Simon Regan

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Simon Regan (7 August 1942 – 8 August 2000) was a British journalist best known for founding Scallywag magazine, which deliberately took risks with potentially libellous articles about public figures. He also worked on the News of the World and late in his career focused on criminal convictions he believed to be miscarriages of justice.

Family and early life

Regan was born in Hampstead, London and brought up in a mansion owned by his grandmother where many of the rooms were rented out. His parents were supporters of the Communist Party of Great Britain and were visited by many East European intellectuals. Regan attended Haverstock Hill Comprehensive School, and wrote poetry for for John O'London's Magazine while in his teens.

Journalistic career

Having moved to Weymouth, Dorset, Regan became a journalist on a local paper before moving to London as a freelance. In March 1967 the Press Council criticised him for a piece he contributed to The Sun about a woman who had become pregnant after a sterilization operation. [1]

He landed a staff job on the News of the World in 1967 where he specialised in writing stories exposing cannabis-taking, Trotskyite student conspiracies, a world he was close to as a user of cannabis himself. Despite often attacking senior staff at the News of the World, Regan was popular with readers and wrote his pieces in line with the newspaper's view. He also worked on police corruption stories.

Royal reporter

After leaving the News of the World, Regan wrote biographies. He started with his former proprietor Rupert Murdoch, and then followed with two royal biographies. A reviewer found the biography of Murdoch "disgracefully ill-written and ill-constructed".[2] Regan's biography of Prince Charles was based on letters and paintings by the young Prince which had been stolen from Buckingham Palace, and the Royal solicitors wrote to the publishers to remind them of the law of Copyright.

Regan became a freelance editor and public relations adviser. He founded a journal which he called "Butterfly News", chiefly to attack personal targets including Coca-Cola, the National Farmers Union and the main figures in butterfly collecting.

Royal scandal

In April 1981, Regan obtained transcripts of telephone calls made by Prince Charles in Australia to Lady Diana Spencer, then his fiancée. In addition to revealing their intimate conversation, Charles could be heard making disparaging remarks about Malcolm Fraser, then Prime Minister of Australia, and about some aspects of Australian culture. [3] They were bought by Die Aktuelle, a German magazine; the Prince and Lady Diana obtained an injunction preventing Regan from disclosing or publishing the contents of the transcripts, [4] but Die Aktuelle was not affected and published the transcripts on May 8 despite a German court having also injuncted them against publication. [5]

The Prince's lawyer later insisted that the tapes were forgeries, while Regan insisted they were genuine.

Scallywag

In 1989 Regan founded Scallywag magazine in Dorset when the lure of journalism drew him back from his retirement in Butteryfly World on Lodmoor Park, Weymouth. Initially Scallywag was a local magazine seeking to expose issue in South Dorset. A recurrent theme was illegal tipping on the nearby Lodmoor refuse depot where he accused council staff of taking bribes to allow dangerous chemicals to be tipped. He was inspired by the early years of Private Eye but Regan felt that the Eye had become too cautious of libel actions and determined not to fall in to the same trap. For this reason Scallywag started to attract a loyal readership, although the major newspaper distributors refused to handle it (a situation Regan regarded as tantamount to censorship). Nevertheless in 1991 Scallywag moved to London and became (in theory, at least) a national publication.

Scallywag became a news story in itself in 1993 when it stoked a rumour that John Major, then Prime Minister was having an affair with Clare Latimer who was a freelance cook who helped with state dinners at 10 Downing Street. A story in the New Statesman showed how the rumours had been covertly mentioned in mainstream papers. When Major heard of the New Statesman story he sued both them and Scallywag for libel; he also sued the distributors and printers of both papers, which contributed to nearly driving the New Statesman out of business.

Out of business

Scallywag limped on but a 1994 story about Conservative politician Julian Lewis led to another series of libel actions which the magazine lost comprehensively. Scallywag disappeared from print and moved to a site on the World Wide Web instead. Lewis followed and won damages from Scallywag's internet service provider, closing the site down.

Regan responded by accusing Lewis of lying, and decided to attempt to sabotage Lewis' campaign in New Forest East where he was Conservative candidate for the 1997 election. Unfortunately for Regan, Lewis was aware of an obscure section of electoral law and when he obtained a taped confession from Regan that his aim was to cost Lewis votes, Lewis was able to get Regan convicted of spreading false statements about an election candidate. [6]

Later life

In his final years Regan devoted himself to propagating his belief that Diana, Princess of Wales had been killed in a conspiracy. He also set up a website called "Scandals in justice" which sought to expose wrongful convictions, and wrote occasionally for The Guardian. Regan was married and divorced twice; he had six daughters, one of whom (Charlotte) stood as an Independent in the 2001 general election in Regent's Park and Kensington North. His youngest child Louise Regan now works as a web designer in Dorset and another daughter Jenni Regan carried on the journalist tradition. She is however far more on the side of the establishment, working for the BBC. Regan died on 8 August 2000 after a short illness.

See Also



References

  1. "Mixed Verdict on 'No More Babies'", The Times, March 30, 1967.
  2. Michael Leapman, "Pared-down style", The Times, January 29, 1976, p. 12. The Times was not then owned by Rupert Murdoch.
  3. Anthony Holden, "Palace says tapping of Prince contemptible", The Times, May 5, 1981, p. 1.
  4. "Prince Charles given injunction on telephone tapping", The Times, May 7, 1981, p. 1.
  5. Patricia Clough and Frances Gibb, "German weekly prints its version of royal conversations", The Times, May 9, 1981, p. 1.
  6. David Hooper, "Reputations Under Fire: Winners and Losers in the Libel Business" (Little, Brown and Company, London, 2000), pages 369-71. ISBN 978-0-316-64833-2
  • Nigel Fountain, Obituary, The Guardian, August 14, 2000
  • Simon Regan, Rupert Murdoch: a business biography (Angus and Robertson, London, 1976) ISBN 978-0-207-95509-9
  • Simon Regan, Charles, the clown prince (Everest, London, 1977) ISBN 978-0-905018-50-8
  • Simon Regan, Margaret: a love story (Everest, London, 1977) ISBN 978-0-905018-60-7