LONDON, Dec 29 (Reuters) - William Rees-Mogg, a former editor of Britain’s Times newspaper who famously backed Mick Jagger when the Rolling Stones singer was jailed for a drug offence, has died at the age of 84.
On its website, the Times said Rees-Mogg, a former chairman of the Arts Council and vice-chairman of the BBC, had been suffering from oesophageal cancer.
Rees-Mogg became editor of the paper in 1967 and, despite establishment credentials built up at independent school and Balliol College, Oxford, soon showed a rebellious streak.
In July of that year, he published a celebrated leading article criticising the jailing of Jagger for a minor drugs offence, headlined: “Who Breaks a Butterfly on a Wheel?”
Later Rees-Mogg, in an article in the Times after he had stepped down as editor, described John Major, Conservative prime minister for most of the 1990s as “over-promoted, unfit to govern and lacking self-confidence”.
“His ideal level of political competence would be deputy chief whip or something of that standing,” he added, in a contemptuous reference to Britain’s behind-the-scenes political party managers.
However Rees-Mogg stubbornly defended former U.S. President Richard Nixon against all the Watergate evidence filed by the Times’ Washington staff as the scandal that led to Nixon’s resignation in 1974 unfolded.
The Times was bought by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp in January 1981, at which point Rees-Mogg, who had backed the Murdoch purchase, resigned to make way for one of Britain’s most celebrated editors, Harold Evans, who became Reuters editor-at-large in 2011.
The paper’s website carried a tribute from Murdoch on Saturday.
“William Rees Mogg was a distinguished editor of the Times for 14 years, during which time he modernised the paper, reaching out to a younger readership with expanded coverage of news, sport and features,” Murdoch wrote.
“It is to his great credit that he retained the intellectual integrity of the paper while attracting a broader based and markedly more female readership for the paper.
“He gave me invaluable support when I acquired Times Newspapers in 1981, and remained someone on whom I could always count for impartial counsel.”