J.D.F. Jones: Inspirational foreign editor at the 'Financial Times'

Sunday 23 March 2014 02:24

John David Francis Jones was known only to his Welsh relatives as David; to distinguish himself from the myriad David Joneses in Wales, everyone else called him JDF. At the Financial Times he set up a network of foreign correspondents rivalling that of any other newspaper, whom he inspired by his personal magnetism and by his example as a star writer. He was warm, friendly, eloquent, indefatigable, and always unmistakably Welsh. He put his genius into his path-breaking work as a newspaperman, but he had plenty of talent left over for books on African subjects.

JDF was born in 1939 in Newport. His father was a bank manager, his grandfather a Welsh minister. He attended Merthyr Tydfil grammar school, and won a scholarship to Balliol College Oxford, where he read history. As soon as he left Oxford, he went out to South Africa, then to Uganda, to start a career in journalism. In 1964 he drove all the way back to London from East Africa in an old Volkswagen, to take up a job in Reuters. He was one of the many bright young graduates hired on to the Financial Times by the legendary editor Gordon Newton.

I had been appointed diplomatic correspondent in 1963, which meant deputy foreign editor. My assignment from Newton was to tour Africa and the Middle East, appoint new correspondents, and write "think pieces". In 1965, Newton appointed JDF diplomatic correspondent to carry on this task on a more ambitious scale. I became foreign editor, with responsibility mainly for Europe and the United States, while JDF covered Africa and other developing countries. In 1967, JDF succeeded me as foreign editor, and continued to expand the paper's coverage worldwide.

JDF appointed and visited a team that eventually rose to 30 full-time correspondents and about 100 part-time "stringers". The network was enhanced by regional specialists who edited the correspondents' work and wrote their own analyses in the FT's headquarters at Bracken House. For example Bridget Bloom did Africa, Richard Johns the Middle East, Hugh O'Shaughnessy Latin America, and Michael Connock the Soviet bloc.

JDF inspired his correspondents with a sense of novelty and adventure which helped to make up for their modest remuneration. His achievement was to globalise the FT's foreign coverage well ahead of the globalisation of international finance itself. Before his arrival, the paper's main motive for foreign news was whether "British interests" were involved. JDF persuaded Newton that any significant event in the world could have an economic impact on the UK. Newton began to have doubts, and Fredy Fisher, his successor from 1972 on, was harder for JDF to convince. JDF may have been before his time, but he lived to see the FT's network expand to today's 100 full-time foreign correspondents and 30 stringers.

After nearly a decade as foreign editor, JDF succeeded me as managing editor in 1976 (with one other intervening holder of the post). It was a thankless chore, carrying responsibility without power. He may not have been suited to the job, but he performed it with characteristic energy, sometimes to the point of exhaustion. It was clearly not a step towards the editorship, particularly as JDF had no interest in, and some disdain for, the bread-and-butter financial and economic news.

JDF made his escape by posting himself as FT correspondent to South Africa in 1981-84. On his return, he transformed the Saturday edition of the FT into a bright weekend section, using his recruiting talents to sign up top names in the arts and lifestyle fields. He later became arts and books editor with equal success, and retired in 1993 to start a new life in Somerset as a writer.

While still on the FT, he wrote thrillers under the name Michael Jordan. In 1994 he wrote Freeland, a fact-based novel about a European group at Lamu in Kenya, which aimed to set off into the interior. In 1995 he published Through Fortress and Rock, a history of the South African mining company Gencor. In 1996 came The Buchan Papers, an African fantasy based on the discovery of fictitious papers by John Buchan.

In 2001 he published Storyteller: the many lives of Laurens van der Post. He had known and admired van der Post, whose daughter Lucia, a colleague on the FT, authorised him to write her father's biography. Research based on the family papers led to revelations which embarrassed them both. In spite of Lucia's opposition, JDF felt that the truth about a figure who had been taken seriously by world leaders could not and should not be suppressed. But for a disastrous fire at his farmhouse, he might by now have published his life of the South African leader Jan Smuts, for which he had done extensive research.

JDF met his first wife Daria Luisa ("Dalu") Bumoni, then married to an Italian count, on a trip to Syria for the FT in 1966. They married in 1967, and were divorced in 1983. They adopted a son, Thomas, and her daughter Fabia became his stepdaughter. After the marriage had ended, JDF formed a partnership with Mary Hope, who accompanied him on his posting to South Africa. After his return he re-met and in 1991 married Jules Cashford, who had been his girlfriend when he first arrived in London. He became a real father to her daughter Sasha, his second stepdaughter. He told me with typical frankness: "I ended up marrying the woman I should have married in the first place." JDF Jones died of a heart attack at the age of 69 at his home in Somerset, with his Labrador at his feet.

Christopher Johnson

John David Francis Jones, journalist: born 10 July 1939; married 1967 Daria Bumoni (divorced 1983, one son, one stepdaughter), 1991 Jules Cashford (one stepdaughter); died Somerset 4 March 2009.

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