He would prowl around the JC newsroom like an editor in a Hollywood spoof movie calling out –“Ladies and gentlemen, copy please. Not tomorrow, not next week, but now!”
Bernie Josephs, who has died aged 71, had too much compassion and humour to terrify the procrastinators in the newsroom. It may have been an act he enjoyed, but this news editor usually got his copy on time.
Said his wife Billie: “He was a man of few words, until he had something to say, and then he wrote it well.”
Known as Bernie the Red, he was a proud union man, Father of the Chapel and a life-long member of the National Union of Journalists who believed in the labour ethos all his life. He started out in 1968 as a cub reporter on his local paper, The Loughton Express and Independent, before moving to the nationals and the JC.
His parents, Faye and Charles Josephs, ran a clothes shop in Leytonstone, but Faye died when he was six months old. Charles remarried when Bernie was seven and he b ecame veryclose to his stepmother Edna Walters. His father, though agnostic,was a founder of Loughton Synagogue.
Bernie went to school in Buckhurst Hill, Essex and learned his newspaper craft after taking courses in art and business studies. He met Billie Goldsmid at a fancy dress party in Brentwood, Essex, when she was 19 and he, 20. They married in 1973 when Bernie moved to his first Fleet Street job on the now defunct Evening News where he covered jet crashes in Tenerife and gun killings in the East End of London.
“He loved being in Fleet Street, his natural home, and was proud that he had his own beer mug in the “Mucky Duck” pub (actually the White Swan”) said Billie. He became deputy news editor in 1976.
But there was another pull beyond the frenetic buzz of Fleet Street. Bernie and his family moved to Israel in 1978 and he became a kibbutz farmer, working in the cowsheds, pruning trees in the apple orchards and driving tractors to pick cotton. It was the life bucolic, but the writing bug finally drew him away to a job on the Jerusalem Post.
But then a devastating story broke. Bernie was also a correspondent for the Sunday Express and the London Evening Standard, the first paper to break the story in December, 1986, about Dimona nuclear whistle blower, Mordechai Vanunu, who had been caught in a honey sting by Israeli agents and flown to Italy. It was thought Bernie had sent the story to the Standard. But in fact, insists Billie, he had not. On the way to prison, Vanunu frantically scribbled the words on his hand telling the world that he had been kidnapped by Israeli agents. He held up his hand and the photograph went viral.
Billie was distraught. “The picture told the story that Israel had the bomb. The paper nearly got him jailed or thrown out of the country because he was suspected of breaking censorship. They suggested he write a diary giving a true account of what happened.”
In 1989 Bernie joined the JC as political and diplomatic editor. He often had colleagues in stitches, creating red-top headlines out of thin air just for the fun of it. “I love clichés”, he once told a colleague struggling to avoid using one. He is survived by Billie, their children Gidon and Orli, Gidon’s wife Nicole and grandchildren Nathan, Ben and Gaby.
Bernie Josephs: born October 20, 1948. Died December 1, 2019