Obituary: Lord Ardwick
Friday 19 August 1994
JOHN ARDWICK's newspaper career spanned more than 60 years. He was a stylish writer, a gifted though unlucky editor, a widely experienced executive and the man who spoke for journalists in the House of Lords.
He was Welsh as only a Manchester Welshman can be. He was born John Beavan, in Ardwick, the district he chose for his title, in 1910. His father was Silas Morgan Beavan, a name redolent of the valleys from which the Beavans came, and his mother was the redoubtable Alderman Emily Beavan, a name still remembered and savoured in Manchester Labour circles.
From his father Ardwick inherited his sense of nationality and his love of rugby. But it was his mother who gave him his politics. He was a cradle socialist, far to the left during the pre-war years when he took part in Manchester's Popular Front movement, convinced that everybody from Communists to Liberals should combine in an anti-Fascist alliance. Though he moved to the right in his later years he was never tempted to follow a number of his fellow peers into the SDP. He remained a Labour man. Alderman Beavan would have expected nothing else.
At Manchester Grammar School he played rugby, began a lifetime friendship with the future politician Harold Lever, and decided to become a journalist. Many of his contemporaries took the school's traditional path and went on to university. Ardwick went on to the Blackpool Times.
There he met another young reporter, Hugh Cudlipp, temporarily covering the town for the Manchester Evening Chronicle. They were reunited soon afterwards when they were reporting together in Salford. These were the first of many Ardwick-Cudlipp encounters which would end with both in the House of Lords.
It was to the Evening Chronicle that Ardwick moved when, in 1928, he left Blackpool. But two years later he was off to the rival Manchester Evening News, sister paper of what was then the Manchester Guardian. This was the appropriate organisation for him to join, for, though he worked for a variety of papers, and became best known to the public as John Beavan of the Mirror, he was always a Guardian man at heart.
The News realised his talent, promoted him to its London office and then brought him back to Manchester as news editor. But London reclaimed him when in 1940 he accepted with enthusiasm the opportunity to join the Evening Standard, working first on the Londoner's Diary, Lord Beaverbrook's most favoured feature, and then as a leader writer. Beaverbrook indicated that he was marked for higher things, but unlike so many journalists in that situation he managed to resist the lure and two years later joined the Observer, where he became news editor and chief sub-editor. Neither post was unduly arduous by itself but together, in wartime conditions with consequent shortages of staff, they gave him his first ulcer. Relief came with a call from his old paper to return and in 1943 become Editor of the Manchester Evening News. This also provided him with a seat on the board of the Manchester Guardian and Evening News company, which he retained for 12 years.
When the war ended he transferred at last to the Guardian. He became its London editor. With the Guardian's headquarters still in Manchester this was a post of great responsibility and prestige, but after nine successful years he felt he was due for a change. He accepted the post of assistant director of the Nuffield Foundation and settled down with the intention of spending the rest of his career as a well-paid but socially committed administrator. This proved only a temporary phase. He never really stopped being a newspaperman and when the Daily Herald, the crisis-prone paper owned jointly by Odhams and the TUC, offered him the editorship in 1960, he returned unhesitatingly to his true calling.
He put his stamp on the paper immediately. Within weeks it was looking better. Within months, however, he was in trouble. The Odhams empire was taken over by the International Publishing Corporation where his old friend, Cudlipp, was No 2 to the chairman, Cecil King. During the takeover King said it was IPC's intention to retain Beavan as editor. He did not say, though, how long that editorship would be. Within a few months IPC had put a man from the Mirror in as editor and Ardwick was transferred to IPC's Mirror papers. He had been given no real chance to turn the Herald round.
But at least he had a new job and it was one in which he swiftly built a new reputation. He was made political editor of the two Mirror papers and later became political adviser to the group. He remained as the Mirror's political chief from 1962 until 1976. It was an eventful period in British politics and a splendid time in which to be a political journalist. Ardwick's Mirror career saw Macmillan, Home, Wilson, Heath and then Wilson again as prime ministers. He interviewed them all and interpreted them for the Daily Mirror, which then had Britain's largest circulation. He wrote speeches for Gaitskell and briefs for King. For 14 years he was as near the centre of British politics as it is possible for any non-
politician to be.
In 1976, as he reached retirement age on the Mirror papers, he was unexpectedly appointed one of the Labour members of the European Parliament. Three years before he had suffered a major illness from which it seemed doubtful that he would recover, and this new appointment brought fears for his health. They were groundless. He seemed like a man of 50 as he commuted between his home at Barnes and Strasbourg, Luxembourg and Brussels. He enjoyed every day of this unexpected experience of being a working politician instead of a working journalist.
In 1979 British MEPs were directly elected for the first time and, deciding not to contest an election at the age of 69, he left Strasbourg to concentrate on his work in the House of Lords. Harold Wilson had created him a life baron in 1970, principally to take on the role of journalist-peer previously played by Francis Williams. Wilson said at the time: 'There are lots of people representing the newspaper industry in the Lords. I want John Beavan to represent journalism.'
Although Ardwick proved a hardworking Labour peer in several fields, he took the particular part allotted to him by Wilson very seriously. He spoke in most debates on the media and enlarged his brief to include a robust defence of public service broadcasting. But he was not an automatic defender of journalism and journalists. He saw the faults of newspapers clearly, and as a Guardian man who had become a tabloid journalist he was in a position to assess the credits and debits of quality and popular newspapers. His verdict in one Lords debate on the excesses of today's tabloids summed up the situation: 'The wages of sin is increased circulation.'
This comment was typical of Ardwick. He was a genuinely humorous person. One could see his eyes actually sparkle when he saw the funny side of somebody or something. He was also a realist who saw the faults as well as the virtues of his calling. He was a good craftsman. To the end he wrote excellent diary features for the Commons publication, The House magazine. When Aneurin Bevan died in 1960 he had to write an article about him in great haste. I came across it by chance some 20 years later and, even with the benefit of hindsight, not a word or a judgement needed to be changed.
He was a warm person. He was unselfishly and unstintingly helpful, to younger journalists. I know this better than most, for first I worked for him at the Daily Mirror and then I succeeded him.
Few journalists enjoy such a long career. Fewer still enjoy such affection as he attracted.
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