John Desborough, CBE: Norfolk ‘spin doctor’ for Tories honoured twice by the Queen

John Desborough, and his wife, Julia at their Smallburgh home 3

John Desborough, and his wife, Julia at their Smallburgh home 3 - Credit: submitted

A former chief 'spin-doctor' for the Conservative Party, John Desborough, has died peacefully on his 84th birthday at his home in Norfolk.

After working for Robert Maxwell's Daily Mirror as chief political correspondent, he was phoned out of the blue by Norman, now Lord, Tebbit, and offered the top job.

In 1986, Mr Tebbit, then party chairman, rang his home one Sunday evening in Hertfordshire and offered him the post of chief information officer. Later he became director of information at Conservative Central Office and after prime minister Margaret Thatcher was returned for a third term in 1987, he was appointed CBE for political service.

Although he retired in 1990, he was still using his trusted typewriter to write a monthly newsletter for the party until April this year, when his health started to decline.

After he had been made redundant in 1985, he was planning to move to Norfolk. He and his wife, Julia, who was also a journalist, had visited Norfolk, where they had spent annual holidays in Broadland since 1957 and had another home at Sutton, near Stalham, for many years.


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John Cyril Desborough, who was born in Northamptonshire on November 8, 1929, became a reporter on his local newspaper, working at the Wellingborough office. His wife to be, Julia, was then working as a reporter at the Rushden office of the Northampton Evening Telegraph.

After National Service, he returned to the local paper before moving to the Birmingham Gazette and Despatch in 1953. After six years, he then moved to London to the Exchange Telegraph Newsagency (Extel) as a general reporter before becoming news editor until it was closed in 1965.

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He joined the Daily Mirror in 1966 and became chief political correspondent in 1977. A brilliant after-dinner speaker, he was also secretary to the Parliamentary Lobby journalists for nine years until 1981,when he became chairman of the Press Gallery. In 1984, he was elected chairman of the Parliamentary Lobby and in that year was made OBE for services to parliamentary journalism.

He was invited, twice, to Buckingham Palace with his wife for an investiture by the Queen.

In retirement, he took a keen interest in local affairs and especially St Peter's Church, Smallburgh.

Married to Julia for more than 50 years, he leaves three children, Julian, Jonathan and Joanna, and six grandchildren.

After a private cremation, a service of thanksgiving will be held on Tuesday, November 19 at St Peter's Church, Smallburgh, at 12.30pm.

Michael Pollitt

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