Godfrey Hodgson

1st February 1934 - 27th January 2021

On Thursday 9th March, 2023 at 11:30am a service of thanksgiving and celebration for the life of Godfrey Michael Talbot Hodgson 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 Godfrey Hodgson – a remarkable man, who overcame so much, and achieved so much, during his long and distinguished career.

An extraordinarily able and intellectually gifted man; astute and perceptive in his analysis; a prolific journalist, author, historian and broadcaster; and a much valued mentor to young journalists – the industry has lost one of its most respected figures.

As we remember him today with thanksgiving, we remember also his family, his colleagues, and all who were close to his heart.

We shall have as few announcements as possible during this service, so please stand for the hymns and sit for just about everything else.

We begin now with an opening prayer by the priest and poet, John Donne.

Let us pray.

Bring us O Lord at our last awakening
Into the house and gate of heaven,
To enter into that gate and dwell in that house
Where shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light;
No noise nor silence, but one equal music;
No fears nor hopes, but one equal possession:
No ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity
In the habitations of your glory and dominion
World without end. Amen.


Adam Boulton

We are here in St Brides, the ournalists’ church, because Godfrey Hodgson was a ground-breaking journalist, working on The Times, The Observer, The Sunday Times, The New Statesman and The Independent in that golden age for Fleet Street, just outside here, of the 1960s, 70s and 80s.  He and other talented young men and women recognized the potential of the Mainstream Media and went on to create it.

I’ve known Godfrey for fifty years. He inspired me and so many others. I was immediately struck by his kindness and generous hospitality as well as how much of a modern man of the sixties generation he was. He resolutely treated his four children tenderly as equals – Pierre and Francis, my school mates, and Jessica and Laura, then small girls running around the garden in Chastleton, to the alarm of their two cats Ethel and Abigail,  named after the wives of Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy.

Godfrey was fortunate – and so were we all who knew them – in his two remarkable and charming wives, Alice Vidal and Hilary Lamb. He was less fortunate in his childhood. Sent early to board at prep school as his mother’s health declined. He was struck by osteomyelitis, the bone disease. In an unpublished memoir he writes at length of how he bowled for the Winchester first eleven, though unable to straighten his right arm.

Godfrey was a member and then editor of the legendary Sunday Times Insight team exposing scandals such as Thalidomide and the financial fraudster Bernie Cornfeld. He was an investigative journalist years before Watergate. He liked to say that there were really only two news stories in this line of work: “We name the guilty men” and “Arrow points to defective part”.

“Insight” is a perfect word, le mot juste, for what Godfrey gave copiously to his readers and viewers. He was ferociously intelligent – a repeat scholarship winner: to Winchester College,  to Magdalen, Oxford – graduating, naturally, with a first class degree, back when there weren’t a lot of them around – and then to the University of Pennsylvania.

Until I met him, I had no idea that journalism could be a satisfactory pursuit for someone of his talents – and in a sense it wasn’t. He also distinguished himself as an historian, as an author of some 15  books, as an academic and as a mentor to many.

Godfrey had the reporter’s knack of being in the right place at the right time. Though intensely English – he particularly loved Oxfordshire and Yorkshire – he also loved and studied America  – and Europe.

His father and grandfather introduced him to the notion that languages such as Norwegian and Flemish were there for the learning. That classical Greek and Latin were essential elements of civilization and that even modest people from the North should travel to Spain or France to master the idiom as much as catch the sun. Then there was his continuing attachment to the Vidal clan. His first book was published in French in Paris by Editions Julliard.

That first work though, Carpetbaggers and Ku Klux Klan, was about the US.

The transforming inspiration of Godfrey’s life and work happened during spring break from Penn in 1956. He and a friend went to an Easter Service in Montgomery Alabama, and the pastor came back for lunch with Godfrey’s hosts afterwards. The pastor was Martin Luther King Junior. King was 27 years old. Godfrey was 22 and star struck. He went back for more talk with King before leaving town.

Godfrey’s immediate insight was that it was impossible to understand the history and future history of the US without appreciating the sociology of the South and the legacy of slavery. That is commonplace now after Nixon, Trump and Black Lives Matter but not many spotted this essential truth, or MLK, a decade before the Selma march – especially not the privileged white opinion formers basking in the glory of the American Century who he would soon find himself among in Washington.

In the way of the newspaper trade, Godfrey and his friend and colleague and source of amusement, John Shirley, wrote reciprocal obituaries of each other for The Guardian – John rightly described Godfrey as “among the most perceptive and industrious observers of his generation, particularly in the field of American society and politics.”

David Astor sent him back to the United States for the Observer in 1962 at the height of the Civil Rights movement. He heard MLK’s “ I have dream” speech in person at the Lincoln Memorial. He got to know the Kennedys, as well, and covered the assassinations of all of them.  He heard the shots which killed Bobby Kennedy in a hotel kitchen in California.

His newspaper reporting in America led to two major and incisive books. An American Melodrama, co-authored with his Sunday Times colleagues Bruce Page and Lewis Chester, a book-of-the-month club selection, about the tumultuous and violent 1968 Presidential campaign. Twelve years before he became president that book took Ronald Reagan seriously.

Somehow Godfrey also managed to report from the Prague Spring and “les evenments” in Paris that epoch-defining year.

In 1976 he published his magnum opus America in Our Time: From World War II to Nixon. It has been continuously in print ever since. In it he identified what he dubbed “the liberal consensus”  between the political leaders of that period. He also spotted the demographic migration from South to North which was changing politics, matched by the stirrings of the  populist right. He pursued these trends in later books such as The Myth of American Exceptionalism and The Liberal Consensus Reconsidered. 

Godfrey left the Sunday Times after the lockout which led to Rupert Murdoch’s purchase of Thomson Newspapers. He had met Murdoch earlier, who had sounded him out to be the editor of The Sun, unsurprisingly their meeting came to nothing. By now he was out of sympathy with the paper and both amused and angered when the new editor of the colour magazine spiked a continuation of his highly regarded profile series of the likes of President Giscard D’Estaing and David Owen- with the scrawled message: “Sorry. No long, No serious, No foreign”.

A parallel career in Television beckoned as a globe trotting reporter for This Week and as presenter of LWT’s London Programme and Channel 4 News. Then he returned to print at The New Statesman and as Foreign Editor of The Independent, and as a long serving columnist for The Boston Globe. 

As the son of a headmaster, pedagogy came naturally to him. He loved the company of young people and arguing with them, especially in a pub. The intellectual pull of Academe took him to Harvard, Yale and Stanford where he was a visiting lecturer and tutor.

He set up home in his beloved Oxford and even wrote a book Sweet Evenlode, about a local river valley.  Here he was at the Rothermere American Institute and the Director of the Reuters Foundation at Oxford University for a decade, acting as a mentor to dozens of fledgling journalists from around the world. He and Sir David Butler co-hosted the celebrated Friday afternoon talks by visiting political luminaries at Nuffield College and, later, became neighbours at Richie Court.

Godfrey was co-founder with Ben Bradlee and Felicity Bryan back in 1980 of the Laurence Stern fellowship at the Washington Post for young British journalists, many of whom have gone on to stellar careers – now the Bryan-Stern Fellowship. In memory of another friend and journalist he raised funds for the Anthony Sampson chair in investigative Journalism at City University.

Godfrey could be pretty forthright, he left no doubt that he deplored my working for Murdoch for so long. And after we’d had a long lunch we had together, on Rupert’s expenses, he complained to Pierre that I drank too much. But he gave me the best, truly life-changing advice  and I never left his company without fresh ideas  – Yes of course Trump was New Yorker elected in and by the South.

In the weeks before he died Godfrey read Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann and Le Vicomte de Bragelonne by Alexandre Dumas, in the original languages and discussed them down the line with Pierre.  To the end he combined erudition and curiosity, writing, teaching and encouraging others.

So many of those mentioned here are no longer with us, including his closest friends and intellectual sparring partners, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Harry Macpherson, Bruce Page and Michael Sissons.

We, who knew the man, and, so many more who knew him through his work, celebrate – apologies for my weak pun – that we lived in Godfrey’s time.

Jessica Hodgson

Family was a big theme in Godfrey’s life. His family life was fragmented and imperfect, but the idea of family underpinned everything he did.

His own experience of family was heavily coloured by his early upbringing and his own experience of loss. Godfrey’s mother, Jessie, was unwell for long periods throughout his childhood and his sister Dawn later also died tragically young. His father’s desire to protect Godfrey from the reality of his mother’s progressive illness was a large factor in his dislocation from his hometown and his ambition at school, university and later in journalism.

Jessie’s death from multiple sclerosis when he was 13 overshadowed his early life. Perhaps due in part to his own experience of loss as a child, Godfrey always cherished the idea of bringing family, in all its forms, together.

Although he married twice and had two sets of children, acquiring numerous relatives through those marriages, and although his family life was atomised and sometimes fractious, he always attempted to bring the very disparate elements of his wide family together.

Godfrey was born in East Sussex but spent his childhood in Yorkshire and, later, Oxford, and retained throughout his life a connection and an attachment to Yorkshire which never left him, although most of the last vestiges of his accent were ironed out at Winchester and Oxford.

Many of his happiest early memories were of time spent in York, where his father was headmaster of Archbishop Holgate’s School. I recall many decades later, the stories of his childhood, his proud father who still polished the buttons from his First World War army uniform, played rugby for Yorkshire and slept in a bell tent in the back garden in summer, his kind, gentle mother who loved reading. He also fondly remembered his older sister, Dawn, who also died tragically early and whose sons, Tim and Julian, are both here today.

Godfrey’s early life was blighted by tragedy, but also endowed with a sense of continuity and renewal. Following the early death of his mother his father, Arthur Benjamin, found happiness through his marriage to Joan and their daughter Sally, who is here today. Godfrey remained devoted to Joan until her death and to Sally.

He went on to marry Alice Vidal, with whom he had Pierre and Francis, which brought him a new French family. Although Godfrey and Alice separated and he later married my mother Hilary (nee Lamb), he remained very close to the French side of the family until the end of his life, with particularly fond memories of the grandparents of my half-brothers. Godfrey retained a long and enduring passion for France which was as deep as his affection for the West Riding in Yorkshire, for Oxford or for Washington D.C. He later acquired, of course, a third family through his marriage to my mother, when he settled with her, me and my sister Laura, in rural Oxfordshire

It is perhaps not surprising that a man with such a difficult and disrupted early family life should have been driven again and again to make and remake families. Though it is fair to say that marriage wasn’t what in the modern jargon would be called his most advanced skillset, Godfrey had a strong sense of the importance of family and a strong desire to draw the people he loved into close proximity. I was aware from a very young age of the affection in which he held Alice’s family.

Godfrey didn’t only have blood family. He had a gift for friendship and acquired a large amount of friends around the world, all of whom became part of our lives. The family of Nicky Cooke, who Godfrey met at the Dragon School aged nine, is a good example. Although Nicky died tragically young in his 40s, Godfrey remained intimately connected for decades to his extended family. Nicky’s parents George and Fanny Cooke were surrogate parents to him during the time of his mother’s advanced illness and way into his 20s. Godfrey recalled that, so enmeshed was he with the Cooke family that Nicky’s sister Corinna didn’t realise until she was ten that he was not a biological brother.

His journalism friendships, with people like Bruce Page and Adam Boulton, who is also here today, represented another kind of family. His time working in the United States yet another. Towards the end of his career, working at the Reuter Foundation with colleagues such as Rosemary Allen and Jenny Darnley, he gathered younger journalistic acolytes around him like a grandfather hen.

His natural gregariousness and curiosity also enabled Godfrey to make connections and form family bonds with the most unlikely people. He managed to build a close rapport with Mariana’s paternal grandmother, Donna Graca, who has never travelled outside Brazil and speaks not a word of English and they would nod and smile agreeably to one another on Zoom calls.

For such a confident and cerebral man, Godfrey was very sentimental about the idea of family and his interpretation of family life was sometimes overlaid with a veneer of Dickensian whimsy, possibly an echo of a happier time in his own childhood prior to the death of his mother.

He was very specific, for example, in his requirements of the rituals of a family Christmas, down to the smallest details. For about 45 years of my life I couldn’t pass a family Christmas lunch without Godfrey requiring smoked salmon and a glass of champagne to be delivered at exactly 11am.

Towards the end of his life, after the death of my mother, he also became incredibly devoted to his grandchildren, Gus and Mariana. After Hilary’s death Godfrey and I and my daughter Mariana began a new multigenerational family ritual of annual holidays in Suffolk, where we would drive aimlessly around the countryside, stop for ploughman’s lunch in pubs and waste hours fishing for crabs off Orford Quay

During the coronavirus lockdowns, confined to his small flat in Oxford, the virtual presence of his grand-daughter via telephone and (later) his painfully inept attempts to make Zoom calls to her was a source of great comfort to both of them.

As anyone who knew Godfrey will know, he wasn’t always a diplomatic or a sensitive man. And sometimes his blustering nature and loud self-confidence was at odds with family harmony. As a father, he could be overbearing, dogmatic and sometimes insensitive. I had many blazing rows with him as a teenager he felt I was, in various ways, selling myself short. I have an old (female) friend who still clearly recalls being physically removed from the hallway of our house in Southmoor Road by him after we tried to slip quietly into the house at 2am following a party.

But Godfrey’s children were lucky. Not only was he a man whose rich life experience was an inspiration to us, he was endlessly curious about life, something he passed to all four of his children and his two grandchildren. He never stopped being interested in life and in seeking to squeeze what pleasure he could from it. Well into his 80s, his social life was as vibrant as a debutante (he was dressed down by doctors at the John Radcliffe emergency department after becoming dehydrated when he attended the Wilderness Festival aged 83).

He taught all of us never to stop trying to understand the world and never to give up trying to seek our best lives. And he remained utterly committed to his large, diffuse and disparate family.


Sally Scarlett read Isaiah 40: 2-8

2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.

3 A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

6 A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people is grass.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand for ever.

Mariana Hodgson Da Silva read Forgiven by A A Milne

I found a little beetle; so that Beetle was his name,
And I called him Alexander and he answered just the same.
I put him in a match-box, and I kept him all the day …
And Nanny let my beetle out –
Yes, Nanny let my beetle out –
She went and let my beetle out –
And Beetle ran away.

She said she didn’t mean it, and I never said she did,
She said she wanted matches and she just took off the lid,
She said that she was sorry, but it’s difficult to catch
An excited sort of beetle you’ve mistaken for a match.

She said that she was sorry, and I really mustn’t mind,
As there’s lots and lots of beetles which she’s certain we could find,
If we looked about the garden for the holes where beetles hid –
And we’d get another match-box and write BEETLE on the lid.

We went to all the places which a beetle might be near,
And we made the sort of noises which a beetle likes to hear,
And I saw a kind of something, and I gave a sort of shout:
‘A beetle-house and Alexander Beetle coming out!’

It was Alexander Beetle I’m as certain as can be,
And he had a sort of look as if he thought it must be Me,
And he had a sort of look as if he thought he ought to say:
‘I’m very very sorry that I tried to run away.’

And Nanny’s very sorry too for you-know-what-she-did,
And she’s writing ALEXANDER very blackly on the lid,
So Nan and Me are friends, because it’s difficult to catch
An excited Alexander you’ve mistaken for a match.

Gus Hodgson read Inscription on a Fountain on the Heath by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

This Sycamore, oft musical with bees,–
Such tents the Patriarchs loved ! O long unharmed
May all its agéd boughs o’er-canopy
The small round basin, which this jutting stone
Keeps pure from falling leaves ! Long may the Spring,
Quietly as a sleeping infant’s breath,
Send up cold waters to the traveller
With soft and even pulse ! Nor ever cease
Yon tiny cone of sand its soundless dance,
Which at the bottom, like a Fairy’s Page,
As merry and no taller, dances still,
Nor wrinkles the smooth surface of the Fount.
Here Twilight is and Coolness : here is moss,
A soft seat, and a deep and ample shade.
Thou may’st toil far and find no second tree.
Drink, Pilgrim, here ; Here rest ! and if thy heart
Be innocent, here too shalt thou refresh
Thy spirit, listening to some gentle sound,
Or passing gale or hum of murmuring bees!


The choir & organist of St Bride’s performed the following anthems and songs:

Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, BMV 639 – Johann Sebastian Bach
Locus iste – Anton Bruckner
Bring us, O Lord God – William Harris
Laudate Dominum – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
O vos omnes – Pablo Casals
Agnus Dei from Nelson Mass – Joseph Haydn
Prelude and Fugue in G major, BWV 541 – Johann Sebastian Bach


Dear Lord and Father of mankind
Lord of all hopefulness
Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven


congregation sitting for service


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