Robert Farmer: Institute of Journalists general secretary and Media Society founding father

Bob Farmer, general secretary of the Institute of Journalists from 1962 to 1987, has died, aged 81.

For some time, Bob had been suffering from an inoperable brain tumour, although he was able to remain at home with his wife, Anne, almost to the end.

Robert Frederick Farmer OBE was a son of Birmingham and admitted later in life that he could easily have become a journalist or lawyer.

Indeed, he wrote with skill and fluency and was, to all intents and purposes, a self-taught lawyer with a razor-sharp and incisive mind.

As it was, the war determined his initial career and in 1941 Bob enlisted in the Royal Armoured Corps, later being commissioned in the 3rd Carabiniers. He served in the Burma Campaign and was Mentioned in Despatches.

He remained in the Army until 1952, returning to Civvy Street with the rank of major.

On demob, he obtained a post from 1952 to 1959 in the Secretariat of the Institute of Plant Engineers and then spent three years with the Institution of Civil Engineers.

On the retirement of Stewart Nicholson, Bob was appointed general secretary of the Institute of Journalists, which had yet to be given permission by the Privy Council to use the word “Chartered” before its name.

An urbane man with a deeply cultured sense of humour, Bob soon found himself at the centre of a host of journalistic issues, including the illfated “trial marriage” with the National Union of Journalists. He was the longest-serving consultative member of the old Press Council; was a founding father of the Media Society, of which he was the secretary from 1972 to 1983; led the institute’s delegation to give evidence to the Royal Commission on the press; and for five years was a member of the Committee on Defamation.

Bob played no small part in the successful, marathon libel action featuring past president Bill Tadd, a former news editor, against The Daily Telegraph in the Eighties. The case took seven years to resolve.

In the New Year’s Honours List of 1985, Bob was appointed OBE and before his institute retirement in 1987, was made a full member of the IoJ.

At a memorable party to mark the event, Bob declared his intention to remain “bone idle” for as long as possible. In reality he enjoyed walking, Cordon Bleu cookery, archaeology and was no mean jazz pianist when the mood or the pink gin and the pinch of snuff took him.

Those who knew and admired Bob have been deeply saddened by his passing and our deepest sympathy goes out to his widow, Anne, of whom Bob’s friend and neighbour, past president Henry Douglas, said at that farewell party: “She has to fit in with an outrageous gallimaufry of pressure groups all posing a threat to his health and sanity. She coped perfectly.”

As one of Bob’s humble successors, I was both proud and honoured to count him as a friend.

All too often we hear about the end of an era but to me, Bob’s death certainly counts as one.

No comments to display

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *