Serving professional journalism since 1912

Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Journalists

John Hosken

Veteran Broadcaster – and long-standing Institute member – John Hosken has died, aged 79.

Institute stalwart John Hosken, who has died after a short illness, was a man of many talents and many voices!   For many years he was BBC Radio’s Industrial Correspondent, during an era of strikes and mass pickets,  but he was also known for his role as a commentator for State Occasions, as a successful children’s author and as a regular stand-in for Jimmy Young during the 1980s.

John, christened Clifford after his father, but always called by his second name, was immensely pound of being Cornish and of his time at Truro School, where he was a scholarship boy.  His burning ambition was to be a journalist, and he joined the West Briton soon after he left school.  He served two years National Service with the RAF, where his training as a shorthand typist stood him in good stead, achieving an impressive speed  at shorthand.   During his time with the service, he developed a passion for running daily, becoming the RAF’s Coastal Command Champion.

After National Service he returned to West Briton, where he developed his own weekly column, “Onlooker”. His editor suggested he move to the Western Morning News in Plymouth where he became one of the team of court reporters, and achieved his first-ever byline when, in 1961, just before the opening of the Tamar suspension bridge between Plymouth and Saltash he walked across the river, braving the rudimentary plank pathway between the suspension cables, swaying alarmingly above the water!

John was keen to join the world of national newspapers and was having been told by the editor of the Daily Herald in Manchester, to “drop in if he was ever passing” he took the train to Manchester, where he was sent for a day’s trial on the Manchester Evening news.  He got the front-page splash! A job with the Daily Herald soon followed and he moved to Manchester with his first-wife Lin, where, later, Petrie and James were born.

From the Herald, he joined the BBC in Manchester as presenter of the weekday evening programme Voice of the North.  Additionally, he became part of the team working for Don Mosey’s Saturday sports programme.  He was recruited as an interviewer for a variety of London-based programmes – World at One, Woman’s House and Radio 2’s Late Night Extra. He also appeared on television’s Look North.

Subsequently, John joined BBC Radio in London as a reporter, where he had a short stint as Science Correspondent before applying for the post of Radio Industrial Correspondent.   During a time of serious industrial unrest, he forged close contacts with leading union figures like Joe Gormley of the NUM and Ray Buckton of the train-drivers union ASLEF.

Later, he would entertain colleagues in the BBC Club with his impersonations of Joe Gormley and TUC leader Vic Feather.  In fact, John had a particular talents for “doing voices” – his repertoire included Sir Winston Churchill, WC Fields and ASTMS leader, Clive Jenkins.  I recall especially, his Vic Feather, which was so good that, apparently,  Vic’s son asked John to  do if for him after Vic – TUC General Secretary until 1973 – had died.

John’s three children Petrie, James and Andrew, remained with mother Lin when she and John divorced and he moved to London in 1970, but he ensured that the children spent regular weekends with him, whenever the BBC hadn’t called him out to cover a story!

Memorable trips

In May 1978, John married Gillian, a producer with BBC World Service, whom he met and got to know when they first worked together, and would meet for a drink at the BBC Club. They were to spend 38 years together.

John had moved on from Industry to become the BBC’s Aviation, Transport and Local Government Correspondent.  At that time, airlines used to invite air correspondents and their wives to travel with them when they launched new routes, and the couple had some memorable trips. John also travelled and reported on Concorde regularly.

After his stints presenting the Jimmy Young show, John was also asked to present his own show, Late Night Friday, on Radio 2.  When John joined the broadcast team for State Occasions, his first commentary was on the Lord Mayor’s Banquet, and later, in 1983, in recognition of his commentaries, the Lord Mayor granted him the Freedom of the City of London.

John went on to commentate on State Opening of Parliament, the wedding of the Prince of Wales to Diana and the Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph.  It may be that growing up with his mother, who was blind, gave him a particular gift for painting a picture of events, and John’s gentle Cornish lilt unquestionably added to the colour of the events he described.

When he left the BBC Staff in 1988, a successful freelance career beckoned, making many documentaries for BBC World Service. For Radio 2, he travelled to Mexico and the US to make a programme called “Cousin Jack”, relating the story of how many Cornish travelled world-wide when Cornwall’s tin-mining industry collapsed. For that story and many other articles on Cornwall, John was invited to become a Bard of the Cornish Gorsedh – which celebrates Cornish culture and traditions.

John was a multi-talented broadcaster with a skill for getting to the heart of the story and of the individuals he interviewed. He was a loyal member of the Institute’s Broadcasting Division since the mid-seventies and regularly attended our meetings at the Horse and Groom in Fitzrovia.

I feel privileged to have known him and enjoyed his company.  I recall with particular pleasure the copy of his first book, Meet Mr Majimpsy, which he gave me when it was first published – and which, subsequently, I passed on to my son.

John was an old-school journalist and a true gentleman; I know he will be greatly missed by all whose lives he touched.

He is survived by his wife Gillian and three children.

Paul Leighton, Chairman, Broadcasting Division.