Jean Kathleen Rook
|Died||September 1991 (Age 59)|
|Education||Attended Malet Lambert High School Attended Bedford College|
Jean Kathleen Rook (13 November 1931 in Kingston upon Hull – September 1991) was an English journalist dubbed The First Lady of Fleet Street for her regular opinion column in the Daily Express. She was also, along with Lynda Lee-Potter, a model for the Glenda Slagg column in the satirical magazine Private Eye.
The daughter of an engineer and an usherette, Rook was raised in the East Riding of Yorkshire. She was educated at Malet Lambert High School and Bedford College, London, where she became the first woman to edit the Sunday newspaper, Sennet. She began her professional career as a reporter on the Sheffield Telegraph, then became women's editor before taking a similar job at The Yorkshire Post and from there went to Flair - a fashion magazine. In 1964 she joined The Sun newspaper as its fashion editor. It was in her time in Sheffield that she met and married Geoffrey Nash, who followed a spell in the Rotherham branch office of the Sheffield Telegraph with a stint as the writer of the diary on the evening paper The Star.
In an interview, Jean Rook described how she had "clawed and scrambled" her way to become "the First Lady of Fleet Street... Britain's bitchiest, best known, loved and loathed woman journalist". Rook also owned up to having been the original model for Private Eye's female columnist Glenda Slagg. She enjoyed her privileged position as a newspaper columnist, and dressed in extravagantly brassy style - clanking with chunky accessories - but she also had the opinions and language to match 'the look' and was proud of her success in what was a male-dominated industry.
Her never-less-than-outrageous column became the vehicle for wild swings of opinion and no subject was taboo. The critic Clive James observed, having watched an appearance she made on the BBC2 programme Don't Quote Me in 1975: "Unusually prone to writing and talking in clichés, she nevertheless commands a sure sense of the proper time to trade in one set of bromides for another. Bryan Magee read some of her own prose to her. It bore out the Margo MacDonald/Anna Raeburn case [that the Press tended to put Woman in her Place], in all respects, but Rook was in no whit abashed. "That was written in 1971, she protested confidently. Everybody thought that then."
Even Rook's adoring readers sometimes found her unashamed vulgarity too much to bear but despite this, after nearly two decades working for the Daily Express she remained an institution. Rook interviewed scores of public figures, including Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, Elizabeth Taylor and Barry Humphries, with her "down-to-earth approach" to all. She summed this up saying; "You know why I'm popular with the readers? Because I'm as ordinary as they are".
However, Jean Rook is also recalled for her blatant homophobia, and discrimination and hatred of lesbian people. She has indeed been criticized for the harmed she caused to the LGBT community at the end of the 1970s, both in the case of Maureen Colquhoun and in the 1978's case of lesbian mothers.
Despite what many saw as her faults, and vanities, she was an esteemed and conscientious worker. She missed her deadline for her Daily Express column only twice in two decades - once, when her son was born, and the second time, when she was diagnosed as suffering from cancer.
- "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography". Retrieved 20 April 2008.
- "Lynda Lee-Potter". Daily Telegraph. 21 October 2004. Retrieved 20 April 2008.
- Clive James Visions Before Midnight ISBN 0-330-26464-8
- Hemmings, S. 1980. "Horrific Practices: How lesbians were presented in the newspapers of 1978" in Homosexuality: Power and Politics, edited by the Gay Left Collective. Verso Books.
- Daily Telegraph - Obituaries (6 September 1991)