When there is a memorial service for Alan Jenkins at St Bride’s – he died aged 81 in a Dundee hospice on 24 June after a short illness – old hands at a suitable establishment afterwards will say: “They don’t make them like that any more.”
As a truly great Daily Mail night editor, he would have struck out such a hack phrase from any copy, and it probably isn’t true anyway. All the same, he was a most unusual person to achieve prominence in the mad world of good old Fleet Street.
After I was given the task of writing this tribute, three former colleagues of note summed up Alan with this rare accolade: “He was a gentleman.”
Or, as one of them put it: “He was a gentleman journalist”. His reputation is that he never lost his temper with anyone under him, but got the best out of them by persuasion and charm, plus a drink or two at The Harrow, the Mail’s local in the Street of Shame.
Like me, Alan was lucky enough to enter journalism in the middle of the Second World War, when all the best young reporters had been called up. At an early age we both joined the once illustrious Reading Mercury (established in 1723, now alas defunct) along with several other schoolleavers, who all did well.
“Jenks”, as we called him, was educated at Aylesbury Grammar School and had a much loved grandfather, “Pop” Cawston, who owned river steamers on which we all spent many happy hours. Alan was by far the most capable of us and covered major trials at the Reading Assizes at the age of 17.
Conscripted at 18, he became an Army major by the war’s end, joined the Daily Herald as a subeditor following demob and was soon on the Daily Mail, where he became night editor for many years.
In 1969 he was made northern editor in Manchester, a major job then, and returned to London via the Evening Standard to work as assistant editor on The People and later the Sunday Mirror. In 1978 a fascinating job beckoned as editor of the Glasgow Herald. He moved into a grand office complete with a pneumatic tube that carried the editor’s markings to the head printer, just as on the Reading Mercury.
As a true professional, Alan greatly improved the paper, promoted its photographers, won awards and increased sales. Then came the hell of moving the Herald into the modern building of the former Scottish Daily Express and simultaneously introducing overnight the new computer technology, which at that time was far from perfected.
After three years, Alan moved back to London for eight years on The Times in various major production jobs, and rounded off his remarkable career as editorial consultant on the New Straits Times in Kuala Lumpur.
iving with his Scottish journalist wife Helen Speed in the cottage he had bought after leaving the Glasgow Herald.
Their son Joe is deputy foreign editor on The Daily Telegraph. Two of the four sons of his first marriage to Kathleen Baker, who died in 1969, are also journalists: Nick, Press Association assistant editor, and Russell, Northwest correspondent of The Times.