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TUESDAY 16 JULY  2024

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Worldly charm of Jean, widow of John London

By FRANK ’SCOOP’ BALDWIN


They say behind every great man is a great woman. This was certainly true of Jean Robbins, wife of the late John Robbins who will be remembered for the many positions he held in Fleet Street between the 60s and the 80s, culminating in his role as Managing Editor at the Evening News.


Jean died recently at the grand old age of 90 after a short illness, and only a few months after the death of her second husband Peter. She had remained fit and fiercely independent and was still often the life and soul of any social gathering, traits that made her the perfect companion for husband John, particularly at events during his tenure as ‘John London’ the Evening News Diary Editor.


However, it is Jean’s contribution to The Fleet Street Strollers cricket matches that will be remembered by many journalists of this parish. The ‘home’ matches took place at the St Lawrence CC ground located very handily right next door to John and Jean’s home in the small Kent village of Stone Street near Sevenoaks. 


The Strollers, founded by John in the 1970s, was originally an Evening News team until numbers diminished and players from other newspapers were invited to take part. ‘Friendly’ but competitive fixtures were played against various teams, and afterwards infamous post-match celebrations were held at the Robbins home when Jean displayed her talents as the perfect hostess.


Many shenanigans went on during matches but on one memorable occasion Jean helped diffuse a potentially inflammatory situation after a game. John, possibly unwisely, had decided to press ahead with a match in the pouring rain as he didn’t want to disappoint all the players and supporters who had turned up.


It left the pitch looking like a ploughed field and so it was no surprise when, as John, pictured, and his team were ‘securing the fixture’ over a few drinks with the opposition in his lounge, the St Lawrence groundsman burst in and angrily demanded to know who was responsible for ruining his wicket.


Using her worldly charm, Jean calmed the groundsman down, pointed out that he had walked his muddy boots all over her lounge carpet, and suggested that if he had a drink with them, they could call it quits.


Jean and John first met on a tennis court and later married in 1956. Their first marital home was in Petts Wood, before a move to Sevenoaks, and then later to the village of Stone Street in 1976. The grounds, which Jean kept immaculate, provided the venue for many garden parties involving several Fleet Street luminaries.


When John became ill and bedridden, Jean took on the role of his carer, and his death in 1998 left her heartbroken. After living alone for 20 years she found happiness again with Peter Smith who she ‘married’ after they organised their own private blessing at St Lawrence Church during the pandemic.


Although not a journalist herself, Jean’s association with John Robbins has secured her place in the history of Fleet Street. There is a tale that former colleagues of John still meet in a Fleet Street pub every year on 4 May to raise a glass in his memory – can anyone confirm this? If this is the case, they can now toast both John and Jean’s memory.


* A little-known fact about John Robbins has just been revealed to me. He and a colleague on the Daily Mail wrote episodes of the television soap Crossroads under a nom de plume.