Simon Jones: Key figure on the sports desk of 'The Independent'

'Simon was always the man you could rely on to make you a better writer,' said a colleague

Simon Jones, who has died at 63, was a talented and highly respected journalist who was a key figure at The Independent for 20 years. As the sports department's chief sub-editor Jones played a pivotal role in the nightly production of the newspaper, overseeing the editing of the copy and ensuring that headlines and captions matched the high standards expected of the reporters. He was an excellent team leader who helped to bring through a fine generation of young sports journalists.

A warm and engaging character, Simon was the adopted son of Jimmy and Heather Jones. He shared a love of sport and writing with his father, who was a leading British tennis player and went on to become a coach and author of some 30 sports books.

Simon grew up with his sisters, Virginia, Rosemary and Melanie, in the family home in Upper Norwood in South-east London. He was educated at Dulwich College and City of Westminster College. He was gifted, but not the most dedicated of students, his lively mind all too often distracted by other interests, like music and art. He was also a good sportsman; he played tennis and had a trial with Crystal Palace, the football club he supported all his life.

At the University of Manchester he studied History of Art and developed the interests that became major themes throughout his life. He wrote plays and song lyrics; he played guitar and sang in performing bands, with whom he was forever attempting to push boundaries. As a painter he greatly admired the work of Salvador Dali and once travelled to Spain to interview him.

Jones's greatest ambition was to become a writer. While trying to make his breakthrough he did a variety of jobs, as a grave-digger, an ice cream van driver, an encylopaedia salesman, a building labourer, a turkey farm worker and a seller of advertising space. He received positive reactions to much of his written work and was given a particularly encouraging response when he submitted work to a broadcast courtroom drama series, but he always insisted on keeping what he regarded as his artistic integrity. Like his music and painting, his writing was cutting edge. He was a nonconformist in almost every respect.

Nevertheless he made his first ventures into mainstream sports journalism under the guiding eye of his father, who covered tennis for the Daily Mirror and The Sunday Telegraph. He reported on football matches for The Sunday Telegraph and eventually joined the sports department at The Times, where he quickly made his mark as a sub-editor.

Jones was recruited by The Independent a few months after its launch in 1986 and soon became a central figure in the sports department. While he never gave up his own writing ambitions, he brought the best out of others with his sensitive editing and clever headlines. "Simon was always the man on whom you could rely to make you a better writer," one of his colleagues said.

As chief sub, Jones ran a team of sub-editors. "Jubbers", as he was known in the office, set high standards, but always handled people with decency and good humour. A number of today's leading sports journalists made their first steps under his careful guidance. He was fun to work with and would have colleagues in stitches with his impersonations of sporting celebrities.

He wrote throughout his life. In 2003 his interview with Nick Bollettieri led to the celebrated tennis coach writing regular columns for The Independent. Thereafter a framed copy of the interview occupied pride of place on the wall of Bollettieri's office at his academy in Florida.

Jones continued to write plays and film scripts as well as a children's book in collaboration with Sophie Amphlett, the daughter of Jane, his former partner and lifelong friend, with whom he shared many happy years living together in Soho.

The enthusiasm and dedication Jones put into all his interests was typified by his tennis. He would spend hours practising his serve or hitting balls against a wall. He was such a perfectionist that opponents would become frustrated as he repeatedly aborted his service action if his ball toss was not quite right. However, no amount of protests from the other side of the net would make him change.

He was also a good judge of players. In 1985, before Wimbledon started, he encouraged colleagues to place a bet on a 17-year-old ranked No 20 in the world. Boris Becker duly won the title.

Cars were another passion. On one occasion he was driving through Kent with a friend when he spotted a classic Jaguar sports car for sale in a garage. With typical impetuosity he bought it on the spot, even though he had nowhere to keep the car at the time.

He was always good company, knowledgeable about many subjects, and highly sociable, but from his mid-twenties he had to deal with mental illness. He was misdiagnosed with schizophrenia before bipolar disorder was identified. Until his late forties he would go several years free of illness, but in later life his periods of depression became more frequent and he would spend lengthy spells in hospital or unable to work. Until the early 1990s he did regular work for the Samaritans: as someone who knew what it was like to be in the depths of despair he was a very good listener.

In 2008 he left The Independent and went to live in Spain, near the Lew Hoad tennis camp at Fuengirola, where he had been a frequent visitor. He enjoyed the chance to indulge his sporting passions, but in the last 18 months of his life his mental health deteriorated. He died within days of returning to Britain to seek medical help.

Charles Simon Medlycott Jones, journalist: born Dulwich, London 6 October 1949; died Teynham, Kent 17 October 2012.

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