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December 29, 2012 12:56 pm
William Rees-Mogg, former editor of The Times, was a journalist to the end, having written his final column for the paper two weeks ago at the age of 84.
A man of trenchant views, he was never far from the headlines whether as a result of his own newspaper articles, as a peer in the House of Lords or as chairman of the Broadcasting Standards Council.
In 1964 he wrote a now famous article in the Sunday Times entitled “A Captain’s Innings”, calling for Alec Douglas-Home to resign as prime minister. The article, regarded as a highly influential piece of postwar journalism, was followed shortly by Mr Douglas-Home’s resignation, although the Tory politician later said he had already decided to step down.
Never afraid to speak out, in his broadcasting post he attacked Coronation Street, the ITV soap opera, calling it a relic of the Harold Macmillan era that bore little resemblance to modern society because of its lack of ethnic minorities.
Educated at Charterhouse School and Balliol College, Oxford, he started his journalistic career in 1952 at the Financial Times, working for eight years there in several roles, including chief leader writer and assistant editor.
In 1960 he moved to the Sunday Times, rising to deputy editor, before becoming editor of its sister title The Times in 1967. In the same year, he wrote one of his most controversial pieces for the paper. In an editorial entitled “Who breaks a butterfly on a wheel?”, he defended Mick Jagger following the arrest of the Rolling Stones singer for possessing drugs.
He was seen as a pioneering editor who pushed investigative journalism and more strident opinions in Times leaders and columns. He was editor during the strike of 1978–1979, an 11-month period when the paper went unpublished.
An authoritative figure during his reign, his tenure came to an abrupt end in 1981 following Rupert Murdoch’s takeover of The Times and the Sunday Times. Rees-Mogg had led a group of journalists opposed to the acquisition. But he made his peace with Mr Murdoch who, in tribute, described him as having “retained the intellectual integrity of the paper while attracting a broader-based and markedly more female readership.”
He was knighted in 1981, and made a life peer in 1988. His views continued to be closely watched by his media peers. While John Major was prime minister, Rees-Mogg wrote an article in The Times, widely followed by other newspapers, which described Mr Major as “unfit to govern and lacking self-confidence”. The piece was attacked by Sir Norman Fowler, then the Tory party chairman, as “the authentic voice of the Patrician Tendency – pure snobbery’’.
Rees-Mogg was a director of GEC from 1981 to 1997 and a director of fund manager M&G from 1987 to 1994. He is survived by his wife Gillian and five children.
His son Jacob Rees-Mogg, Conservative MP for northeast Somerset, said his father had worked until the end. Speaking to The Times, he said: “I had the greatest father anyone could ever want . . . He had the most extraordinary knowledge of almost every subject you could ever ask him about, and had this fascinating position in British public life for the last 60 years. He interviewed the leader of the opposition only six weeks ago, and had been a speech writer for Anthony Eden.”
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