Friday, December 15, 2006

Sad News: Frank Johnson is Dead

I have just had a sad phone call from Quentin Letts to tell me that Frank Johnson, one of the greatest journalists of our generation has sadly died. Frank is best known for his columns in the Daily Telegraph and the Spectator but he also, over the years, wrote for The Times, The Sun and NOW.

Frank Johnson was hugely important in the creation of Thatcherism. In 1975 he and John O'Sullivan persuaded Telegraph editor Bill Deedes that Margaret Thatcher was potentially a political phenomenon, and the Telegraph's support in the difficult days of the early 1980s was crucial in enabling her to beat the Wets. Frank was a tremendous nexus of political gossip and knew where all the bodies were buried. It is a real shame he never wrote his memoirs!

Frank had been ill with cancer for some time but his writing was as crisp as ever. Only last weekend he travelled to Milan to the opera, but when he got back his health quickly deteriorated. He was visited last night by many of his friends and colleagues but slipped away this morning.

Frank Johnson was not a typical Tory but he did become typical of a Thatcher-supporting, working class Tory. He was the son of a pastry chef and never went to university.

Quentin Letts described Frank to me as an "exceedingly nice, kind man who used to encourage sketchwriters like me to become less beastly to politicians." Frank may not have succeeded in that, but he did succeed in becoming one of the 'must-read' right of centre journalists of his time.

My own tribute is this: Frank Johnson's writing was instrumental to me becoming interested n and involved in politics in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He had a writing style people like me can only dream about. His wit was legendary. We'll all miss him.


Archbishop Cranmer said...

His Grace is immeasurably saddened by this news. He will miss his fine intellect, his searing analysis, his entertaining wit...

Conservative journalism is impoverished by his loss.

Anonymous said...

Sad news.

Why can't that old bugger with the scythe pick on those whose absence would make the world a cheerier place?

I've got a little list if he needs guidance.... correct that, I've got a bloody long list.

Anonymous said...

This is very sad news - Frank Johnson had been at the opera performance from which Roberto Alagna walked out, and was thus a useful source for the British reports of that event - this seems very sudden. I remember reading his outstanding parliamentary sketches, and realising that they combined superlative humour with insight that unpacked the political world for the novice reader with elegance. I was always sorry that his tenure as Spectator editor was relatively short-lived, although perhaps we benefited from having him focus on his writing rather than being marginalised into editorial work. A loss indeed.

Anonymous said...

Iain. Absolutely right. Amen to that.

Anonymous said...

Having only read his stuff latterly I had rather a poor impression of him as a columnist. I imagine his powers were waning but long terms readers refused to notice . I also did not know his background. How badly the Conservative Party needs to reconnect with its working class support . Something in the Soul of the party is lost when it is too clever and metropolitan for the tribal loyalties that motivate the majority.

Tapestry is always pointing out how homogenous the A list is and how class exclusion operates in the Conservative party and , to be fair , across the spectrum.
I agree heartily with him and lose no opportunity to say so .

Anonymous said...

His parliamentary sketches were an absolute joy to read every morning.A very ,very amusing man.RIP.

Anonymous said...

His Grace has said it all. Frank's passing will create a gap not easily filled with someone of similar stature.

Anonymous said...

For a Tory he was quite funny, which I suppose means that he had to be on the list of those first to go.

Anonymous said...

When I logged on to The Telegraph an hour ago, the headline was "The wittiest man in London dies" and I knew it must be Frank Johnson. This is terrible news. The man fizzed with unusual thoughts and his vision was skewed but true.

I didn't know he'd risen to such prominence from a working class background. But then, that was back when England was a meritocracy and clever people could rise.

His Grace, above, put it well.

RIP Frank Johnson.

Johnny Norfolk said...

When I first became a DT reader I read everthing he wrote. I have a similar background to him, that I did not know about till I read Iains piece.

I would have loved to have met and talked to him.

Who will fill the gap?

Anonymous said...

Was he not the editor of Spectator? Possibly when Algy Cluff or H Heswick was prop.
He certainly wrote for them. In the eighties he and Bron Waugh always told it like it was without fear or favour. Latterly his style was more wry but like Mr Deedes always said something insightful.

Anonymous said...

I was very sorry to hear of Frank Johnson's death. I met Frank in 1974 and he was a genuine nice guy. His Telegraph parliamentary sketches were the first thing I read every day. RIP

Anonymous said...

Frank's early demise ought to be a truly sad event for all Britons who love life, not just conservatives.

I will remember him warmly as a person of immense character who bucked the media frenzy in late 1997 and gave room in the Spectator to articles about our investigation supporting Neil Hamilton's claims of innocence.

Even now, ten years later, such robust attitudes to freedom of speech with respect to the Hamilton affair and The Guardian and media in general are rare indeed.

Many contributors to this thread have remarked upon Frank's wonderful wit. There surely could not be a better example of both his wit and his robust self-confidence than his brilliant Spectator article from 25 April 1998, which he penned when he was the magazine's editor, describing a certain threatening letter that he had recently received from The Guardian's Head of Press and Corporate Affairs, Camilla Nicholls.

I commend it to anyone who loved the wonderfully affable Frank Johnson the person, or his writing. The following URL is to a high-res printable photographic image of said article posted on Image Shack:

Anonymous said...

This is bad news indeed. He was a brilliant man and a thoroughly good one.