David Parkin on media battles

YOU won’t have heard of Ron Ford, but he went into battle against Rupert Murdoch and won.

And not many people can say that.

Ron, who died in September, was a lauded and hugely talented editor in the newspaper business in Australia, one of the most competitive, ruthless and talent-laden media markets in the world.

On his death, the obituary in the Sydney Morning Herald described Ron as “one of the

‘generals’ who fought Sydney’s last great newspaper circulation war between The Sun and The Daily Mirror”.

It went on to say that this general was a Brit who actually started work in Australia as a mere “footsoldier” – selling tickets on a Melbourne tram.

I know Ron’s story because he was an old friend of my parents and I met him many times at parties when he’d make his annual trip back home to the UK.

Back in the 1950s Australia was looking to encourage workers from Britain to emigrate and settle there and offering them ‘assisted passage’ over on a ship which cost them just £10.

Ron and his fellow journalist pal from the Derby Evening Telegraph Lionel Pickering were in their mid-20s and decided to head Down Under.

Both met and married Australian women and Ron became one of the most successful newspapermen in Australia while Lionel returned to the UK, started a string of free newspapers, later sold them for tens of millions and bought Derby County.

But their exciting new life in Australia had a rather inauspicious start.

They arrived from England in 1957 in the middle of a newspaper strike in Melbourne and had to find temporary work with Lionel driving a tram and Ron the conductor.

A former Redcoat at a Butlins holiday camp, Ron had a twinkle in his eye and a charm that not all newspaper journalists I’ve met can muster.

The experience on the tram was said to have shaped his appreciation of the tabloid audience with whom he would later connect so successfully.

His successor as editor-in-chief of The Sun in Sydney was John Benaud, a former Australian test cricketer and younger brother of former cricketer and legendary commentator Richie.

Ron’s passing at his Sydney home in September aged 88 was greeted by John Benaud as “the end of an era”.

“He was a great newspaper man with a nose for the big stories and an uncanny talent to ‘sell’ them to the public,” Benaud told Kerry Myers in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Gayford Ronald Ford was born on a family farm in a Derbyshire village and was educated at Bemrose School in Derby.

He joined the local paper, the Derby Evening Telegraph, as a trainee reporter as a teenager and worked alongside Lionel Pickering for six years before the pair’s adventurous ambition saw them leave family and friends to make the long sea voyage halfway across the world.

When the newspaper strike ended, Ron stepped off the tram and into the newsroom of the Australian Associated Press before moving from Melbourne to Sydney to work as a feature writer with Rupert Murdoch’s racy Sunday Mirror.

Just like in Britain, the Mirror and the Sun in Australia were arch rivals and Ron got a job on The Sun, owned by the Fairfax group.

He became The Sun’s man in Fairfax’s London bureau and in 1963 returned to Sydney to marry local girl Barbara Woodworth.

He was one of the soldiers in the war between the Sun and Mirror but in his excellent obituary, Kerry Myers recalled how Ron’s time with Murdoch’s paper let him down.

In 1964 he covered the arrival of The Beatles in Sydney and, as you did then, phoned the newsroom from the airport to file his copy.

It was something I used to do in my formative years as a journalist – before the internet, laptops and mobile phones – and involved phoning the office, asking to be put through to the copy takers and dictating the story as the deadline of the next edition loomed.

In those days the telephone number of the Sun office was 20944 and the Mirror was 20924.

Ron rang the number of his rival paper and dictated his story to the Mirror whose editor was kind enough to send it over to The Sun – after his edition went to press.

The obituary quoted part of that report from The Beatles’ concert and it shows what a talented wordsmith Ron was:

“It hit the tin roof of the Stadium and thundered around the empty bleachers: ‘She Was Just Sev! En! Teen!…’ The first real live Beatle song in Sydney. And that’s all they got out before the shrieks took over for 30 minutes solid.

“Afterwards, I stumbled towards the Cross with a dong-dong ringing in my ears. It must have been the Stadium but it seemed like the whole town had been belting the devil out a piece of galvanised iron with railway hammers.”

Fortunately the mistake didn’t hinder Ron’s rise and he rose through the Fairfax organisation, becoming editor of The Sun in 1977 and editor-in-chief in 1982.

The role had many benefits including an annual world tour Ron would make of the Fairfax offices around the globe.

It always ended back in the UK where his old mate Lionel would throw a party for Ron, Barbara and their children Ailsa and John at his Derbyshire home, Ednaston Manor.

Soon after Ron was made editor of The Sun, the Mirror increased its circulation lead over its rival to 60,000 copies a day.

He insisted that Fairfax reduce the cover price to the same as that of the Mirror and then proceeded to beat the Mirror repeatedly on stories such as the murder of John Lennon, the attempted assassination of President Reagan and the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana.

The circulation gap narrowed and by mid-1981 in the crucial metro market, he achieved a remarkable lead of 15,000 over the Mirror.

Ron Ford retired in 1987 and during his career as first a writer and then an executive, his approach was exactly the same, according to former Sun feature writer and foreign correspondent Richard Cunningham.

He said Ron “wanted to communicate with real people on real issues, in language understood by the common man and woman, and never talk down to them”.

“Tabloid journalism is the very best training ground,” Ron said on his retirement, “and some of the best communicators in this country were, and are, tabloid people.”

Rupert Murdoch has won many wars in world media and business but he probably still bears the scars of the ferocious battle for stories, circulation and advertising between his Mirror and Ron Ford’s Sun.

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IT’S a week after Bonfire Night and a fortnight since Halloween and it feels like Christmas is already here.

The Norwegian Christmas tree is already twinkling in City Square in Leeds and the John Lewis Christmas TV advert – which now marks the traditional start of the festive season – has been on telly for ages and even featured on the BBC news.

In the US, because they have Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November, retailers tend to begin the Christmas push on the day after, now known as Black Friday.

That marketing opportunity has been adopted over here but this is definitely the first year I’ve seen online retailers start their Black Friday sales three weeks early.

I was at a do last night and I’m taking that as the official start of the festive celebrations.

Chris Silverwood of Corpfin used to regularly bring clients and business contacts together in December for a few drinks and food.

This year’s gathering came early because Chris’ wife Louise is expecting their second child and she has banned him from going out for a month before the baby is due in mid-December.

I’d forgotten how nice it is to walk into a bar and stand with a drink and just chat to people.

Do you know, I could get used to it.

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ANOTHER experience I haven’t had for at least two years was donning a dinner suit and going to a charity ball.

Martin Jenkins, the chair of Maggie’s Yorkshire, invited me to the charity’s fundraising ball at the Queens Hotel in Leeds last Saturday and I had a great time seeing old friends and meeting new ones.

The event raised more than £70,000 for the wonderful work done by Maggie’s Centre at St James’ Hospital in Leeds supporting people with cancer and their families.

In fact I must have had such a good time that I got a bit carried away and bid in the charity auction to play golf with TV legend Harry Gration.

“Harry won’t just play golf with you, he’ll buy you a drink in the bar afterwards and be great company over dinner,” said brilliant auctioneer Richard Smailes.

Looking to encourage further bids, Richard then ad-libbed: “In fact, Harry won’t just do that, he’ll even get in the shower with you!”

I was pondering another bid but put my hand down.

Well, I’ve got a reputation to protect, you know.

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LINKEDIN regularly emails me a list of jobs I might be interested in.

I sometimes look at roles out of interest, to either see what skills they are looking for or what kind of salary they offer.

If you want to know the kind of role I’d be happy with, it would be filed under the title: “Cushy Number”.

But sadly I’ve not found that one yet.

Last week I looked at a head of communications role at Yorkshire-based quoted retailer Card Factory.

Linkedin then decided to suggest other roles that I might be interested in having viewed that one.

They included: volunteer picker & packer at Oxfam, Festive Colleague at Pontefract Tesco and Warehouse Operative at One Stop in Normanton.

I’ve sent my CV but I’ve not heard anything yet.

I’m going to follow it up with a selfie wearing a Christmas jumper and Tesco’s snowman deely boppers.

If that doesn’t nail the Festive Colleague position, nothing will.

Have a great weekend.

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