Obituary - Mark Jackson - 1927-2012

24th February 2012 at 00:00

He sometimes missed deadlines, occasionally turned up in the wrong place for stories and became obsessed with subjects no one else could understand. But Mark Jackson, former TES reporter, was also the first journalist to force people to pay attention to vocational education.

He was born in the East End of London in January 1927, the son of impoverished Jewish immigrants. At 16, he was appointed to the war-depleted staff of the London Evening Star: the second-youngest journalist on Fleet Street, he would boast.

A card-carrying member of the Communist party, he once claimed to have owned a sub-machine gun "for when the revolution comes". His sister, however, refused to have it in the house and Mr Jackson was forced to throw it into a pond on Hampstead Heath. His Communist credentials eventually led to the loss of his newspaper job during the 1950s. Instead, he worked in public relations for British Rail, where he reacted to any disaster with disarming frankness. During this time, he married Sheila; they had two children, Troy and Sian.

Many journalists cross over into public relations; fewer make the transition back again. Mr Jackson did, eventually joining TES in 1973. He was brought in as an investigative reporter and, within a year, had exposed a scandal at William Tyndale Primary. Staff at the north London school espoused a form of laissez-faire progressive education that ultimately resulted in chaos. The government was forced to take notice: an early step on the path towards a national curriculum.

Mr Jackson was an unequivocal office presence, striding through the newsroom with a shock of white hair, striped suit and swinging overcoat. He would argue politics vocally, passionately and at any opportunity.

Eventually, he became obsessed with vocational education, constantly pitching "great stories" about "a vocational revolution". Such stories were a hard sell, but Mr Jackson waged a war of attrition, forcing his editors into submission through sheer tenaciousness. He was virtually the only person in journalism writing about further education at that point: he cleared the way for what would later become FE Focus. But so immersed was he in its finer points that he could be almost incomprehensible on the subject. "Why can't you understand it?" he would say in his booming voice. "It's absolutely plain to me."

Having divorced Sheila in the 1960s, he married his second wife, Angela, while at TES. Their son, Jasper, was born in 1985.

Lively and personally endearing, he was also a law unto himself. Sent to cover a union conference, he rang up the newsdesk and reported that everything was unusually quiet. It transpired that he had gone to the wrong town.

Though he continued to freelance for TES after retirement, he had a wilful disregard for deadlines and editors learned that it was best to fabricate false urgency. Ten years ago he promised TES a "scandalous" story about education in Westminster. Three years ago, he insisted he would deliver. The story is still pending.

Mark Jackson died on 4 February.

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