Almost 60 years to the day after becoming a journalist, Martin Jackson, a former radio and TV editor at the Daily Express and Daily Mail, died in the Kent and Sussex Hospital in Tunbridge Wells on December 28 aged 75.
Born Martin Fishbein, the son of immigrant Jewish musicians from Poland, his mother changed their surname to guard against prejudice as they sought work. Jackson was chosen when she threw a telephone directory in the air.
Martin was brought up in north-west London. He joined the Hampstead and Highgate Express as a cub reporter and made an immediate impact. When watching the paper being put to bed at the end of his first week, he picked up the filler paragraph he had written about the opening of a club for African students and dropped it in the small gap on the front page that was proving difficult to fill.
All the print workers promptly downed tools, put on their jackets and left the building. The editor gave Jackson a fiver and ordered him to apologise to them individually for not being a member of the London Society of Compositors and buy each of them a drink. They soon returned to work. The story was one of hundreds that Jackson accumulated during his distinguished career and enjoyed recounting. A naturally self-deprecating man, he especially relished those anecdotes that showed him in an embarrassing light.
By the 1955 general election he had moved to the East Anglian Daily Times in Ipswich. Interested in politics, he wrote an election diary from a different local constituency each day. He described Shirley Williams, the Labour candidate for Harwich, as “a closet Liberal” and not unreasonably subsequently claimed that he was right.
An obviously talented journalist and astute newshound, he joined the Daily Express and rose rapidly from showbiz reporter to become radio and television editor before crossing Fleet Street to fulfil the same role at the Daily Mail. A lover of scoops, one of his favourite was securing a photo of Angela Rippon’s legs at a rehearsal of the Morecambe and Wise Show in which the then newsreader was to star. It featured on the front page and the BBC was not amused.
Interested in more than just showbiz tittle-tattle, he investigated other aspects of the television and film industries, including the political and economic dimensions. However, he inevitably met and interviewed a great many celebrities, which furnished him with yet more great anecdotes.
What he claimed was one of his most embarrassing moments occurred when he met a short dumpy Italian man in the bar of the Rome Hilton.
He retold: ”Lew Grade waved me over and introduced me to Carlo, whom I took to be his Rome agent. Grade had to rush out to an appointment, leaving us in the bar. A couple of drinks later, Carlo asked me if I fancied lunch as he knew a great restaurant nearby. We enjoyed a super lunch talking about the film industry, Italian politics and life in general. He suddenly mentioned his wife was in London.
“Shopping?” I asked.
“No, working” he said. “She’s at Pinewood Studios”.
“Oh,” I said. “She’s in the film business. What as, a hairdresser or make-up girl?”
“No, she’s an actress”, said Carlo.
“Would I have seen her in anything?” I asked.
“Perhaps,” replied Carlo. “Her name is Sophia Loren.”
Jackson had spent half a day with the legendary Carlo Ponti without knowing it.
Whilst at the Daily Mail he joined the panel of New Faces, a TV talent show and the X Factor of its day. It was to provide Jackson with yet more great stories. ”I told one contestant, a plump lady pianist with a repertoire of comic songs, that her lyrics were great, she should write for someone else, but never appear in public. Fortunately Victoria Wood ignored my advice.” Jackson was also a regular on BBC Radio 4’s News Quiz in the days when it was a genuine quiz.
An enthusiastic Labour supporter and Kent County Councillor, he stood for Parliament in the two general elections held in 1974. On both occasions his principal adversary was fellow journalist Bill Deedes of the Daily Telegraph. With perhaps more in common than they had differences, the two got on famously and Deedes frequently gave his arch rival a lift to public meetings at which they were both speaking. Jackson was gracious enough to attend his Tory opponent’s victory parties.
It was perhaps predictable that when Jackson finally left his beloved Fleet Street it would be to join the television industry he had observed for so long. He led the consortium that captured the southern area franchise for Television South (TVS) but his egalitarian instincts prompted him to decline the managing directorship and opt instead for Director of Public Affairs.
Jackson moved on to edit and re-launch Broadcast magazine. He subsequently became Publisher of International Thomson’s Media Group, which included Broadcast, Screen International and TV World.
He was the founding secretary and twice chair of the Broadcasting Press Guild, a board director of the Southern Screen Commission, a founder director of Screen South and chair of the Wired Kent initiative.
Despite being seriously ill for at least the last 10 years of his life, he never stopped working and instead edited a number of publications including the International Film and TV Production Review and a monthly business magazine serving Essex called ‘Agenda’.
Martin had a very keen sense of history, he was a committed internationalist and an active supporter of the United Nations Association. In his last weeks he was responsible for the creation of the first United Nations prayer for peace and was seeking to bring together Christian, Jewish and Muslim representatives to debate his plan to name Jerusalem as a World City.
He wrote a media column for Kent Business for more than 15 years and was its longest-serving contributor. Extraordinarily conscientious to the last, he claimed never to have missed a deadline and only a few days before he passed away he wrote his final column, signing off his piece with these words: “I know this month’s column may well be my last and I just want to say how much I have enjoyed writing it and how much of a comfort it has been to me, even in difficult times. I trust it will continue even if I cannot. Thank you for reading.”
He leaves his wife Maureen, whom he married in 1968, three daughters, a grandson and another on the way.
Martin Jackson’s funeral will be on Thursday 14 January at 15.30, at Hastings Crematorium, The Ridge, Hastings, East Sussex, TN342AE. And afterwards at his family home at Hawkhurst, Kent.
More details are available from his daughter Rebekah at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 01580 753624. If you can, please letRebekah know if you are likely to attend afterwards.
Family flowers only please. Donations to Hospice in the Weald via KB Sills funeral directors on 01580 712284.