Almost as if to prove it did not bear a grudge, the BBC turned Derek Jameson into a national celebrity after he lost a libel action against a Radio 4 show. He was given television shows to host, but found his greatest fame as the presenter of the breakfast programme on Radio 2. He proved to be a natural broadcaster, a talent made all the more odd in that he took up broadcasting relatively late in life after a successful career in journalism, in which he edited three national newspapers.
Jameson was born in poverty in the East End of London, and started work in his early teens as an errand boy for the international news agency Reuters.
He graduated to trainee reporter, and later joined the Sunday Mirror as picture editor, moving to Manchester in 1965 to become assistant editor of the paper. As managing editor of the Daily Mirror, he started printing photographs of topless models.
In 1977, he became editor of the Daily Express, adding half a million readers to its circulation. The following year, while still editing the Express, he also became editor of the newly launched Daily Star, where he introduced newspaper bingo. Within a year, the Star was selling more than a million copies. He left the Express group to become editor of the now defunct News of the World, but was sacked by Rupert Murdoch in 1984.
Jameson was accustomed to being pilloried for his populist policies and his Cockney accent. Private Eye dubbed him ‘Sid Yobbo’. But he resented suggestions that he was unintelligent. In private, he enjoyed both literature and opera.
So, when Radio 4’s weekly satirical programme Week Ending trained its sights on him in 1984, he found that its criticisms overstepped the mark. The show joked that he thought “erudite” was a type of glue, and that he was to journalism what lockjaw was to conversation.
Unwisely, he took legal action against the programme and, although a jury found the broadcast to be defamatory, it also believed the comments were fair. Jameson was ordered to pay costs put at £75,000.
Jameson was subsequently penniless and without a job. But someone at the BBC must have taken pity on him because he was asked to present a television programme, Do They Mean Us?, in which he linked reports about Britain from foreign TV stations.
On Radio 2, he sat in for Jimmy Young before taking over the breakfast show from Ken Bruce in 1986, presenting it for five and a half years. In terms of popularity, his show was as successful with the public as were the tabloid papers he had edited. He inherited six million listeners. Within two years, he added another four million. After that, he and his third wife, Ellen, hosted Radio 2’s Monday to Thursday late-night show until 1997.
Jameson summed up his approach to both journalism and broadcasting with these words: “I’m totally in tune with the great British public. The fact is that I’m an archetypal man of the people.”
Derek Jameson, who was born on November 29, 1929, died on September 12, aged 82.