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Jean Stead was trained as a reporter on the Yorkshire Post, working as a reporter for 10 years in Leeds and London. In 1963, she joined The Guardian as a reporter, specialising in writing about housing and the homeless, immigration and race relations, and occasionally a columnist on the women's page. In 1968, she became a deputy to John Cole, then succeeded him as news editor from 1970-1979. She was later appointed Special Projects Editor, supervising investigative reporting, book serialisation, and specialist columns (e.g., legal column and motorcycling column). She became known for her international correspondence covering the motorcycle Grand Prix in Europe.
Stead also wrote extensively about the nuclear disarmament movement in Europe, particularly in Germany, at the height of the Cold War. She was threatened with arrest, and her exit visa was taken from her after she interviewed dissident writers under house arrest in the Soviet Union, while covering a Scandinavian women's peace march across the Soviet Union. Stead wrote the first articles about the women's protest against the siting of American Cruise missiles at Greenham Common, and its significance for feminism.
From 1983-88 she was the Guardian's Scotland correspondent, covering the national miners' strike and at the Ravenscraig steelworks and the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders, as well as Scottish politics and the nationalist movement. From this work she published in 1986 a book, Never the Same Again, the story of women in the miners' strike.
After retirement in 1988, she later returned for a short time as archaeology correspondent after archaeologists protested at the burial of the Rose Theatre site and the original Shakespeare Globe Theatre. She also wrote a number of articles about major discoveries nationally and internationally, including at the site of the Berlin Wall. Stead edited the current affairs journal The New Reporter, from 1994/95, designed by her husband John Bourne.
In 2006 she was one of the organisers of a 25th anniversary exhibition of the Greenham Common women's protest.
Stead is now the UK co-ordinator for Grandmothers for Peace International, based in Elk Grove, California, near Sacramento, which opposes nuclear weapons and led protests against the Iraq War. She served recently as an adviser to UKLAW, the committee set up to help Afghan women by Joan Ruddock M.P She is also a member of organisations opposing cruelty in factory farming.
Jean Stead was born May 30 1926 at Huddersfield, Yorkshire, only daughter of Harry and Jessie Stead, later of Kirkburton, Yorkshire. Harry was a Royal Artillery regimental officer in both world wars, and in charge of east coast defences in the latter part of the second war. Jessie was a Hobson, her ancestors thought to include Joshua Hobson, the Chartist and socialist who led the opposition to the Poor Law Amendment Act in 1834, and wrote revelatory reports about appalling workhouse conditions in Huddersfield and edited the Northern Star. Her brother Peter was a fighter pilot in the last war and afterwards one of the founders of Yorkshire CND. He was a pioneer of constructivism, working with St. Ives artists and others on his designs and opened the Symon Quinn art gallery in Huddersfield. He and his father were directors of the family building contractors which had built most of the 19th century mills in Huddersfield.
Jean, because of early illness, was educated at home and then at the public girls' boarding school Hunmanby Hall, and later studied economic history at the local college.
Stead has been married for nearly 60 years to John Bourne, who joined the Yorkshire Post after being deputy editor of the University newspaper Varsity, and was later a reporter on The Guardian, before joining the Financial Times, where he was an award winning political editor known for his impartial news judgement. They have two children and three grandchildren and live in London and Cornwall.