Powerhouse Sunday Times and Guardian journalist Nick Mason… a sporting knowledge that bordered on the uncanny

This tribute was written by four-time SJA award-winner Stephen Jones for the Sunday Times and is reproduced here with their permission

Nick Mason,  who died suddenly before Christmas, aged 81, was a powerhouse journalist for the Sunday Times and other newspapers in a distinguished career, but rarely has power, authority, and professionalism been so lightly wielded.

He was as far removed from the traditional image of a Fleet Street journalist – loud and perhaps even bullying – as it was possible to imagine. He also had an appetite for all sports and a sporting knowledge that bordered on the uncanny.

Mason was the classic inside man, the desk expert who gave space, encouragement, direction and a backdrop to the words of reporters in the field. So many sports writers of this and previous eras are in his debut. Brough Scott, the celebrated racing journalist, said: “Nick and I worked together through more than 10 years of heavy Saturday deadlines but I cannot remember having one cross word with him.”

David Robson, the Sunday Times sports editor in the 1980s said of his deputy at the time: “What I admired about Nick was his knowledge, standards, his technical proficiency, his efficiency and his humour.

“He also had a remarkable ability to sub-edit copy and watch the Test match on tv at the same time, without missing a ball or misplacing a single comma.”

Mason was also a writer of repute. His book Football! The story of all the world’s football games, was remarkable in concept, tracing the development and separation of all the football codes, including Aussie Rules and the NFL.

Born in Harrow, Mason was a pupil at Epsom Grammar School before going to Charterhouse, courtesy of a scholarship. He then went to Mansfield College in Oxford, where he read English and met Jane, his wife, who was nursing in the city. Mason obtained his first post in journalism – as a foot-in-the-door reporter in Newcastle – after a classic Oxford apprenticeship working for Cherwell, the students’ newspaper.

Stephen Jones (R) two-time SJA rugby writer of the year, receives his award from Peter Jackson (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)

He began his career on the Sunday Times on the magazine under the editorship of the legendary Godfrey Smith. He moved to become deputy editor of the Sunday Times sports section and remained the anchorman of the operation for some years. He was wonderfully encouraging to youngsters, an expert on a staggering range of sports and a team man to his bootlaces.

He was a keen runner and helped to create the annual Sunday Times fun run along with the late Norman Harris in which tens of thousands would run around Hyde Park. He was also a decent golfer and an opening batman in the Geoffrey Boycott mould.

He left the Sunday Times to become sports editor of the London Daily News, a 24-hour operation founded by Robert Maxwell. Mason was able to put together an outstanding stable of sports writers, testimony to his professionalism and popularity. The paper ceased to publish within a few months and Mason was quickly recruited by the Guardian where he remained until his retirement in 1999.

He leaves sons Peter, Robert, and Anthony, daughter Rosalind, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. When Rosalind was five she summer up her father perfectly. “My daddy knows everything,” she said.