Journalist, 54, was ‘sacked to make way for someone younger', employment tribunal is told

Wednesday, 20th June 2012

Former Daily Telegraph sketch writer Andrew Gimson: 'My only mistake was to grow older'

Published: 20 June, 2012
by RICHARD OSLEY

ONE of the most familiar faces on the House of Commons press bench claims he was forced out of the Daily Telegraph for being too old.

Parliamentary sketch writer Andrew Gimson told an employment tribunal this week: “My only mistake was to grow older in an organisation that appears to value youth over experience.”

The 54-year-old has taken the newspaper to an employment tribunal, claiming unfair dismissal and age discrimination. He lives in Oak Village, Gospel Oak, and is the husband of Highgate Labour councillor Sally Gimson.

Mr Gimson claims he was forced from his established role as the paper’s sketch writer and told he had to join the Telegraph’s leader-writing team, writers who produced comment pieces that appear without a byline or credit. The two sides disagree over whether this switch, suggested last September, should be seen as a demotion.

“My dismissal without reason from the sketch has been a distressing experience, as has the editor’s determination to force me into an unwelcome and inferior role, in which my task would have been to make his opinions seem more civilised than they really are,” said Mr Gimson. “Like many Telegraph readers, I feel the paper has become more brutish in its treatment of news, and also of its own staff.”

Mr Gimson had been appointed to the role in 2004, succeeding celebrated columnist Frank Johnson, one of his idols.

“I’m not alone in being sacked in order to make way for someone younger,” he said. “Most departments have seen a general clear-out of older members of staff with long experience and their replacement with much younger people.”

The case has brought the two most senior editorial figures at the Daily Telegraph to the tribunal’s hearing rooms at Victory House in Holborn.

Today (Wednesday), the paper’s deputy editor, Benedict Brogan, was questioned for two-and-a-half hours. The editor, Tony Gallagher, is due to appear on Thursday when the tribunal resumes. The newspaper denies the claims of unfair dismissal and age discrimination practices.

Mr Gimson said there had been no complaints about his work as a sketch writer.

His replacement, Mich­ael Deacon, is 23 years younger and has a CV which Mr Gimson pointed out includes working for the lads’ magazine Zoo.

Mr Gimson said he had asked his bosses whether the newspaper’s main editors had problems with his sketches, but was never given a straight answer.

Instead, he was told the comment  desk needed to be beefed up and he was the “ideal candidate” to move into a leader-writing position.

Mr Brogan said the move would have put the writer at the “heart of the paper”, but Mr Gimson said the change-around was “deeply unwelcome”, adding: “I loved what I was doing and knew that many readers enjoyed my sketches. It was no part of my plan to spend my mid-50s writing anonymously.” There was a discussion at the tribunal yesterday as to whether the Telegraph was searching for a “groovier” style in parliamentary sketches.

Mr Gimson said this might have meant a preference for “more analogies with television programmes”, but he insisted that his own work was not peppered with highbrow references. “That would have been bad manners in a newspaper with a high circulation,” he told the hearing.

Mr Brogan was asked whether, having shown no interest in moving desks, why Mr Gimson could not have simply stayed in his sketch-writing role. 

He said: “If every time the editor asked a journalist to do something they said: ‘Thanks but no thanks’, you’d never get anything done.”

Mr Brogan said there had been frustration when a piece appeared in the Evening Standard about issues between Mr Gimson and the Telegraph, although it was later discovered that a sketch-writer from another paper had sold it on as diary piece.

He added he was surprised Mr Gimson “flatly refused” to switch roles.

Mr Gimson, who was on a retainer deal at the Telegraph rather than being a full-time staffer, said that his family had been forced to make significant changes to their lives since he lost his job, frankly describing how the couple had stopped making pension contributions and had switched to an interest-only mortage on their house.

“The depressing reality is that I may never obtain regular paid employment as a journalist again,” he said. 

The tribunal continues.

ARSENAL? A football team or a rude email shorthand?

Daily Telegraph deputy editor Benedict Brogan used the word “Arsenal” in an email to show his frustration at dealings with Andrew Gimson, the tribunal heard yesterday (Wednesday).

He was asked during cross-examination why the name of a football team suddenly popped up in a message to colleagues. Mr Gimson’s lawyer Chris Quinn asked whether it was code for calling somebody an “arsehole”, adding that you “wouldn’t see the word Tottenham in the middle of an email.”

Mr Brogan told the tribunal Arsenal was “shorthand for a rude word”. Asked if that word was “arsehole”, Mr Brogan said: It’s short for ‘arse’.”

The tribunal's chairman added to the bizarre exchange by observing that “Arsenal” was a longer word than “arse”.

Mr Brogan said the emails were not expected to be made public. He added: “I work in journalism where we tend to be blunt about things… they are fleeting terms of frustration.”

In another email, editor Tony Gallagher wrote: “He’s moving or fired. Moore is a twat.” This was after former Telegraph editor Charles Moore had described Mr Gimson as “brilliant” in an article for The Spectator.

Mr Gallagher is due to be cross-examined today.

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