John Young, who worked for The Times for 35 years, would have been delighted to be described as a journalist of the “old school”, old Fleet Street, where he relished the reporter’s life for its freedom and its involvement in current affairs, conviviality and companionship.
Certainly he was pleased to have worked in newspapers before the era of the sandwich and mineral water on the desk. He was quite lyrical about the thrill of rolling paper into a typewriter and clacking away, a pleasure that young, modern journalists do not know. When he was older, he rather liked acting a little crusty as he surveyed the contemporary newsroom.
But he retained his gusto throughout his journalistic career at The Times, which began in 1961 and continued after his retirement until his death. His last article appeared in the paper on 5 April.
The eldest of four children of a schoolmaster who served as an army officer in the First World War and later ran his own crammer school, John Charles Edmund Young was born in Canada but the family returned to England and he was educated at Ampleforth College. After National Service, he did not take up a place at Oxford University, but worked instead for Shell and then travelled to Canada, where he took up a variety of jobs and became a skilful skier.
Back in London, he worked for several trade papers – his introduction to journalism – before joining The Times as yachting correspondent, one of the first journalists to cover the sport full-time in the season. After covering the America’s Cup races in the US, he published an account of the series, Two Tall Masts, in 1965.
During his subsequent years at The Times, he worked in most of the editorial departments. He was briefly Africa correspondent, covering the Biafran War, before moving to the supplements department, where his assignments took him to Europe, Africa, and North and South America.
His versatility was recognised as he covered environmental matters and then agriculture, both areas for which he had an affinity because of his love of traditional values and heritage. He enjoyed covering agriculture until his then editor, Charles Wilson, berated him for failing to report a (somewhat fanciful) story about the cultivation of a square potato to make better chips. “I would have liked to see that story in my newspaper,” Wilson told him crisply. Young felt times were changing.
Not long afterwards, he stopped being agriculture correspondent, and was offered the choice of a night newsdesk job or being a general reporter. Without hesitation, he chose reporting, his first love, and spent his last years at the paper, until he took early retirement in 1996, carving out a niche in covering military and heritage matters. He covered the anniversary ceremonies of the Flanders fighting, the Normandy landings and Arnhem, and was moved by them.
He had a feeling for the battlefields and enjoyed reporting old-soldier pilgrimages. It was at this time that he interviewed his father about his reminiscences about the First World War, and lodged the tape recordings in the Imperial War Museum.
When The Times closed down for almost a year in 1979-80, he went round the country interviewing owners of stately homes, and published the book The Country House in 1981.
He was a gifted writer, his prose clear, robust and elegant. And just as his prose was robust, so was his temperament. If he was dissatisfied with the responses from a government ministry or press office, the whole newsroom shared his dissatisfaction, and listened in awe at his critical eloquence. But the thunder clouds soon disappeared.
He had the gift of warmth and friendship and was always generous and hospitable. He was an enthusiastic sportsman, too, playing football and cricket for The Times editorial team. He set high standards for himself, even as he grew older, and when his fiery fast bowling went astray in one match, he walked off in disgust.
In his retirement he concentrated on golf, finding a new group of friends at the Royal Mid-Surrey club, and pursued his interest in opera by attending the Holland Park Opera festival.
He died suddenly of a haemorrhage.
Young is survived by his widow, Elizabeth, whom he married in 1968, and their son and daughter.