Media families; 8. The Junors

Sir John ('Mail on Sunday' columnist) begat Roderick (former 'Daily Telegraph' leader writer) and Penny (television presenter and biographer); she married James Leith (author, freelance journalist and restaurateur) and they begat Sam Leith ('Mail' diarist)

Saturday 22 October 2011 23:23

Why oh why does Sir John Junor (78) still write a column for The Mail on Sunday? Has he not run out of opinions yet? Or does his journalistic longevity stem from the curious combination of the bland and the offensive that characterises his work? I don't know, as the Sage of Auchtermuchty might write - and often does.

But I do know (another Junor favourite) that the family tradition will survive when Sir John retires, thanks to his famous daughter Penny, her husband and her eldest son. Her brother, Roderick, has abandoned the profession, having been a leader writer on The Daily Telegraph and an occasional speech- writer for Lady Thatcher.

Roderick was actually the subject of a recent news story - not very Junoresque, as they tend to appear as subjects only in celeb-type features. Stopped for drink-driving by Surrey police, Junor junior claimed the family was the subject of a vendetta because Sir John was given to criticising Plod in print.

He certainly showed his old man's flair when asked to take a breath test by responding "Dit rien" and adding that: "Norman French is the original English language, as you are well aware."

But before considering the younger generations, we should examine Sir John's illustrious career, built around the Beaverbrook papers, which included 32 years as editor of The Sunday Express and 16 as its main columnist. But despite the history, Sir John was wronged by Express Newspapers and poached by The Mail on Sunday, where he continues to opine on politics and showbiz, sometimes in the same paragraph:

"What woman in her right senses would really want to end up in her 50s looking like Goldie [Hawn]? Wouldn't it be infinitely preferable to lead a completely chaste life and end up looking like Teresa Gorman?" asks Sir John. "Or, again, would it?"

Or, perhaps, looking like his only daughter, "TV's Penny Junor", presenter of The Travel Show on BBC 2, who was described by one colleague as "the thinking man's Jill Dando". Certainly she seems wildly popular with the tabloids, wheeled in on a regular basis for feeble celeb features - her shopping trolley, for example, was "simplicity and harmony", according to a psychologist for The People.

Penny is also the biographer (separately) of Prince Charles and his ex- wife (the cruel say hagiographer), and of John Major and his ex-boss, Mrs T. But despite a book described (by a rival royal writer) as "slavishly sycophantic", Penny managed to alienate both Waleses, prompting what she describes as the two disasters of her professional life.

The Junor book so angered Diana that she collaborated with Andrew Morton (who made the millions Penny would have liked), while an article she wrote in Today defending Prince Charles after the Morton book so annoyed the heir that he axed Penny from the documentary-interview they had planned and picked Jonathan Dimbleby instead.

These setbacks aside, Penny has done pretty well in her career - so much so that in 1993 her husband James Leith (brother of Prue) gave up work as a restaurateur to look after four children and several pets. True to Junor form, he turned this experience into a media event, writing a book called Ironing John.

He now freelances occasionally as a food writer - his oldest son, Sam, recalls a series "on different vegetables for The Guardian" - and book reviewer. Sam, too, has joined the family business and, aged 22, is working as an assistant to Peter McKay, who writes the "Ephraim Hardcastle" diary column in The Daily Mail.

This completes the circle, for the young McKay was brought to London many years ago by ... Sir John Junor. Sam observes that Private Eye has already noted the symmetry gleefully, in the style that blends McKay and Junor senior: "Isn't life grandy and dandy?"

Emma Daly

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