Morton's father was a seaman while her mother was a market trader. She grew up in a council house in Norris Green, Liverpool. She was educated at Broad Square County Primary School and Liverpool Institute High School for Girls, followed by St Anne's College, Oxford, where she read English. After leaving Oxford University, she undertook postgraduate research at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, USA, for a year.
Reynolds became the radio critic of The Daily Telegraph in 1975; she previously held the same post at The Guardian for seven years from 1967. In between these two jobs she was the first Programme Controller of Radio City in Liverpool in 1974, the first woman in the UK to hold such a post. "I wasn’t good at it though I gave Alan Bleasdale his first full-time writing gig", she said in 2018. Later, Reynolds was involved in the group organising the events in Liverpool while the city was European City of Culture in 2008.
Reynolds is a Fellow of The Radio Academy, a trustee of the National Museum in Liverpool, a Fellow of the Royal Television Society and an Honorary Fellow of her old Oxford college, St Anne's. Until January 2009, she chaired the Charles Parker Archive Trust at Birmingham Central Library. Until October 2019, she was a member of the Advisory Board of the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford, Yorkshire.
Reynolds celebrated her 40 years with The Daily Telegraph by reporting in December 2015: "Radio is more popular with BBC audiences than TV, delivering 43 percent of the BBC’s total audience" [the BBC being the UK's public broadcaster, then in its ninth decade]. She argued that "radio is perceived as a medium of the future not a dusty relic", crediting digital technology, interactivity by audiences and the huge breadth of creativity radio offers. She wrote: "There are ways of telling a story on radio... that audio does better than any other medium, more intimately and with more immediate impact."
After 42 years at the same title, in January 2018 Reynolds left The Daily Telegraph for The Sunday Times, where she will continue her radio column. Then aged 82, she told Julia Llewellyn Smith in an interview: "It’s a strike against ageism; proof that some employers value the benefits of long experience over the bouncy energy of youth".
The former Gillian Morton married the American journalist Stanley Reynolds in 1958 after meeting the previous year during Morton's period in the United States. The couple had three sons, but later divorced. It was an unhappy marriage; she was a victim of domestic violence. "When sober he was lovely, when drunk monstrous", she said in 2018. She returned to London without the children because Reynolds was threatening to murder her. She eventually gained custody of her sons.
Reynolds was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 1999 Birthday Honours for services to journalism and Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2020 New Year Honours for services to radio.
In June 2018 she appeared as a guest on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, when her included recordings by Earth, Wind & Fire, Miles Davis, Ray Charles, Shostakovitch, Beethoven and Richard Burton, and her luxury item was an endless supply of blended Scotch.
- "Remarkable lives › 1950s › Gillian Reynolds (English, 1954)". St Anne's College, Oxford. Retrieved 2 December 2016.
- Llewellyn Smith, Julia (11 February 2018). "Gillian Reynolds: a heart lit by radio's naked flame". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 11 February 2018. (subscription required)
- Byrne, Ciar (12 June 2006). "The Indestructible Journos". The Independent. Retrieved 11 February 2018.
- Barrington, James (9 April 2007). "City Talk". Transdiffusion. Retrieved 11 February 2018.
- "Gillian Reynolds - the Doyenne of British Radio", details of an event ("Coventry Conversations") at Coventry University, 12 October 2006.
- The Radio Academy "Fellows" Archived October 24, 2014, at the Wayback Machine
- Gillian Reynolds - the Doyenne of British Radio "Gillian Reynolds MBE is reappointed as a Trustee of the National Museums Liverpool (NML) Archived 2008-10-23 at the Wayback Machine", Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 1 July 2006. (.pdf file)
- Reynolds, Gillian (3 December 2015), "How radio has changed in my 40 years as the Telegraph's critic", The Telegraph.
- Grove, Valerie (5 January 2018). "The Queen of Radio, 82, is poached by the Sunday Times". The Oldie. Retrieved 2 February 2018.
- "Stanley Reynolds". The Times. 2 December 2016. Retrieved 2 December 2016. (subscription required)
- "No. 55513". The London Gazette (Supplement). 12 June 1999. p. 21.
- "No. 62866". The London Gazette (Supplement). 28 December 2019. p. N10.
- "Gillian Reynolds", Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4, June 2018.