Thursday 22 December 2022

Press Gazette's Jean Morgan: A personal tribute

This is the tribute I gave to my former Press Gazette colleague and friend Jean Morgan at her funeral in Cornwall on December 20.

How do you begin a tribute to Jean Morgan? You could start by saying she was a brilliant journalist. But I thought I’d take a leaf out of her book and just get straight to the point: And say… I really loved Jean.

I loved the sheer force of her personality. She was outspoken, funny, sharp, salty, direct, intelligent, and sometimes quite outrageous. She could be blunt and never ever backed down when she thought she was in the right.

She was also a tremendously loyal and generous friend.

I’ve had many, many ex-colleagues contacting me to say how much they learned from Jean and how much she meant to them.

Adam Smallman said: "A remarkable journalist, pin-sharp, a dear friend, hugely missed” and Steve Busfield: "I learned so much from her. She worked contacts relentlessly and had a great nose for a story - and did it with such charm.”

The reason Jean made such an indelible impression on people is down to what made her a terrific reporter. Her curiosity and her ability to ask probing questions. This meant many of her colleagues came in for a Morgan grilling.

One remembers telling Jean she had broken up with her partner, only for Jean to ask “Now then, is there a third party involved?” She was always after the real story.

To celebrate Jean’s 80th birthday we went out for a meal with the family and I put a picture on Facebook of Jean holding up my baby granddaughter Rose, looking her straight in the eyes (see pic above). Martin McNamara, an ex-colleague, captioned it: "Well if you don't want to be quoted can we at least talk off the record?"

Former Press Gazette editor Ian Reeves says: “Jean’s great strength as a reporter – and she fiercely resisted any attempts to ‘promote’ her to any other role – was that she treated all of her sources with exactly the same genuine enthusiasm, whether they were a chief executive, an editor or a junior reporter."

Jean was such a committed reporter that her idea of hell was to be stuck in a publishing meeting cut-off from her office telephone and her contacts. We were once sent on an awayday with magazine consultants complete with white boards and blue-sky thinking. Jean managed to escape halfway through, saying she had to ring Andrew Neil at the Sunday Times.

Jean was already working at the UK Press Gazette when I joined in 1984 in Temple Avenue, off Fleet Street, and we would often have a drink after work in the Old Bell with her husband Phil Morgan. Phil worked on the Sun news desk and was a lovely wry Welshman with a great sense of humour. Sadly, Phil died before many of the people who subsequently worked with Jean could meet him.

In my Press Gazette obit I said Jean was passionate about national and local newspapers and the importance of a free press. I also said Jean was trusted by tabloid journalists and editors at a time when they felt under fire from the “posh” papers and broadcasters and were often reluctant to speak publicly. I think this is because Jean and Phil knew many journalists from the popular end of Fleet Street and understood the pressures of putting out tabloid newspapers.

I also said Jean’s appearance could be deceptive and I had once overheard Daily Star editor Brian Hitchen telling members of his staff that Jean “looks like everyone’s favourite aunty but is very dangerous.” Someone else compared her to the fictional detective Miss Marple.

Her interviewing style was legendary. There was the full-frontal Morgan who got straight to the point, to the more subtle: “Congratulations on your new job, so why are you leaving, what’s going on there….” All taken down in Jean’s incredible speed writing which only she could understand.

Amanda Platell once told the Guardian’s Roy Greenslade: "Every time I was sacked, Jean knew before me. Every time I was promoted, Jean knew before I had time to call my mum."

Towards the end of Jean’s time at Press Gazette, we moved to Croydon under a new publishing company. Shortly after we arrived we got a memo saying the Christmas party was to be in a nightclub above the Blockbuster video shop. Worse, a new memo said the party theme was to be The Village People. Even worse. Another memo said we would be told which Village People character we would have to come as: The leather clad biker, Red Indian, construction worker or cowboy. Not long after there was a delighted whoop in the newsroom from Jean, who exclaimed: “I’ve been invited to Andrew Neil’s Christmas Party. Can’t make the do in Croydon.” She’d escaped again!

Croydon was a bit grim but we were saved when Philippa Kennedy, the ex-Daily Express news editor, was made our editor. Jean loved working with Philippa, who she regarded as a “proper” newspaper journalist. They got on like a house on fire, although occasionally I was called on to douse the flames.

Jean was appointed MBE for her work as a journalist, and we celebrated with Clare at the OXO Tower looking down on London. Jean finally decided to retire after 19 years working for Press Gazette and threw a big party attended by lots of the editors and journalists she had written about. A sign of how respected Jean was.

When Press Gazette was later bought by Piers Morgan and Matthew Freud we returned to Fleet Street. The week of our return I persuaded Jean to come out of retirement to help. Naturally, she got the splash with an exclusive story on how Hollywood star Sharon Stone was using a no-win, no-fee agreement to sue the Mail.

There was a symmetry. Jean and Press Gazette had come full circle, starting off in Temple Avenue, moved to Cockfosters, back to Clerkenwell and then out to Croydon and now back to Fleet Street. Jean had survived five owners and six editors and still producing brilliant stories.

Outside work Jean was the most marvellous friend to me and my family and many of the people she had worked with. We had lovely weekends at her cottage in East Sussex where she cooked up a storm with gourmet meals and we went walking in the nearby bluebell woods.

After Jean retired, we had gossipy lunches with old friends and colleagues at the El Parador restaurant near her flat in Camden. The El Parador owners liked Jean so much they often wouldn’t charge for the wine. Nothing better than walking into a restaurant to see Jean already there with a glass of wine ready for a good lunch.

As Jean’s health began to fail, she could no longer stay in her top floor mansion flat in London, with its killer stairs and no lift, and the decision was taken to move to Falmouth to live opposite Clare. What a good decision it was to make the move before the Covid lockdown. Clare did a wonderful job of not only caring for Jean but keeping in touch with all her old friends to tell us how she was doing. Clare’s been amazing.

Even when Jean was ill, she would always ask about members of my family and former colleagues. How are they? What are they doing? Still asking questions. Still interested in other people.

To start this tribute, I took my inspiration from Jean, so I thought I’d seek her help in how to end it. I wondered if she was here, what would she be doing? I imagined her sitting at the back, looking at her watch and saying: “Jon, do get on with it, and then we can go and have a glass of wine and a chat”

Oh, if only we all could….
  • A memorial service for Jean Morgan was held at St Bride's Church, Fleet St, on Thursday May 4.



Anonymous said...

Perfect, Jon. Jean would have lived that x ( ex OG, Siân)

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