Spreading the word about those in need

Former
BBC correspondent Nick Jones covered the big industrial and political
stories of the 80s and 90s. Now he has a vital message to get out to
all working journalists, as he tells Philippa Kennedy

NICK JONES has very good reason to want to support the NPF The
Journalists’ Charity. His father, former Wolverhampton Express &
Star editor Clem Jones spent his final years at Sandy Cross, the NPF’s
care home in Dorking.

“My father started going there for respite care after my mother
died. What he liked most was the unique community of former journalists
there. Then he decided that’s where he wanted to spend his last years,”
he says.

Former BBC political correspondent Jones was a frequent
visitor throughout those five years. He served on the NPF council of
trustees, becoming vice-chairman two years ago and chairman this year.

It’s an important year for the NPF as it embarks on a major fund-raising campaign to raise £6 million to rebuild Sandy Cross.

Opened
by The Queen Mother in 1969, the home is badly in need of updating. At
present there are 11 residents at Sandy Cross but once it is rebuilt,
there will be room for 22.

A new facility will provide ‘close’ or
extra care; a sort of half-way house between the sheltered
accommodation provided at Ribblesdale, the NPF’s other home and the
full residential care provided by Sandy Cross.

“My father was
very happy and settled at Sandy Cross. When he was there, a former
journalist came in who had been on the Mirror. He and my father had
never met, but during the next few days they worked out that they had
41 mutual friends.

“When other people had visitors, my father would benefit.”

That
unique camaraderie of journalists is something Jones has known all his
life. His grandfather started as a 15-year-old apprentice compositor on
the Sheffield Evening News in the 1880s but became a reporter on the
Radnorshire Standard. His father Clem joined the Express & Star in
1942 and rose to be its editor.

“He was a fantastic man,
strong-minded and idealistic, so much so that, as a conscientious
objector during the war, he was sacked from his job for not covering
war-like stories. Eventually he was granted an unconditional
exemption,” said Jones Brother George is now the highly respected
political editor of the Daily Telegraph and son Rupert writes on
personal finance for The Guardian.

Both Jones boys went into
journalism straight from school. Nick started as an indentured
apprentice on the Portsmouth Evening News before joining the Oxford
Mail and George trained on the Eastern Daily Press in Norwich before
going the South Wales Argus.

Coincidentally, both ended up on The
Times as parliamentary reporters. George went on to The Scotsman and
then the Sunday Times and the Sunday Telegraph. Nick’s burning
ambition, however, was to work for the BBC, having been impressed as a
young reporter, by aerospace correspondent Reginald Turnill whom he
witnessed doing a radio report on the Isle of Wight. “I started
applying there and then,” he says.

It was an ambition that
appeared doomed to failure during the late 60s and 70s, when a
university degree was considered essential for BBC reporters.

Many would have given up after the first two or three rebuttals, but for 12 years he just kept on applying for jobs.

Finally, in 1972, his persistence paid off and he got a job as a news producer on BBC Radio Leicester.

Eighteen months later he was working for Radio 4.

The
mid-eighties were an exciting time for both Joneses, covering major
industrial and political stories throughout the Thatcher years from
entirely different perspectives. Nick followed the miners’ strike from
the union side, while George always seemed to have the inside track
from the Tory point of view. “I would be talking to Arthur Scargill and
he would be having lunch with Peter Walker, the Energy Secretary.

“Perhaps if we had collaborated, we could have ended the strike together, ” laughs Nick.

But it has always been an unspoken rule that the brothers don’t ask each other about work.

“I
didn’t want to compromise his position and he didn’t want to compromise
mine. The trouble is that if George had told me anything, I would have
been tempted to use it.”

The Industrial Society made Nick
Industrial Reporter of the Year in 1986 in recognition of his work.
With the unions well and truly defeated, Nick switched to political
reporting, which he did for the BBC until 2002, when he retired at 60.
He now works as a freelance commentator and lecturer as well as writing
books, mainly on ‘spin’.

For the moment however, Jones is
devoting his time to NPF’s fund-raising campaign, a hefty commitment
that will entail rounds of shuttle diplomacy among the newspaper groups
to gather support.

Jones also needs to broaden the membership to
include journalists working across the media in television, radio,
magazines and the internet, a requirement of the Charity Commission.
Hence the change of name, from the old Newspaper Press Fund to NPF The
Journalists’ Charity.

“We need to get the message out there that the homes are open to all journalists and their dependents,” he says.

Apart
from offering sheltered housing (flats and bungalows) and the Sandy
Cross residential care home, the NPF also pays out around £4,000 a week
in grants to individual journalists who have fallen upon hard times and
need help. These range from grants for retraining, to help with
household expenses or perhaps to install a stair-lift. The charity
might even pay for treatment at specialist clinics for journalists with
alcohol problems.

Jones firmly believes that the industry should
look after its own. “Dealing with the applications for grants, it
struck me how young many of the applicants are who have met with
misfortune. We are now helping people in their 50s. I’m lucky and have
a BBC pension but there are so many people in broadcasting who have
been chewed up and spat out by the industry.

“The industry has a lot of casualties, especially freelances with no security. I think we have a responsibility to them.”

  • Lifetime membership of the NPF is only £50.  For further information telephone 01306 887511 or visit the website on www.npf.org.uk

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