Charles Wilson

18th August 1935 - 31st August 2022

On Thursday 26th January, 2023 at 11:30am a service of thanksgiving for the life of Charles Wilson was held at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street.
Download Order of Service (pdf)


The Revd Canon Dr Alison Joyce delivered the opening:

A very warm welcome to St Bride’s, the Journalists Church, as we come together to honour the memory and to celebrate the life of Charlie Wilson.

In an industry that has more than its share of remarkable and memorable characters, Charlie still stood out from the crowd – a man of boundless energy, enthusiasm and determination – whose passion for newspapers was unsurpassed (the ink really did course through his veins!).

He could be robust and combative, but Charlie was also a person of immense kindness, warmth and generosity of heart. He was a man whose family was always at the very heart of his life. He left his mark on all whose lives he touched, and today it is our privilege to celebrate and give thanks for his extraordinary life, and the remarkable man that he was.

Opening prayer

Father of all, we pray to you for those whom we love but see no longer, especially this day, Charlie, whose memory we honour.

Grant him your peace. Let light perpetual shine upon him, and work in him the good purpose of your perfect will.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Rupert Murdoch, read by Elisabeth Murdoch

Many qualities make up a great journalist. A passion for the truth, fox like cunning in dealing with bloody minded officialdom and the skill to seek out and write clearly the stories that readers want to read.

Above all great journalism requires courage. And Charlie Wilson was a great journalist.

He had the courage as an editor of The Times to print stories that those in power, be they government ministers or gangsters, did not want to see.

He had the courage to take a story further than Fleet Street rivals risking heavy legal sanction. He had the courage to lead his staff through the bitter dispute at Wapping – and occasionally, very occasionally, he had the courage to admit he was wrong.

When he was appointed editor of The Times there were those who asked me how a Glaswegian who had never been to a public school, nor Oxford or Cambridge nor indeed to any university, could possibly edit such a distinguished paper.

Charlie answered the doubters the only way he knew how – by taking daily circulation from 300,000 to 500,000. He did it the old fashioned way, matching hard news with brilliant writing from new talent he had promoted, such as the writer Matthew Parris.

And Charlie was old fashioned. He started as a 16 year old messenger boy on The People and learned his tradecraft in the rough and tumble world of Fleet Street. Something of a boxer, Charlie quickly became known as a man who would beat a rival to a story, or to the punch, or sometimes to both.

As an executive, he showed how sheer guts can not only challenge the accepted rules of print production but also change the working culture of a newspaper.

I sent him to the US in 1984 to edit the Chicago Sun-Times. The staff did not take kindly to working for an unknown Scot from across the Atlantic. They made their contempt obvious. That all changed one night in February that year. Long after the last edition had been printed, when the presses had stopped and the staff had gone home Charlie was woken at 2.30 am with the news that the Soviet leader Yuri Andropov had died. Charlie roused two sleeping sub editors and sent them to the office. He called the machine room and went in to edit a slip edition of the paper. The news of a change in Soviet leadership broke over the city’s breakfast tables that morning. But only in the Chicago Sun-Times. Rival newspapers didn’t have a line on the story. You will no doubt hear many more such stories here today.

Finally, behind Charlie’s qualities of courage, skill and the ability to inspire his staff, lay a deep love of the craft of journalism. He loved the marriage of words, pictures and headlines. He was a journalist’s journalist. Charlie would have called that a terrible cliché and struck it out. But it is true. And it is also true that if he is looking down on us today Charlie Wilson would rebuke me for going on too long.

Philip Webster

Charlie Wilson was pacing round the editorial floor of The Times when he grabbed a page proof and started jabbing at a paragraph, an unnerving moment for anyone who knew the editor’s way of doing business. The story was about the Great Train Robbery and Charlie had spotted a paragraph about his namesake Charles Wilson, one of the robbers. “Look at that, “ he said.” It just shows that you can put your past behind you.” And he strode off.

That was Charlie. Never more at home than when joshing with reporters, subs and newsdesk. Always ready with an expletive if his high standards were not being met, a quip if things were going well.

Charlie COULD be rough and tough. He DID bawl news editors out at conferences. He DID throw cuttings down from his first floor office to the newsdesk if they’d missed something. He did occasionally lift reporters up by their lapels before letting them down with a smile after making his point.

For some of The Times older hands Charlie represented a culture shock.
But good journalists had nothing to fear from him. And that was because he had the uncanny knack of spotting a good or bad journalist almost immediately.

One poor executive asked Charlie why he kept calling him “fingertips”. “Because that’s what you’re hanging by, son,” said Charlie. The miscreant survived by upping his game.

Here today there are many whose careers blossomed because Charlie saw their talent and gave them their chance.

In the tributes that followed his death many journalists from his days at the Mail, Evening News, the Glasgow papers, The Times, Mirror and Independent revealed how their illustrious careers had been launched by an intervention from Charlie. He was demanding, but he rewarded those who delivered. Despite the fierce reputation he only sacked three people in his five years at The Times. One of them Boris Johnson.

Just as plentiful were the untold acts of kindness shown by Charlie to staff who were in trouble or became ill. He was more than happy to play up the Glaswegian hardman image – it was the way he got things done – but beneath that was a compassionate, warm and funny character whose own life story – copy boy at The People to editor of The Times – will probably never be emulated. He was renowned for his kindness to junior staff. On the night of the Zeebrugge ferry sinking he coopted the most junior and shyest messenger on to the newsdesk to man the phones and help out. Next day he called him up to the office, shook his hand and announced he would henceforth be called Scoop. And he was.

Charlie’s obsession was news. Years after he retired his kitchen table would be covered with the day’s papers and he would bombard friends still in the industry with questions about their specialist areas.

He was a story man, exhorting his teams to find stories and write them in a way that grabbed his readers. His priority at The Times was the news pages, home, foreign, sport and business. He tried to give the paper a wider appeal to women.

But there were plenty of stories about Charlie, too.

Yes he did ask his foreign desk once “where the F is Chad” when told of an uprising in that country. On another occasion spotting that foreign had used a story about Burkina Faso datelined the capital Ouagadougou, Charlie asked Tim Austin the foreign chief sub “And how many copies do you think we sell in Ouga- effing – douguou.”

And yes when Charlie was northern editor at the Mail his news editor, unwilling to share his exclusive with others in the morning conference, rather pompously wrote something down and handed it over to his editor. Charlie, looking wonderfully serious, put the scrap of paper in his mouth and ate it.

Charlie as a reporter, news editor or editor would never give up on a story. He was relentless. At the Mail he sent a reporter Dermot Purgavie down to south London to expose a backstreet abortion clinic. The thug running it wouldn’t speak or let him into the premises. After trying several times Dermot went back to Charlie and said the thug had told him he would set his two rottweilers on him if he went back. Charlie told him:”Go back immediately and give him this message from your News Editor. Tell him his dogs no frighten me.” I’m sure that reassured Dermot!!

As Richard Morrison was being hired by The Times in 1988 Charlies told him: “get rid of the beard, laddie it makes you look too effing arty.” Richard decided not to point out that he was being hired as Arts editor. He remains at the paper, another thanking his stars for the days of Charlie Wilson.

One who might have felt less warmly was the production manager at the Sunday Standard, a new quality that was largely Charlie’s creation. The former PM Harold Wilson wrote a piece for the launch edition and was on the phone to Charlie’s secretary when a loud furious commotion broke loose next door. The secretary asked Sir Harold to hold on while she investigated. She discovered her boss holding the unfortunate production chief off the ground by his lapels, banging him against a door, and swearing loudly at him. He had just been told that the technology that had been purchased would not work for the two section concept that Charlie had planned . He shut up only when told who was listening in.

And Charlie did his bit for equality in the newsroom. At the Mail he once told Anne, then a young reporter, to keep her rather smart MG sports close to the office so that at any time she could race out on a story. In those days the night desk preferred sending blokes out on late jobs. Charlie would have none of it. If you were a good reporter, male or female, you got the job.

Of course Charlie’s crucial part in the Wapping move, and what that meant for the future of the whole newspaper industry, will be his greatest legacy. His five year stint as editor was dramatic. Those of us who were there remember Charlie standing on a rickety table at Gray’s Inn Road on a Friday and telling us the last edition of the paper from there had been printed and that on Sunday we would be in Tower Hamlets . And we remember on the Sunday Charlie running round the office as most of us were being taught to use computers for the first time, cajoling us to learn fast. And there is no doubt that the personal loyalty that many of the staff felt towards Charlie helped us and the paper get through those difficult days without losing too many stars to the fledgling Independent. He was tireless, there every night, patrolling the backbench, shirt sleeves rolled up, expletives ready.

Under Charlie The Times broadened its appeal and circulation rose. It went from being the paper of record to the paper of record AND news and that began the process of transforming The Times into what it is today.

But although Charlie would probably put his rise to the top of The Times as his proudest achievement in a glittering all-round career there were so many others. After the years of turbulence at The Times he took another(for him) dream job – editing the Sporting Life –before going on to be managing director of the Mirror group, a job that involved sorting out the pension fund disaster.

After his death a former member of the pension trustee board said Charlie was the driving force in securing the settlement. For many that alone would be a lifetime achievement.

But Charlie never stopped being a newsman. Those of us who have met him regularly for lunches in recent years found the sharp, inquiring mind of old across the table, who was up, who was down, what would be tomorrow’s splash. And when us older Times hacks meet up it is Charlie’s five years that we talk about more than any others.

Charlie Wilson, a newspaper great, a genius, and a wonderful man. Never to be forgotten.

Brough Scott MBE

As you have heard from Lily’s reading and you can see from these pictures in the Order Of Service, Charlie loved horses and the thrill of being in the saddle. But there was a snag – to quote Emma exactly – “he was a truly, catastrophically bad rider.”

Not surprising really because he didn’t start until his 50s, and because all that irrepressible Royal Marine, boxing champion fearlessness with which he had carved his way through life was never in any way matched with any proper competence as a horseman.

He started in Hyde Park, taken there for riding lessons every morning by his chauffeur “Flapper” Yates before he went on to spend the rest of the day editing The Times in Wapping. By the way was “Flapper” nicknamed not for any dodginess of temperament, but because his bat-like ears had stuck out under his helmet in his previous role as a jockey.

There were assorted disasters in the Royal Parks and things didn’t really look up until Charlie got an enormous grey, former Household Cavalry drum horse called Fortune, used to voice commands from furious sergeant majors, a skill set to which our hero was not totally unfamiliar.

He was really saved by four mentors. The ever-generous David Reynold took Charlie under his wing with the Woodland Pytchley, as did Charlie’s brother-in-law Mike Connell Connell, a distinguished judge, top rider and long- time Master of the Grafton. Mike and David did their best, albeit often able to do little more than shout “brakes Charlie, brakes” as C Wilson rocketed by.

On the horse side, Mel The Cob and Cheeky, the big grey in the pictures, did their best too and the long series of knocks and spills were almost entirely down to pilot error. What’s so impressive is that all these blows only made Charlie all the keener. This world became his happy place and one in which, as in his journalist existence, his kindness to those in unluckier times has many examples.

Not least to Steve Smith Eccles, the famous jockey riding alongside him in the picture. Steve, the miner’s son from Nottingham, won three Champion Hurdles on the track. But he is probably equally famous for the night his girlfriend threw him out of their Aintree hotel bedroom leaving Steve, unwisely, to opt for sleeping in the back of the car only to wake up speeding down the M6 with the thief at the wheel.

We are not quite sure how Charlie’s Glasgow childhood spawned a love of the horse, but the link with racing and particularly with betting is easier to explain. What better mental challenge to one of his tireless optimism than racing’s eternal battle of hope against expectation?

Of course there were some triumphs, most notably Grand National success with Papillon which he had backed at 50-1. But there were plenty of stumers amongst them Foinavon’s Grand National, the scene, would you believe it, of his and Annie’s first ever date.

He was always something of a frustrated jockey and it was no surprise to hear that the Wilson sofa had to be re- covered several times to patch up the whackings it got from Charlie’s whip as he rode a finish watching races on the telly.

If he couldn’t watch, listening to the results on radio was crucial. On the afternoon of his first wedding, that was 19th January 1968, Annie Robinson, en-route with him to the delights of Gravetyre Manor, was confused to find that the car, and Tommy the chauffeur lent them by Mail editor Arthur Brittenden, appeared to be making its fourth or fifth circuit of the East Grinstead one way system.

Tommy and Charlie were stalling to hear the results of the 4.30 from Nottingham.

So, and we are back in June 1967, I strongly suspect that Charlie was moonlighting to pay off gambling debts when he first gave me a call to write a piece for the magazine he was editing on the side. It was called – “The British Bookmaker.”

Racing never lost out when he was involved. He was the best friend we ever had in newspapers. What fun he got when his role at the Mirror saw him supremo of the Sporting Life. Naturally he revived the Daily Mirror Punters Club and earlier, when The Times had moved to Wapping, Charlie’s idea of a team building exercise was to get a horse. Racing correspondent Richard Evans was commissioned to head a syndicate, bring in aces like Tom Clarke, Robin Oakley and Phil Webster, buy a horse to which they called Sunday For Monday.

Sunday For Monday’s name was about the best thing you could say about him, save perhaps that for that of his mother. His dam was called Gin And Tonic. But the second syndicate horse, Northern Saddler, was a star who won 6 races. And you need to know that all the time Charlie was also buying secret shares in other syndicates.

One of these horses was called “Nag Nag Nag” – named by Clement Freud with the idea that when Sally heard Charlie saying “Nag Nag Nag” on the phone she would think he was complaining about her rather than how much to put on Nag Nag Nag, the horse, next afternoon at Lingfield.

And there was another syndicate horse Sally didn’t even know about until I told her last Friday. It won 7 races including one at Cheltenham and had been named especially for the phrase Charlie habitually used when entering these clandestine arrangements. It was called “Don’t Tell The Wife”.

The form book suggests that Charlie can’t always have been the easiest of husbands, but he seems to have been a super Dad. There are some lovely photos of him and Emma pony trekking in the Welsh Mountains, others with Lily at her winner-fest gymkhanas, and the crazy images of Charlie and his camcorder astride the roofs of cricket pavilions filming Luke at the crease.

How fitting it was that his final chapter was to bring horses and racing even closer together. He was able to watch Rachel win five races in the those red with a white stripe silks you see up beside the altar and, even better, he was able to watch horses they had bred at home in Leicestershire race and win over jumps

To be fair some of them were pretty useless and the first try was a total horror show. The horse, Bowden Vulcan, nearly killed his jockey in the paddock, bolted to the start and was never run again.

The jockey, Nick Pearce, mercifully survived this ordeal to be here today and must also have earned a nomination for being the politest man in Britain. For a couple of weeks ago Rachel found an envelope in which was – of all things – a letter from Nick thanking Charlie for the ride on the appalling Bowden Vulcan

But things got better. Delgany Demon, the foal in this picture on the Order Of Service, won three races, and Delgany Gunner won six. There are now two good young ones soon to run but a couple of years ago with nothing ready to race, Charlie and Rachel leased a mare from trainer Dan Skelton.

Three times she won for them over hurdles and then – brilliantly – on August 18th last year – Charlie’s 87th birthday – just a fortnight before he died – she made all the running to win a 3 mile chase at Fontwell.

By then Charlie was not up to much whacking of sofas – but got great pleasure in watching the replays and talking to Dan Skelton about future plans.

And it’s a nice thought that the mare’s name symbolised much of the way with which Charlie blazed his way through life.. She was called – Dazzling Glory.

Yes, Charlie Wilson may have been a catastrophically bad rider but, as so many of us were lucky enough to know, he was also a really terrific man.

And I would like to close by saying how touched I am to be standing here. For Charlie’s calls, that first from the British Bookmaker in 1967, and the second in 1971, were very important to me.

The first was for the last thing I wrote before turning professional after which the Jockey Club, banned me from writing for newspapers as I might, quotes, “give away stable secrets”. The response, that in which case I would not remain stable jockey for very long, was dismissed as impertinence.

Charlie’s second call, he was then on the Daily Mail, was rather more important. For it was the first commission I got after my not too “Dazzlingly Glorious” professional career had come to a crashing halt at the second last at Warwick.

I owe Charlie for that. For at a difficult time he gave me – as he gave to so many others – the belief that anything is possible.


The Rector, Canon Alison Joyce read Psalm 107: 23-32

23 They that go down to the sea in ships : and occupy their business in great waters;

24 These men see the works of the Lord : and his wonders in the deep.

25 For at his word the stormy wind ariseth : which lifteth up the waves thereof.

26 They are carried up to the heaven, and down again to the deep : their soul melteth away because of the trouble.

27 They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man : and are at their wits’ end.

28 So when they cry unto the Lord in their trouble : he delivereth them out of their distress.

29 For he maketh the storm to cease : so that the waves thereof are still.

30 Then are they glad, because they are at rest : and so he bringeth them unto the haven where they would be.

31 O that men would therefore praise the Lord for his goodness : and declare the wonders that he doeth for the children of men!

32 That they would exalt him also in the congregation of the people : and praise him in the seat of the elders!

Lily Wilson read an extract from Jumping for Joy by Charles Wilson

My introduction to jumping was not the stuff of riding manuals. My tutor, who had an admirable gung-ho attitude to life, coaxed me off the ground for the first time one Saturday afternoon. My cob on whose back I had spent a few weeks learning to ride, carried me safely over a two foot bar. Then again, again, and again. After 15 minutes, Gung-ho, clearly bored, said: ‘There’s a Hunter Trial tomorrow. That’s the next step.’

I came off at three of the 26 fences. The partings were identical – arm flailing somersaults over the nag’s head and ending up supine in the mud. The cob mercifully stopped instinctively as we parted company each time and seemed to look down at me in wonderment and pity. We reunited each time and finished the course.

Two weeks later, when the bruises had subsided, we tried again. There was improvement. We separated only once and this a particularly fine example over a hedge of my now accomplished forward somersault and leg flip.

Gung-ho declared I was ready to hunt and the following week the cob and I moved off with the Grafton, or rather to the rear of the Grafton.

The cob quickly got into the spirit of the sport and ran away with me. We flashed about the Northants countryside oblivious to whatever the rest were doing.

Exhaustion soon overcame me. The Field stopped on a road and I had just enough energy left to hurl my body from the saddle. I had lasted 38 minutes.

My Grafton mentor was liberal with his advice. ‘Don’t fight him, let him go and when you want him to stop apply the brakes. He’ll come back to you.’

He did, but it took about 5 more nightmare outings before that joyous moment came. We were galloping up a long hill when suddenly he seemed to slow first to a more relaxed gallop, then a canter, and so to a trot. What ecstasy, what triumph. He was knackered before I was.

Thereafter I began to feel I might be in control.


The choir & organist of St Bride’s and members of the Band of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, Warwickshire performed the following anthems and songs:

Ave verum corpus – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
The Last Post & Reveille
Jesu, joy of man’s desiring – Johann Sebastian Bach
Take five – Paul Desmond
Nobody does it better – Carole Bayer Sager/Marvin Hamlisch arr. Helen Neeves
Post horn gallop – Herman Koenig
What a wonderful world – Bob Thiele/David Weiss arr. Robert Jones


All things bright and beautiful
Amazing grace
When the saints go marching in

And morn was at the window; and I was glad to be alive, because I heard the cry
Of hounds like church bells, chiming on a Sunday.
Ay, that’s the sound I’d wish to hear in heaven.

Siegfried Sassoon

Charlie and Steve Eccles as the Grafton Team ChaseCharlie and Steve Eccles at the Grafton Team Chase
congregation sitting for service


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