Obituary: Lord Ardwick

John Cowburn Beavan, journalist: born Ardwick, Manchester 29 April 1910; Editor, Manchester Evening News 1943-46; London Editor, Manchester Guardian 1946-55; Assistant Director, Nuffield Foundation 1955-60; Editor, Daily Herald 1960-62; Political Adviser, Daily Mirror Group 1962-76; created 1970 Baron Ardwick; Member of the European Parliament 1975-79; Chairman, Press Freedom Committee, Commonwealth Press Union 1980-94; member, North Atlantic Assembly 1986- 92; married 1934 Gladys Jones (one daughter; and one son by Anne Symonds); died Wimbledon 18 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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific