John Keith Sheridan Bourne

Above: western end of Fleet Street at Temple Bar, at the boundary between the City of London and the City of Westminster.

John Cole (23 November 1927 – 7 November 2013) wrote for The Guardian of 2 Nov 2012:

“John Bourne, who has died aged 86, was one of the best political journalists of his generation. Though he was a Guardian colleague of mine in the 1950s, it was at the Financial Times that he flourished and spent the rest of his career.

Initially he was the FT’s labour correspondent, but when Harold Wilson’s Labour government came to power in 1964, the editor, Gordon Newton, put John’s contacts with Labour politicians and trade unionists to good use by making him the correspondent covering parliament. His work in the lobby of the House of Commons soon gave the paper a political clout that it had not attained before.

Political columns and editorials were the responsibility, successively, of Ronald Butt and David Watt. John did not aspire to punditry. He found fascination instead in discovering what was going on at Westminster, and was trusted by politicians of all parties. In only 10 or 15 minutes, he could convert a speech or a few political conversations into a perfect news story – a rare talent.

John formed an outstanding news-gathering partnership with Ian Aitken, then political correspondent of the Guardian. The two papers did not compete directly, and their editors were happy to enjoy the results of this formidable co-operation. It produced some of its best results when, in 1969, Wilson and Barbara Castle attempted to change trade union law through the white paper In Place of Strife. John and Aitken were able to chronicle better than their competitors the turbulent months that followed.

John’s bosses recognised his judgment, hard work and enterprise by making him lobby editor, and he provided them with a number of policy documents well ahead of time, in an era before leaks had become a Whitehall cottage industry.

His reporter’s acumen came into play in 1970, when, shortly after Edward Heath formed his government, the Conservative leader was faced with the sudden death of his new chancellor, Iain Macleod. In these unprecedented circumstances, there was no obvious successor. One morning John was walking past Downing Street to the Commons when he noticed, standing outside No 10, the unusual make of car that Anthony Barber, chairman of the Conservative party, favoured. He quickly concluded that Barber was to be chancellor, and predicted this in the paper.

John was born on June 21 1926 in Chelsea, south-west London, to Ada, a former suffragette, and Victor, the Bristol correspondent for the News Chronicle. Educated at Bristol grammar school, John served for two years as an RNVR sub-lieutenant during the second world war and was awarded the minesweeping medal. In 1948 he went to Downing College, Cambridge, where he read English under FR Leavis, and was an enthusiastic oarsman. He retained a love for small boats, and later sailed off the Cornish coast.

From the Yorkshire Post, in 1953 he went to the reporters’ room of the Manchester Guardian, and then moved to London as deputy to the labour correspondent, Mark Arnold-Forster. When I succeeded Arnold-Forster in 1957, John was disappointed at not getting what was then one of the plum jobs on the paper. When I saw his talents as a reporter and his knowledge of labour relations, I knew that he had had a better claim to the succession, and so it came as no surprise when, in 1960, he departed for the FT.

His tendency to work inordinately long hours may well have led to the illness that shortened his career. In 1971 he underwent a carotid angiogram investigation, then carrying a high risk, to investigate what turned out to be a migraine. This, accidentally, interrupted the blood supply to his brain, inducing a stroke and the semi-paralysis of his left side.

After treatment at Headley Court, the services rehabilitation centre in Surrey, he returned to Westminster with renewed determination. Once back in the FT’s offices, he became features editor and the first editor of the Weekend FT before retiring in 1987.

John is survived by his wife, Jean Stead, who was news editor – one of Fleet Street’s first women in that role – and assistant editor of the Guardian. He is also survived by their children, Victoria and Matthew.”

Jean Stead died on 2nd December, 2016.

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