The Society of Editors has paid tribute to “one of the world’s greatest editors” Sir Harold Evans following his death aged 92.
Sir Harold, who took on his first editorship at the Northern Echo in the 1960s, later went on to edit The Sunday Times where he became particularly known for his decade-long battle to get compensation for victims of the Thalidomide drug.
The esteemed newspaper editor and author of Good Times, Bad Times died on Wednesday in New York from heart failure, his wife Tina Brown has confirmed.
His career also saw him work as a magazine founder, book publisher, author and – at the time of his death – Reuters’ editor-at-large.
Ian Murray, executive director of the Society of Editors has paid tribute:
“Sir Harold Evans was a giant among journalists who strove to put the ordinary man and woman at the heart of his reporting. He took on the establishment without fear or favour and earned a deserved reputation as one of the world’s greatest editors. In his 70-years as a journalist he never lost sight of the need to maintain integrity in our profession. He was a true champion of a free press and holding the powerful to account.”
Ian MacGregor, Editor Emeritus at the Telegraph and chair of the Society of Editors added: ”So many journalists like me grew up in awe of Harold Evans.
”He was a brilliant, fearless editor whose investigations and campaigns should be read and studied by all would-be reporters.”
Crawford Gillan, co-author of Essential English with Sir Harold Evans, reflected on their time together working on the indispensable journalism textbook:
“It was a great honour and privilege to work with Harry, updating his inspirational Essential English textbook,” Gillan told the SoE.
“The intervening years since the book’s original publication date had done nothing to diminish Harry’s relish for the project. I fondly remember his impromptu phone calls (usually as he travelled across Manhattan) and how he buzzed with ideas and suggestions on how to make the content more relevant for the digital age.
“His energetic enthusiasm was infectious and reflects the enormous contribution he made to journalism.”
Peter Sands, editor of The Northern Echo from 1989–1993, told the SoE how Sir Harold had ignited his ambition to join the profession.
“My parents bought me a copy of Pictures on a Page by Harold Evans in the mid-70s and it inspired me to become a journalist. That I followed in his footsteps and became the editor of The Northern Echo was one of my proudest moments. His presence was always there in the Echo building and made me, and his other successors, determined to carry on the campaigning tradition he introduced to the paper. He changed the way newspapers operated – from covering community news to actually getting things done, tackling injustice and righting wrongs.
“Sir Harry was voted the greatest newspaper editor of all time – and nobody could argue with that.”
Born in Manchester in 1928, Harold Matthew Evans started his career aged 16 at the Ashton-under-Lyne Reporter. After a detour via the RAF for National Service where he edited the camp newspaper, Evans studied politics and economics at Durham.
Post university, Evans joined the Manchester Evening News, swiftly progressing through the ranks as a reporter, sub-editor, leader writer and assistant editor. His first editorship came in 1961, at the age of 32, when he went back to the northeast to run the Northern Echo in Darlington.
Evans forged his reputation at the Echo, where his campaigns resulted in a national screening programme for cervical cancer and a posthumous pardon for Timothy Evans, who was wrongly hanged for murder in 1950.
Former Northern Echo editor Peter Barron who edited the paper from 1999-2016 reflected on Sir Harold’s enduring legacy for the regional title: “As editor of The Northern Echo between 1999 & 2016, I’d often find myself looking at his picture on the office wall and wondering: ‘What would you do, Harry?’ 50 years after he left, North-East readers still talked of him in awe. A true inspiration.”
Following a move south to assist the editor of The Sunday Times Denis Hamilton in London, within a year following the merger of the Times and Sunday Times, 38-year-old Evans was crowned editor of the Sunday title in January 1967.
It was here that Evans set the mark for the paper’s commitment to investigative reporting and campaigning, most prolifically in the battle for compensation for mothers who were prescribed Thalidomide for morning sickness resulting in hundreds of children being born with birth defects.
Speaking about his campaigning in a 2010 interview with the Independent, Evans said: “I tried to do – all I hoped to do – was to shed a little light. And if that light grew weeds, we’d have to try and pull them up.”
After 14 successful years as editor of the Sunday Times, Evans was moved to The Times by Rupert Murdoch who had purchased both Times titles in 1981. The editorship was short-lived, however, following a public falling-out with Murdoch over editorial independence Evans departed in 1982.
After leaving the Times, Evans and his second wife, Tina Brown, moved to New York.
Throughout his varied subsequent career he remained a vigorous newspaper politician, championing the cause of greater freedom for the British and international media.
Evans went on to become founding editor of Conde Nast magazine and later president of Random House from 1990 to 1997.
He was knighted for services to journalism in 2003, the year after an industry poll had named him the greatest newspaper editor of all time.
In 2011, at the age of 82, Sir Harold Evans was appointed editor-at-large at Reuters; the organisation’s editor-in-chief describing him as “one of the greatest minds in journalism”.
He died of congestive heart failure on September 23, aged 92 in New York.