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Tribute to industrial correspondent Roy Rogers

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3 April 2018

Barrie Clement

Former Herald industrial correspondent Roy Rogers, who has died at the age of 73 of Parkinson’s disease and dementia, was one of those journalists who wouldn’t dream of plying his trade without being a member of the NUJ.

It was an unspoken, but fierce loyalty. At the time of his death on March 15, he had been a member for around 50 years.

Roy was born in September 1944 at Shardeloes, a large eighteenth century country house near Amersham in Buckinghamshire requisitioned for pregnant women evacuated from London. His father was with the forces in Burma.

One of three brothers, Roy was a bright working class lad who passed his 11-plus and went to Kingsbury county grammar school in north London. He played football for Harrow Schools and rugby for his own school and eventually for Old Kingsburians where he met his wife Susan.

His career in newspapers began as a clerk in the prices room of the Financial Times. He got the job through his uncle who was an official in the print union NATSOPA at a time when unions controlled the supply of non-journalistic labour at national newspapers.

Management recognised the young man’s abilities and he became a labour reporter; eventually labour correspondent and subsequently shipping correspondent. That was a considerable feat, given that the FT’s writing staff wasn’t over-populated with state-educated journalists of working class origins.

Roy left the FT in 1976, becoming editor of Shipbuilding News; from there he went to Lloyd’s List and on to the London office of The Herald.

Roy was a much-respected journalist whose personal politics – his colleagues would describe him as a traditional trade union left-winger – never coloured his copy. His understated but sharp scepticism was brought to bear on the more implausible declarations of both management and unions. If you wanted to know what was going on in the labour movement, you needed to look no further than Roy’s copy in the Herald.

Like all labour and industrial correspondents of his era, Roy was present at the annual conferences of both the TUC and the Labour party. He gave some of the more entertaining speeches as chair of the labour and industrial correspondents’ group. Known self-importantly as “The Group”, it was an institution which was given the task of thanking conference organisers for their efforts on behalf of journalists.

The Group was a boisterous - some would say boorish - institution. But however egocentric they might be, each year they would award the “Golden Bollock” to the member adjudged to have made the most serious error in print, or on air. It was a testament to his accuracy as a reporter that Roy never won it, although those who did claimed that it was because no-one ever saw his copy because it was printed in a non-London newspaper.  That was simply professional jealousy.

His complete lack of pomposity, his deep understanding of the labour movement and his sense of humour endeared him to the country’s most senior union leaders. It was a relationship underpinned with respect on both sides.

Roy covered all the major industrial disputes in the 70s and 80s, including the most important of all, the miners’ strike of 1984-85. He was close to most of the great union leaders of the era, but never too close to write stories which they found inconvenient and sometimes downright embarrassing.
Doubtless the genesis of his quick wit lay in the necessity to defend himself against those who found his name amusing.

To the younger generation who have never heard of “the singing cowboy” Roy Rogers, an American megastar in the 50s and 60s, the home-grown Roy Rogers was constantly having to deal with people making “jokes” at his expense.

On one occasion Roy was in Eastbourne covering the engineering union conference for The Herald. Along with colleagues from other newspapers, he had just consumed a distinctly mediocre dinner presided over by an intrusive m’aître d' who insisted that after the meal the reporters round the table recite their names and the papers for which they wrote. It came to Roy’s turn and he said: “Roy Rogers, Glasgow Herald.” The annoyingly intrusive restaurant manager, asked: “Where’s your horse?” Roy replied: “I think I’ve just eaten it.”

There were the inevitable stories about Roy’s encounters with officialdom. This could be especially problematical during his teenage years when he was out with his friends Jesse and Frank James. On more than one occasion Roy and the two brothers were pulled over by the police and asked for their names. Inevitably they were treated with scepticism and threats of incarceration until they revealed their “real” names.

Roy took voluntary redundancy from the Herald in 2002, but that stretched the definition of the word “voluntary”. In fact, like some other colleagues of a certain vintage, he had become “too expensive”.  He was subject to considerable pressure to sign up for severance pay and one manager in particular wore him down in the end.

He was already showing some of the early symptoms of Parkinson’s towards the end of his career with The Herald, but not to the extent that it impaired his reporting ability.

Roy was never as extravagantly extrovert as some of his industrial correspondent colleagues, but he was the master of the one-liner and excellent company.

Tragically during the last few years he had developed dementia, which eventually led to his death in March. He leaves wife Susan whom he married in 1972, children Jane and Jack, born respectively in 1981 and 1983 and four grandchildren: Max, three; twins Jennie and Carrie two; and Maddie one. Roy also had some good mates and we will all miss him.

Tags: , roy rogers, obituary, the herald, industrial correspondent, ft