Obituary: John Hopkins Warden, OBE, journalist and political editor

John 'Jack' Warden OBE: Former Scotsman reporter who was one of the UK's most respected political reporters
John 'Jack' Warden OBE: Former Scotsman reporter who was one of the UK's most respected political reporters
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Born: 25 May, 1928, in Glasgow. Died: 23 July, 2015, in Edinburgh, aged 87

Jack Warden was standing next to me in the Edinburgh office of the Glasgow Herald when he received a phone call from the editor which would change the direction of his career from respected senior Scottish newsman to becoming one of the UK’s best political journalists. During a hugely successful career, he would break the exclusive news of Princess Margaret’s divorce, report the almost incredible story of an intruder at the Queen’s bedside and be selected as one of only two newspapermen to accompany Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to the Falklands, after the conflict there.

Some readers today will not necessarily apply the terms “trusted”, “honourable”, “charming” or “gentleman” to political journalists, but those were among the tributes that poured in from rivals on the announcement of his death.

John Hopkins Warden, born in Glasgow, first became interested in a newspaper career when he was evacuated to Carluke to live with the local minister’s family. He became a copy boy with the Glasgow Herald, then started as a young reporter with the Ayrshire Post.

In the 1950s, he moved to Edinburgh, enrolled for shorthand lessons at the famous Skerry’s College and joined The Scotsman’s editorial staff, meeting, falling in love with and then marrying the editor’s secretary, Harriet Mitchell, in 1952. They had two children.

Jack transferred to the Edinburgh office of the rival Glasgow Herald, becoming chief reporter then being tasked by editor James Holborn (known to staff as “the hole-borer”) to cover St Andrew’s House and the Scottish office’s ministerial departments. There, he was so trusted that senior civil servants always welcomed “Warden of the Herald” (we only used last names).

I remember Jack putting in incredibly long hours, scanning obscure publicity issued by, for example, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the international organisation attempting to unify European countries after the Second World War.

Normally working from “upstairs” in the Herald office, he’d look in on the reporters before leaving in the evening with rim-red eyes, having spent the day teasing out news from those closely typed documents. It seemed to us that only he could make sense – and stories – out of such turgid press handouts.

After the editor’s phone call informing him of his appointment to London office, Jack became political correspondent and, in the mid-1960s, moved with his family to Orpington, Kent, as political editor in Westminster.

Covering Parliament was a severely demanding job, even for this dedicated journalist known for tenacity, but the long hours in and out of the House meant his family missed seeing as much of him as they would have liked.

When he moved to the Daily Express (from 1975 to the mid-1980s) he witnessed the rise of Margaret Thatcher, whom he admired.

After the Falklands crisis he was one of two Lobby correspondents selected for a dramatic RAF flight to the islands, to report the secret visit by Mrs T ahead of publication of the Lord Franks inquiry.

After the Express he freelanced, and three years after Harriet died he returned to Scotland in 2000. He was awarded an OBE for services to journalism.

After returning to Scotland he renewed an old friendship with Marion Barnes, nee Wood.They were married in 2004 and he acquired three step-children.

Occasionally, a group of retired colleagues would meet in Edinburgh, where Jack would relate stories from the great days of newspaper reporting.

I enjoyed his “prequel” to the hunt for Red October: a soviet submarine was said to be defecting to the West and heading for the Forth. With the late Alec Murray of the sister paper, the Bulletin, he drove at dawn to the UK’s defence tracking station at Rosyth, where, to their surprise, they were waved through security reaching almost the control room only to be stopped by more alert security.

Thanks to his passenger’s famous “bunnet”, the first checkpoint had mistaken them for two plumbers due to arrive the same morning.

Another great story he broke concerned the theft of the Stone of Destiny. During routine calls at police headquarters then located off Edinburgh’s High Street, he was told one night of a mysterious paper pinned to the doors of St Giles’ Cathedral.

Sure enough, when he read it, it gave details of the Stone’s removal. Demonstrating amazing responsibility, he carefully removed the drawing pins, took the paper to the office to be photographed – and then returned to re-pin it in its original position. The newspaper’s story the following day caused a sensation.

Findlay McQuarrie, a colleague of Jack’s who knew him before I did, wrote: “Jack had been a friend for some 50 years.

“We met when I was transferred from Glasgow to the Bulletin’s Edinburgh office in 1955. With other colleagues, I found him likeable, friendly and sociable and very much a family man.

“It was plain to all his colleagues that he was a committed and talented reporter.

“Not only would he cover a story for the Herald, but he would also happily write it up for the Bulletin or Evening Times if their staff had not been present at the event, rather than just provide a carbon copy of his Herald report, the normal procedure. His dedication, accuracy and reliability were among the qualities that gained him his appointment as the Glasgow Herald’s municipal correspondent in Glasgow, a promotion that was later followed by his return to Edinburgh as chief reporter.

“His all-round competence earned him the trust of government insiders and enabled him, by his journalistic skills, to contribute to the newspaper’s reputation for informed and authoritative leading articles.

“It came as no surprise therefore, when he became the paper’s political correspondent, a distinction that was much deserved.

“Our friendship was resumed after his return to Scotland.”

Marion died in April. Jack is survived by his daughter Anne and son John, his step-daughters Yvette and Emma and step-son Scott, and by his brothers Colin and Kenneth and sister Isobel.