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Ken Morgan: great journalist and principled trade union leader

private  -  © Ken Morgan

19 January 2016

The worlds of Fleet Street and the trade union movement joined the family of Ken Morgan, the former National Union of Journalists general secretary, to celebrate his life at a memorial at the journalists' church St Brides in London.

Ken was leader of the union for seven years from 1970, but his association began when he became active in the Stockport branch of the union – he started his career on the Stockport Express – and he was soon voted on to the union's national executive council. His links to the NUJ continued when he stepped down as general secretary and he represented the union as a trustee and chairman of the Journalists' Copyright Fund.

His daughter, Sarah Martin, described Ken as a devoted family man who read to them endlessly and made them laugh.  She said his passion for reading and for choosing and using words carefully and creatively had been passed down through his daughters and grandchildren who now have an appreciation of the value of language and importance of creativity.

She described how Ken met his wife when they reporters on rival newspapers; Margaret was on the Stockport Advertiser. They used to wangle their diaries so they covered the same council meetings and events. The marriage lasted almost 65 years.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, who stepped into his shoes 34 years later, said Ken would be remembered as great journalist and a fine, principled trade union leader. She recalled hearing stories about the infamous 1974 Wexford delegate meeting (DM), which remains as part of the union's folklore, for a feast of drinking and highly-charged debates all held together by Ken's wisdom and sobriety.

She said his charm and intelligence made him an excellent negotiator and his kindness and good grace made him appreciated by even those who did not necessarily agree with him. He was famous for his pragmatism. When asked about the union's position on advertorials, he said: "The NUJ has two views. The first is that journalists should never write them. The second is that they should be paid extra when they do them."

He was famously generous with his colleagues. When his excellent, self-taught shorthand took down Nye Bevan's infamous 1948 speech, when he described Tories as lower than vermin, he shared the quotes with his fellow reporters.

The congregation also heard from his third daughter Jenny Hawke, who quoted parts of his contribution to an oral history project for the British library. When asked what he would say to a young person interested in journalism as a profession, he replied that although it is difficult to get into and stay in, he found it a rewarding and interesting career. "You've got to be fairly dyed in the wool dull not to be interested…There's meeting the people, the writing about things and sometimes genuinely trying to actually do a piece of concrete good," he said.

Helen, his first daughter, predeceased him.

John Bailey, Ken's president during the Wexford DM, read one of Ken's favourite poems, Naming of the Parts by Henry Reed, journalist and poet who worked for the BBC and became a Japanese translator during the Second World War. Ken had fond memories of his short career in the military when he was a commissioned officer and served in Egypt and Palestine in the British Army Newspaper Unit.

John Bailey was one of many former and present union leaders, including John Foster, John Fray, Denis MacShane, Jim Boumelha, Seamus Dooley, Aiden White, Lionel Morrison, John Barsby and Tim Dawson.  Lord Monks, the former TUC general secretary, and journalists from a range of national and local newspapers also joined the celebration.

Alison Joyce led the service which included a range of Ken's favourite music from Mozart to Gilbert and Sullivan and Flanagan and Allen's Underneath the Arches; all sang with aplomb by the St Bride's choir.

NUJ tribute to Ken Morgan by former president John Bailey

Tags: , ken morgan, general secretary, memorial