1980.
Paul Vaughn, chief press officer of the British Medical Association from 1955 and 1965, wrote in his autobiograph (the Times reports):: ‘Many of the doctors assumed a patronising, contemptuous attitude towards him, partly because he suffered a speech defect, but mainly because of their lofty assumption that his newspaper, being a popular one, was incapable of reporting serious issues. How wrong they were. His was a skill born of years experience as a reporter and of his sharp intelligence.”
In the New Year’s honours of 1982, he was awarded an OBE.