Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Watson, James Kingston (1908–1978)

by Bridget Griffen-Foley

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

James Kingston Watson (1908-1978), newspaper editor, was born on 1 September 1908 at Broken Hill, New South Wales, son of Leonard James Percival Watson, a South Australian-born journalist, and his wife Lily Alicia, née Fanning, from Dublin. Dux of University High School, Melbourne, 'King' joined the Melbourne Herald as a cadet in 1927. He specialized in sports reporting then became police roundsman for the Sun News-Pictorial.

In 1933 Watson was one of the talented young journalists recruited to the Star. When it closed in 1936, he returned to the Herald. On 18 June 1938 he married with Presbyterian forms Eleanor Armstrong Macfarlane, director of the Sun News-Pictorial's children's supplement, at Cairns Memorial Church, East Melbourne. Moving to Sydney that year, he joined many of his former Star colleagues on the Daily Telegraph, revitalized by Consolidated Press Ltd. In 1939 he was appointed news editor of the new Sunday Telegraph, edited by Cyril Pearl. A former vice-president of the Victorian district of the Australian Journalists' Association, Watson was active in the formation of the Journalists' Club, Sydney.

Watson became deputy-editor at Consolidated Press's London bureau in 1943. He served as a war correspondent at Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force. On the liberation of France, he opened Consolidated Press's office in Paris, returning to London in 1946. Back in Sydney in 1948, Watson became deputy news editor of the Daily Telegraph and news editor in 1951. Following an interregnum on the death of Brian Penton, he was appointed acting editor in 1953 (confirmed 1954).

A sparkling luncheon companion, Watson was passionate about literature and classical music. In 1950 he and Eleanor had acquired Kyarra, a run-down mansion built at Hunters Hill in 1886, which they lovingly restored. After a consortium headed by Consolidated Press obtained one of Sydney's first television licences, he became a regular interviewer on the panel show, 'Meet the Press'.

Watson, who was fiercely loyal to (Sir) Frank Packer, was unlucky to occupy the editorial chair at the time when he became increasingly interventionist, particularly in support of the Liberal Party. In 1967 Watson failed to dissuade Packer from running a crude editorial about race riots at Detroit, which attracted widespread condemnation. Although David McNicoll described Watson as 'one of the best newspapermen Australia ever produced', he lacked the mercurial brilliance of such predecessors as Penton and Pearl. The columnist Robert ('Buzz') Kennedy believed that the Telegraph lost some of its 'zing' under Watson's long editorship.

In 1970, after leading the Australian delegation to the Commonwealth Press Union conference in England, Watson retired as editor. He remained associated with special projects and television, and in 1971 took charge of the Sunday Telegraph after the editor suddenly quit. When the Telegraphs were sold to News Ltd in 1972, he edited the combined Sunday Telegraph and Sunday Australian. After 'retiring' from News Ltd in 1974, Watson was recalled to Australian Consolidated Press as head of the London bureau. He died suddenly on 14 September 1978 in New York and was cremated; a memorial service was held at St Bride's parish church, Fleet Street, London. His wife and their daughter survived him. A portrait of Watson by W. E. Pidgeon is held by the family.

Select Bibliography

  • D. McNicoll, Luck's a Fortune (Syd, 1979)
  • B. Kennedy, It was Bloody Marvellous (Syd, 1996)
  • B. Griffen-Foley, The House of Packer (Syd, 1999)
  • Journalist, 30 Sept 1933
  • Newspaper News, 1 May 1945, 1 Oct 1951
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 31 Oct 1970, 16 Sept 1978
  • Watson papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Bridget Griffen-Foley, 'Watson, James Kingston (1908–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/watson-james-kingston-11979/text21473, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 24 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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