LORD Rees-Mogg, the former editor of The Times, has died at the age of 84.
As William Rees-Mogg, he was editor from January 1967 to March 1981 and he later became chairman of the Broadcasting Standards Council and chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain.
His son, the Conservative MP, Jacob Rees-Mogg, said yesterday that the peer had only discovered recently that he had inoperable oesophageal cancer.
He said: “It has been a mercifully short illness. He died very peacefully and a member of his family was with him. He was very prepared for it.”
Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute, saying: “William Rees-Mogg is rightly a Fleet Street legend, editing The Times through a tumultuous period with flair and integrity.”
“I always found him full of wisdom and good advice, particularly when I first became Leader of the Opposition. My thoughts are with his wife and five children at this sad time.”
William Rees-Mogg was born on 14 July, 1928, and educated at Charterhouse, where he was head of school and respected for his stock-market dabbling.
He then went to Balliol College, Oxford, where he was Brackenbury Scholar and President of the Union.
In 1952, he joined the Financial Times where he worked until 1960, part of the time as chief leader writer and also assistant editor.
He moved to the Sunday Times in 1960, where he was successively city editor, political and economic editor and deputy editor, before becoming editor of The Times in 1967.
Rees-Mogg was only 52 when he retired to a life peerage (which came in 1988) and he was regarded as a man of trenchant views.
Famously, but unsuccessfully, he challenged the legality of John Major’s ratification of the Maastricht Treaty, an action described by one critic at the time as being “showy, mischievous, slightly absurd, but with a dash of plausibility”.
In the mid-60s, he wrote a famous article headed “A Captain’s Innings” in the Sunday Times in which he called for Alec Douglas-Home to resign as Prime Minister, which he did shortly afterwards.
It was regarded as one of the most influential pieces of post-war British political journalism, but Douglas-Home said later that he had already decided to quit before the piece appeared.
During his editorship of The Times, Rees-Mogg stubbornly defended Richard Nixon against all the Watergate evidence filed by his Washington staff.
He was a radical editor, making the reporting on The Times more investigative and its opinions more challenging, and was in the vanguard of the Tory modernisers in the Edward Heath era.
There was no questioning the paper’s authority under his editorship, but his tenure of office ended in tears.
The staff had formed a group called Journalists of the Times, which opposed Rupert Murdoch’s 1981 takeover.
Rees-Mogg assumed leadership of the group and unsuccessfully sought an alternative buyer, which, in his view, would have guaranteed the paper’s editorial independence.