Francis James Baird Wheen (born 22 January 1957) is a British journalist, writer and broadcaster.
Francis was determined to be a journalist from an early age and his first job on leaving school was as an office boy on the Guardian. He read English at Royal Holloway College, University of London, where he was recently given an honorary fellowship.
After leaving university Francis worked on the New Statesman magazine. He was one of the founding journalists on the Independent and has written for most national newspapers, particularly the Independent, the Observer and the Guardian where his 'Wheen's World' column won the What the Papers Say Columnist of the Year award in 1996. Francis has written for Private Eye for more than twenty years and acts as the magazine's deputy editor. He has also been a regular columnist for the London Evening Standard. From 1985 to 1993 he was married to Joan Smith, columnist, novelist and activist.
Francis's first book was a TV tie in history of the 1960s. His first biography, of the scandalous gossip columnist and Labour MP, Tom Driberg, was shortlisted for the Whitbread prize and his second - a biography of Karl Marx - was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize, the W.H.Smith Award, the Silver Pen and the Marsh Christian Prize for biography before it finally won the Isaac Deutscher prize in 1999. His volume of collected journalism – Hoo-hahs and Passing Frenzies - won the George Orwell Prize in 2003. Francis as acted as a judge for the CWA Dagger awards, the Samuel Johnson Prize, the Orwell Prize, the Costa Prize and awards designed to encourage potential young journalists. He is a patron of the Essex Book Festival.
Francis broadcasts regularly (mainly on BBC Radio 4) and is a regular panellist on The News Quiz. He wrote a docudrama - 'The Lavender List' - for BBC Four on the final period of Harold Wilson's leadership, concentrating on his relationship with Marcia Williams, which was first screened in March 2006. It starred Kenneth Cranham as former Prime Minister Wilson and Gina McKee as Williams. However, in April 2007 the BBC paid £75,000 to Williams (Baroness Falkender) in an out-of-court settlement over claims made in the programme. Francis was not consulted about this and felt extremely angry that he was not given the opportunity to justify his work. As a journalist he believes passionately in the importance of holding public figures to account for their actions - and also the importance of checking facts and telling the truth. In his introduction to Hoo-hahs he expresses his belief that "journalism involves telling people things they couldn't have found out for themselves."
Francis's new book Strange Days Indeed: the Golden Age of Paranoia was published by Fourth Estate in September 2009. It will be published in the USA by Public Affairs in spring 2010. Now he wonders about a novel ...