Obituary: Sir John Junor

By the 1980s John Junor was possibly the best-known Scotsman in England, writing a famous column in the newpaper he edited from 1954 to 1986, the Beaverbrookian Sunday Express.

It was a column that had millions of readers nodding their heads wisely and telling themselves that you had to hand it to old Junor - he knew how to sock it to them. He socked it to social workers and homosexuals, to intellectuals, to pompous old twits and various other groups that the average Englishman longs to abuse but lacks the facility with words, not to mention the necessary bad taste, to do the job properly. He socked it to liberal- minded members of the Royal Family. As for politicians, he regarded Harold Macmillan as a poseur ("as phoney as a two-dollar bill") and Harold Wilson as spineless ("I doubted whether between his backstud and his backside there was anything but his braces"). He adored Margaret Thatcher.

Junor's father came from the Highlands, but Junor himself was born in Glasgow, in a tenement building in Maryhill. Years later, when he wanted to delight his readers with an idealised community with all the homely Scottish virtues, he picked not on Glasgow but on the town of Auchtermuchty, which sounds fictional but is in fact an undistinguished little place in Fife. Junor liked to call in there when he went north from Fleet Street to play golf - Auchtermuchty is conveniently on the road to St Andrews. The Auchtermuchty of Junor's sabbath imagination warmed the heart of every Sunday Express reader. It was a place where the lassies were pretty, the lads were lusty, and there was short shrift for "woofters and poofters". No man in Auchtermuchty ate quiche.

Junor's early ambitions leant more towards politics than journalism. At Glasgow University he joined the Liberal Party and became president of the University Liberal Club. In 1939, he found himself picked for the kind of mission most of us think of as taking place in fiction. He was signed on, at the then not inconsiderable salary of pounds 4 a week, by the fabulously rich and highly personable Lady Glen-Coats, a Liberal activist, as her private secretary, to go on a fact-finding tour of Hitler's Germany. The couple were only just able to get a train out of Germany before the Second World War started on 3 September. Later, Junor was to stand unsuccessfully three times for Parliament in the Liberal interest.

Junor came to the notice of the newspaper magnate Lord Beaverbrook soon after the war, the latter stages of which Junor spent editing the Fleet Air Arm's magazine, Flight Deck. By 1948 he was working as a reporter on Beaverbrook's Daily Express. "I discovered early on that I would not have made a very good hard news reporter," he said, but he had the knack of writing about political personalities and was moved on within months to writing the "Cross-Bencher" column in the Sunday Express.

The column set standards for malicious political gossip and Junor soon joined the select club of Beaverbrook cronies, liable to be called in to make up dinner parties or simply to provide or listen to ideas. He was even provided with a house on the Beaverbrook estate. In 1951, Junor was promoted to assistant editor and chief leader writer of the Daily Express, and after a brief stint as editor of the London Evening Standard, became editor of the Sunday Express in 1954.

He edited the paper for a long time before he took over the column which made him his own most celebrated contributor. He started writing it, as it happens, at almost precisely the time that the Tory party chose Margaret Thatcher as its leader. The initiative for the first meeting between them came not from him, but from her, or at least from her entourage.

Her public relations adviser, Gordon Reece, arranged a lunch with Junor at the Boulestin restaurant. Junor regarded himself as a connoisseur of the Tory politicians at the time, but at the initial lunch he did not find the future Prime Minister over-impressive: in Auchtermuchty they preferred their politicians to be male. But it was not long before the Thatcher team, seeking to woo Junor, found they were pushing at an open door. It had come to him as a blinding light that what Auchtermuchty really wanted in the hour of the nation's need was the no-nonsense approach of a woman, a woman who believed in good housekeeping, a grocer's daughter who knew how many beans made five.

It takes one to know one; and in Margaret Thatcher Junor recognised one of his own kind. At last the old Etonians and the effete Southerners who had run the country for so long were about to get their come-uppance. He was soon coming up with suggestions as how to purge the old Conservative Party.

The most characteristic setting for the mature Junor was his favourite table at either the Boulestin or the Savoy, where he would entertain leading politicians. There he picked up and passed on gossip, and received whatever messages the politicians were anxious to convey to the greater public. He liked to think his conversation had a catalytic effect on policy-making at the top. Yet one suspects that these were the sort of occasions where each participant was convinced he was using the other.

Junor was an ill-natured populist with a taste for common-or-garden abuse, although he could be generous in his summing-up of some politicians. "Of all the people around Mrs Thatcher," he wrote in 1990, "I have not the slightest doubt which one, in a perfect world, I would choose as her successor. Geoffrey Howe." But Junor never traded on his judgement. It was his gift for homespun invective, which he developed into an art form, which seemed particularly appropriate to the Thatcherite years.

The John Junor brand of rudeness was one of the more notable characteristics of public life in the Eighties; in the Nineties, no longer editor of the Sunday Express, he moved his column to the Mail on Sunday, a pulpit that he shared with Julie Burchill. It was the Old next to the New Testament. Junor, a heavy, thickset man of a folksy appearance, might had had his finger on the nation's pulse, but he also got on its nerves.

John Donald Brown Junor, journalist: born Glasgow 15 January 1919; Assistant Editor, Daily Express 1951-53; Deputy Editor, Evening Standard 1953-54; Editor, Sunday Express 1954-86, Columnist 1973-89; Director, Beaverbrook (later Express) Newspapers 1960-86; Kt 1980; Columnist, Mail on Sunday 1990-97; author of The Best of JJ 1981, Listening for a Midnight Tram 1990; married 1942 Pamela Welsh (one son, one daughter); died 3 May 1997.

News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own