Martin Jackson, a founder member of the BPG and twice the Guild’s chairman, died on 28 December after a long illness. He went into hospital following a fall and was taken into intensive care on Christmas Eve. He was 75.
In a working career spanning almost 60 years, Martin was a Fleet Street reporter, an ITV executive, a parliamentary candidate, a television panellist, and editor of Broadcast.
His reputation as an astute and resourceful newshound was earned in the 1960’s and 1970’s as radio and television editor successively for the Daily Express and then for the Daily Mail. Martin’s scoops regularly left his competitors on other national newspapers discomfited. His most famous coup was not a story, but a picture of Angela Rippon, BBC Television’s first woman news reader and a former dancer, kicking up her legs on the Morecambe and Wise Show. Martin managed to smuggle his photographer into a rehearsal at the BBC TV Centre while working on another story. The result appeared on the front page of the Daily Mail before the programme was transmitted and the BBC was furious.
Born Martin Fishbein, the son of immigrant Polish Jewish musicians who changed their name to Jackson, Martin was brought up in North West London and got his first reporting job on the Hampstead and Highgate Express. His natural enthusiasm caused uproar when he dropped a piece he had written into a gap on the front page. The paper’s printers walked out – journalists were not allowed to touch metal type – and Martin was ordered to apologise to each one and buy them a drink.
Martin was a lifelong Labour supporter, committed to internationalism and in favour of a federal Europe. His budding political instincts found early expression when he wrote a daily column for the East Anglian Daily Times during the 1955 election. He described Shirley Williams, the Labour candidate for Harwich, as ‘a closet Liberal’, which proved prophetic.
In 1973 Martin was one of a group of Fleet Street media journalists who decided that the time had come to break free from the Critics’ Circle and set up an organization devoted to their particular interests. The Broadcasting Press Guild was born in a Fleet Street pub and held its first lunch early in 1974. Martin became the Guild’s second chairman in 1977, succeeding Peter Fiddick. He served a second term in 1987.
He would have like the Guild to be a pressure group as well as a vehicle for quizzing broadcasting executives. But even he balked at the idea of submitting recommendations to the Annan Committee on Broadcasting, recognizing that it would have been near impossible to arrive at a consensus view among BPG members.
The most colourful moment during his first three-year stint in the chair occurred when the Guild made its 1979 award for Best Drama Series to Denis Potter’s Pennies From Heaven. Potter’s producer, Ken Trodd, had bet the author £100 that the controversial series would never win an award. He paid up in pennies, poured over the rostrum as Martin was about to make the presentation.
Martin’s success as a media journalist owed much to his network of contacts. He had a special rapport with the late Lord (Lew) Grade, most famous of ITV’s entrepreneurs. He enjoyed telling the story of the time Lew introduced him to a short, dumpy Italian in the bar of the Rome Hilton. Lew left to keep an appointment and Martin and his unknown acquaintance spent several hours over lunch discussing the film industry, Italian politics and life in general. It was only when his unknown host referred to his actress wife that Martin realized he was talking to Carlo Ponti, husband of Sophia Loren.
Martin’s easy personality and good looks secured him a regular slot on the panel of New Faces, the X Factor talent show of its day. After one session, he recalled, ”I told one contestant, a plump lady pianist with a repertoire of comic songs, that her lyrics were great, but she should write for someone else, never appear in public. “Fortunately Victoria Wood ignored my advice.” Jackson was also a regular on the Radio Four’s ‘The News Quiz‘ in the days when it was a genuine quiz.
Already a Kent county councillor, Martin stood for Parliament as Labour candidate for Ashford 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.
Despite being seriously ill for at least the last ten years of his life, he never stopped working and edited a number of publications including the International Film and TV Production Review and a monthly business magazine serving Essex called Agenda.
He wrote a media column for Kent Business for more than 15 years and was its longest-serving contributor. Conscientious to the last, he claimed never to have missed a deadline and only a few days before he died 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 is survived by his wife Maureen, whom he married in 1968, three daughters, a beloved grandson and another on the way.
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