Chiswick journalist Bill Hagerty has just pulled off the scoop of his life and that’s not a bad claim for a man who started in newspapers as a boy “sixty-something” years ago.
Hagerty is himself the star of this story because what he has scooped is the most prestigious award in British journalism – that of Journalist Laureate 2023. It is a prize so honoured that it has only been presented to four previous recipients and it went to Bill Hagerty not only because of his lifetime of significant achievement and his editorship of three national newspapers but because of all that he has done for the trade of journalism.
This is a man who has spent his career promoting honesty and truth in journalism, protecting the interests of his colleagues in the business and defending the freedom of the press. And he is, besides, someone who has always been known throughout the industry for his uncompromising professionalism.
Image above : Bill Hagerty
In his Fleet Street years he was editor of The People in the 1990s, of Sunday Today before that and he was also acting editor of the Daily Mirror– thus comprehensively disproving the doubts of his head teacher at school who dismissed the boy Bill’s early ambitions.
He was born in Ilford and worked on local newspapers in the East End before joining the “Street of Adventure” in EC4. He was at Reynolds News in 1962 and the Daily Sketch before finding his home berth at the Mirror Group. He did everything there in the course of 23 years and knew the newspapers of the group so well that he wrote its history: Read All About It – 100 Sensational Years of the Daily Mirror.
The man who started out reporting amateur football in the East End and who now covers Brentford for The Chiswick Calendar has had a glamorous few years in between. He was show business editor of the Daily Mirror and among stars he has interviewed (if he wasn’t so modest) he could name John Wayne, Michael Caine, Richard Burton, Roger Moore, Gene Kelly, Sammy Davis Jr, Neil Diamond and Joan Collins.
Image above: In the Daily Mirror’s ‘Golden Age’ there was no expense spared. Correspondents reporting on the US had the option of travelling to New York as first class passengers on the Queen Elizabeth. This was the ‘staff car’, shipped to London in the seventies. Bill Hagerty is far left. Image from Bill’s book ‘Read All About It! 100 sensational years of the Daily Mirror’
He was wrongly arrested in Hollywood once when he kindly volunteered to leave a party and buy some cigarette papers for Robert Mitchum. When he used his one telephone call, reverse charge, to ring the editor (he’d seen the movies) the managing editor (who keeps the moneybags) was, unfortunately, also in the room. “Do you have any idea what this call is costing?” he shouted.
Hagerty has also been a theatre and film critic for a number of publications, reflecting his love of drama in all forms. He is also a serious jazz enthusiast and, in the nicest possible way, a great know-all. For many years he edited the British Journalism Review, a quarterly magazine devoted to the business he loves so much, and he remains chairman emeritus of the publication’s editorial board.
He has chaired the Journalists’ Charity, an organisation started with the help of Charles Dickens, which helps journalists in need. He remains a trustee of the body and is a director of the London Press Club.
Among his many accomplishments he has edited eight volumes of Alastair Campbell’s Diaries for publication and told his own story for the British Library’s Oral History of the British Press. He did keep his own diary once – but it only lasted for a year. That was better than one of his colleagues, who called his diaries “My Life of Januarys”.
Bill lives in Grove Park with his wife, the journalist Liz Vercoe. He has three children and five grandchildren. He was presented with his award before an audience of distinguished colleagues and contemporaries at the recent London Press Club ball.
He donated his £5,000 prize money to the Journalists’ Charity and the British Journalism Review, while the sponsors, the St James’s House Group, contributed a further £20,000 to charity. Oh and Bill got a pen, too – well, all journalists still need a pen because they are always losing them. I bet he doesn’t lose this one.
Julia Langdon was the political editor of the Daily Mirror, appointed in 1984 as the first woman to hold the position on a national newspaper in the UK. Later she was political editor of The Sunday Telegraph. Since 1992 she has worked as a freelance, writing books and articles and appearing as a political analyst on TV and radio. Julia also lives in Chiswick.
You can read Bill Hagerty’s match reports on The Chiswick Calendar here: Brentford FC, a league apart