Steve Turner

Steve Turner

27th July 1935 - 12th May 2016

On Thursday 15th September, 2016 at 11:30am a service of thanksgiving for the life of Steve Turner, former General Secretary and Life President of the British Association of Journalists, was held at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street.
Download Order of Service (pdf)


The Revd Canon Dr Alison Joyce delivered the opening:

We are here to commemorate, with thanksgiving, the life of Steve Turner: a man whose lifelong commitment both to journalism and to the welfare of journalists was unsurpassed. He was a man dedicated to his work, and to the cause of fairness and justice; a man greatly loved by his family and by those who knew him. As we remember him at this service today, we give thanks for all that he has meant to us, and for all that he was.

We begin with an opening prayer. Let us pray.

Loving God, our refuge and our strength,
We come into your presence to give thanks for Steve,
whom we love but see no longer,
and to seek your comfort and consolation at his loss.
Grant us the strength to rejoice that he is now safe in your loving arms, restored to fullness of life.
And help us to know in our hearts that the day will come
when we, too, may find life, and peace and perfect joy with him,
in your loving presence.
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.


Dick Derwent

Steve Turner changed my life… and I’m still not sure whether I can ever quite forgive him.

One minute, I was a down-table features sub on the Daily Mirror; the next, I was caught up in a whirlwind of union activity – chapel meetings, talking to the management… and fielding those famous phone calls from Steve, when you’d chat for an hour, putting the world to rights, before he finally got to the point: “Dick, I’ll tell you why I rang…” and then it’d be another half an hour before you could put the phone down.

Everyone has their own memories of Steve, and I look forward to hearing more of them today. I’m proud to have been asked to offer a few of mine. When I joined the Mirror in 1982 I’d heard so much about this man. I knew he was the legendary FoC who’d led the chapel in its great days in the 1970s. But in the flesh, he puzzled me. Could it really be that this inoffensive-looking guy sitting there in suit and glasses calmly organising the Mirror letters page, was the Clark Kent of journalism – a firebrand who leapt to the rescue of his colleagues and scattered the forces of evil? Well, yes, it could.

Here’s a story about Steve before his Mirror days, which tells you something of the mettle of the man.

In 1971 journalists held a mass NUJ meeting to protest against the planned closure of the Daily Sketch and the loss of many jobs. The union’s general secretary, Ken Morgan, came to address the meeting – and walked straight into a hornets’ nest of angry journalists who felt they had been betrayed.

As Morgan rose to speak, shouts of “Sit down, you creep”, “Traitor”, “Judas” and “Sell-out merchant” drowned him out. Suddenly a loud voice from the back of the hall, with a slightly nasal Eastendish accent, rose above the din. “No!” commanded a small, undistinguished-looking young man in nondescript clothes and wire-framed NHS glasses of the kind poor schoolkids used to wear. “Let him speak!”

Morgan, thinking he had at least one ally among this hostile mob, nodded gratefully and pushed back his chair, ready to address the meeting, but he hadn’t anticipated Steve Turner’s wicked punchline: “Let him speak… and then we’ll know exactly what NOT to do!” The hall erupted in cheers.

Fast forward a few years to Steve’s first stint as FoC at the Mirror. Our former colleague Mike Godfrey went along with him to a negotiation with the editorial manager, Len “Stonewall’ Woodliffe, Woodliffe was being even more stubborn and obdurate than usual, puffing on his pipe and refusing to commit himself to ANYTHING or acknowledge ANYTHING.

Mike remembers: “In the end Steve, fed up with this charade, turned to me and asked me if I had a notebook and pencil to hand. I said I had and he asked me to take a note of the next question he was going to ask Len Woodliffe and also Woodliffe’s answer.

“Then Steve fixed him with a steely stare and said, slowly and very deliberately: ‘Len, I want to ask you a question and would appreciate an answer.’ Len rolled his eyes to the ceiling, not knowing quite how to respond. ‘My question,’ Steve went on, ‘is this…. ARE YOU LEN WOODLIFFE? Did you get that, Mike?’

“Woodliffe blew clouds of smoke to hide his discomfiture. ‘Oh, come come, Steve…’ he began. “Before he could get any further Steve turned to Mike and said: ‘Mike, please record the fact that I asked Len whether he was Len Woodliffe and he refused to answer the question.’”

By the time I came to the Mirror Steve had mellowed a little, but only in one respect. He’d come to realise that going on strike was a futile and damaging tactic – far better to negotiate, argue and persuade. In his later years he never wavered from this belief.

When he became FoC for the second time in the late 80s, I saw at first hand what a terrific operator he was: terrier-like in his persistence, courteous to friend and foe alike, always endlessly resourceful and creative. He never lost his cool and he never lost his passion for journalists’ rights.

As assistant FoC I was drawn into his orbit as Steve fought to protect and support his members. I think his most significant success in the years I worked with him came when Robert Maxwell hit us with a dreadful new staff contract which we knew we’d be forced to sign. We went in to meet the management. They said the contracts were not negotiable. “Yes, of course, we understand,” said Steve. “But we just need a bit of clarification here and there. For instance, do the contracts really mean that Mirror journalists can be sent to work away from London and in any role on any paper the management decides?” And so on, and so on. So began what became known as The Clarifications – a series of meetings by the end of which Steve had expertly negotiated all the sting out of these “non-negotiable” contracts. In fact, they ended up far superior to anything that came later.

When Steve left to become NUJ general secretary in 1990, I inherited the mantle of Mirror FoC somewhat reluctantly. Steve thought I could do the job. This was another great thing about Steve… he believed the best of people. He thought they were capable of far more than they realised – they just needed the right kind of encouragement. It would have been nice if he’d been right about me, but he was a very hard act to follow, and I was painfully aware that I lacked the skills and leadership qualities the job demanded.

We did have some successes, but the going was hard. Collective bargaining was ever more difficult and chapel unity hard to maintain. I sometimes wondered whether things would have been different if Steve had still been FoC at the Mirror instead of operating from outside as founder and general secretary of the BAJ. I honestly think they would have been. Somehow he would have found a way to protect the journalists to whom he had dedicated his life.

Many have spoken more eloquently than I can of Steve’s qualities as a union negotiator, but I would like to pay tribute to him as a man. Honest, patient, persistent and principled to a fault – yes, that too is possible – I am sure he would have excelled in life whatever path he chose to follow. It was our great good fortune that he decided to devote his talents to the benefit of journalists.

And let’s not forget that he was a proud and dedicated family man too. Let’s send our hearts out to Debbie and the children as they try to come to terms with life without him. Steve Turner was a good man, and I and many others will never forget him.

To quote Mike Godfrey again, if Steve is up there now, looking down and listening to our tributes here today, it will probably be during a two-hour lunch break negotiated with the man upstairs as part of Heaven’s first House Agreement.

Andrew Golden

“You don’t get me, I’m part of the union!” One of Steve’s favourite songs. Can’t think why…!
Another was the Manchester United anthem, “Glory Glory Man United.”
If there are any Manchester City supporters here today, they won’t know why, either!

The ‘Part of the Union’ song was a chart hit for The Strawbs in 1973. And what a fitting epitaph for a man whose blood pumped every day with a desire to put right the wrongs he felt were perpetrated daily against his fellow workers.

No negotiation was too much for Steve. No argument unsustainable. Whether he was fighting his corner at Mirror Group Newspapers, or as General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists and later, General Secretary of the British Association of Journalists.
finessing an argument to put before the management of other newspaper groups.

There was only one union leader to stand alongside when fighting to improve pay and conditions. Bold, assertive, combative, forensic and fearless, Steve possessed the sort of qualities that were needed for a successful negotiator, especially when in the presence of Robert Maxwell.

Unfazed by the febrile atmosphere during such negotiations, Steve would master his brief and marshall his thoughts before providing an awe-inspiring demonstration of how to argue the Union’s claims in a rational, logical and uber-competent fashion.

There wasn’t a great deal of humour in wage negotiations but I do recall one incident when Steve was Editorial Convenor. We’d been summoned to meet an editor – who shall remain nameless – and trooped into the great man’s office at 11.30 in the morning. The editor didn’t speak but gestured for us to be seated and with a wave of his hand, invited representations. During the 40-minute peroration, the editor said not a word but silently sipped from two tumblers of coke carefully positioned on either side of his large desk.

Eventually, with nothing left to say, we looked to the Editor for his reply to our demands. Not a word did he speak. His response was as it had been throughout the meeting: another glug of coke and a wave of his hand to dismiss us. Outside, Steve declared it was the most astonishing meeting he’d ever attended. “The man is either a genius or drunk!”

A few months later, I spotted the now former Editor in the The Stab and asked him why he had remained silent throughout our meeting? “I couldn’t speak,” he replied. “I was so nervous I’d already drunk two glasses of vodka and coke before we met and then drank the other two that were on my desk. I was paralytic!”

It was not only talks about pay and conditions that drove Steve to the highest levels of assiduity. He cared passionately about people. His people. Journalists of every stripe, regardless of rank, position, or political affiliations. And he cared about fairness. He recognised, perhaps more than most, just how inequable the newspaper business was. He did his utmost to change that situation. Not by constantly provoking strikes and industrial actions, but by talking – and how he could talk ! – by offering compromise, and yes, by cajoling, all the while searching for that highest ideal: fairness and equality.

Steve took those qualities to Acorn House, home of the National Union of Journalists, an organisation he had served since joining the Romford Times chapel in 1955, and in July 1990, having been the most successful Convenor and FoC at the Mirror, Steve was elected to the post of General Secretary with the highest number of votes ever recorded. The more’s the pity that those who held sway in the NUJ could not see him for what he was: an invaluable asset. They only saw a man who was not one of them. A man who benefitted from an altogether different set of values. And he was not welcome.

Even then, despite the problems besetting him at Acorn House, Steve didn’t lose his sense of fairness. When negotiating with staff representatives over some enforced redundancies, Steve listened carefully to the case put forward by the editorial representative. When the poor fellow had finished, Steve gently asked him: “Don’t you know how to negotiate? Here, let me tell you what you should be asking for…!”

With Steve gone from the Mirror, his loyal deputy FoC, the redoubtable Dick Derwent, and I took on the work that Steve had done superbly at the Mirror. Then the Mirror Pensions scandal broke… By this time, Steve had been ousted from the NUJ and was fighting them over his unfair dismissal. Nevertheless, the NUJ would come to the rescue… surely? Three weeks or so after Dick and I and Chapel officers had begun preparing for the biggest battle the staff would ever face – when everyone’s pension was on the line – I took a call from Jake Ecclestone, the NUJ’s most senior officer.

“Everything all right?” he asked.
I felt like saying: “Yeah, we lose a Mirror Publisher every other week and they ALWAYS take our pension money with them!” Instead I replied, “Um, yes, everything is fine. We’re getting there,” expecting to be told the union would wade in with its full support.
“Oh good,” said the voice on the other end of the line – and he put the phone down!

That was an epiphany moment so it was not a difficult decision to support Steve in his ambition to set up an alternative to the NUJ. He used the money he’d extracted from his beloved union to fund the start-up of the British Association of Journalists, a typically brave and selfless act.

But Steve’s life was not all about unions. He adored his wife Deborah, their daughter Rosie, and his three other children: Roy, Colin and Yvette.

I don’t believe Deborah knows this, certainly I have never told her, but late one evening Steve called me and said Deborah had disappeared. Without explanation. He was beside himself with worry, wondering what on earth could have happened. We decided to wait a while before calling the police and he went looking for her. For hours he walked the beaches and sand dunes near his home before finding Deborah safe and well. She had just needed some space to think and had gone for a long walk.

It was another revelation because all my previous experience of Steve had been to do with him helping others. Now Steve was facing his own personal demons, when he was exposed and raw; a husband and father demonstrating the love he had for his family and how much he cared about those closest to him.

I suspect that employees on the Mirror titles would struggle to acknowledge that any such feelings ran deep within another Man in the Mirror: Bob Maxwell! Did he have a human side… whilst keeping it well hidden! One evening, Maxwell telephoned Steve at home and asked to speak to Rosie, Deborah and Steve’s daughter, in order to wish her a happy birthday. Rosie was three or four at the time but could hold her own in conversation. The two of them chatted away before the Publisher asked to speak to Steve. It became a not uncommon event for Maxwell to ring and talk first to Rosie before speaking to Steve. The cynics among you will say he was to trying to break through Steve’s armour. But those who know Steve won’t be surprised to learn that whenever he entered the Publishers’ office to continue negotiations, no quarter was asked and none given.

One of the verses in ‘Part of the Union’ declares:

“So though I’m a working man I can ruin the government’s plan. Though I’m not too hard, The sight of my card Makes me some kind of superman.”

Steve Turner was a kind of superman. An individual with exceptional ability to care for his colleagues; to look after their interests; to calm their fears and to give them a belief that they were worth something – even though they felt they were worthless. He also imbued in people the courage to fight. For no matter how good a union leader, if the people you represent don’t want to fight, you cannot help them.

Not only did he apply himself vigorously and determinedly at dozens of industrial tribunals and Court hearings, he also gave important evidence to the Leveson Inquiry where he continued to represent his fellow workers, telling Leveson that many newspaper workers were wage slaves who endured a culture of bullying. He never stopped being concerned about the people he had represented so magnificently throughout his life.

As the song says,

“You don’t get me, I’m part of the union. Till the day I die.”

Whichever part of a unionised heaven that you now reside in, Steve, be sure to rest in peace…


Alastair McQueen read Ecclesiastes 3: 1-11

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth?

10 I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it.

11 He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.

Rosie Turner read Crossing the Bar by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.

Patrick Welland read The Kingdom of God by Francis Thompson

O world invisible, we view thee,
O world intangible, we touch thee,
O world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!

Does the fish soar to find the ocean,
The eagle plunge to find the air–
That we ask of the stars in motion
If they have rumour of thee there?

Not where the wheeling systems darken,
And our benumbed conceiving soars!–
The drift of pinions, would we hearken,
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.

The angels keep their ancient places;–
Turn but a stone, and start a wing!
‘Tis ye, ’tis your estranged faces,
That miss the many-splendoured thing.

But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry;–and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob’s ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.

Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,
Cry,–clinging Heaven by the hems;
And lo, Christ walking on the water
Not of Gennesareth, but Thames!


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

In Paradisum – Gabriel Fauré
Turn, Turn, Turn – Pete Seeger arr. Jones
Psalm 23 – Howard Goodall
All you Need is Love – John Lennon/Paul McCartney arr. Jones
Part of the Union – Hudson/Ford arr. Morley
Fanfare for the Common Man – Copland


Who would true valour see
The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended

congregation sitting for service


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