Abridged from Leonard McNae's Obituary, The Times, 27 January 1996, p23
About the book
Leonard McNae gave his name to the reference book that in many newsrooms has become the "bible" consulted whenever legal queries arise. Generations of journalism trainees have gritted their teeth to study McNae's Essential Law for Journalists and later, as seniors and editors, have come to rely on it as a familiar prop.
Essential Law for Journalists as it appeared in 1953. Photo credit NCTJ.
The book had its origins in 1938 in a volume The Pressman and the Law produced by G.F.L. Bridgman of the Middle Temple for the National Union of Journalists (NUJ). Towards the end of the Second World War, Bridgman revised the material for a correspondence course produced for journalists in the Forces about to return to civilian life.
By 1953, however, the course needed drastic revision and amplification as a result of changes in the administration of criminal justice and the structure of local government. It was taken over by the recently formed National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ), and the task of revision was shouldered by McNae, then an executive in the sub-editors department of the Press Association and later news editor, then editor, of its special reporting service. The legal material in the course was published as a book in 1954 by Staples Press under the title Essential Law for Journalists.
McNae had no formal legal training but he was ideally placed in his work for the special reporting service to study the legal problems faced by journalists, in particular in their work of reporting a great variety of courts, tribunals and authorities.
In 1962, when the NUJ bestowed honorary membership on McNae for his work on the book, the citation recorded the monumental task of editorship which required "many dreary nights of research in the PA library and more hours of painstaking research at home"; typically painstaking, said the citation, because the self-effacing McNae did thoroughly whatever job he undertook.
About the man
Leonard Cyril James McNae was born in Bermondsey on December 28, 1902. His parents moved to Eastbourne and he worked as a proof reader for the Beckett series of local weekly newspapers. He learnt shorthand and in 1922 became district reporter at Uckfield for the Sussex County Herald.
Leonard McNae with the book that would later be known simply as McNae's. Photo credit NCTJ.
He began to lose his hearing at 25 and, realising he could no longer report, turned to sub-editing, first for the Northern Whig, Belfast, then The Irish Times, Dublin. In 1934 he joined the Press Association as a sub-editor in London, where he was known as "Mick" McNae because the Press Association had so many "Macs"!
He was an able journalist. As an executive, he inspired awe among his younger staff because of his high professional standards and also because of a rather austere manner that may have resulted from his hearing difficulty. He worked people hard but was kindly to those in trouble.
He became editor of the special reporting service in 1956, playing an important part in the establishment of this valuable service, and retired in 1967. In retirement in Richmond he was active as a Freemason and as a Rotarian; for some 14 years he was secretary of the Richmond Philanthropic Society, which gives instant help to people in need. He was a founder member of the Richmond Parish Lands Committee, concerned with the development of Borough of Richmond lands given by George III.
In 1928 he married Freda Ager, and had a son and two daughters. He died on January 1, 1996 aged 93.©The Times, 1996