Fleet Street legend Harold Evans dies aged 92

Fleet Street legend Harold Evans dies aged 92
Sir Harold Evans (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Tributes have poured in from campaigners, journalists and politicians, following the death of Fleet Street legend Harold Evans, who has died in New York aged 92.

The former editor of The Sunday Times was described as a “witty, charming, fiercely intelligent” man, and a “true champion” of social justice.

Mr Evans, who was also editor-at-large for the Reuters news agency, died of congestive heart failure, according to his wife Tina Brown, to whom he had been married for 40 years.

Born in Manchester in 1928, Mr Evans began his career at a weekly newspaper in Ashton-under-Lyne aged 16.

He later rose through the newspaper industry with roles including assistant editor of the Manchester Evening News and, after a stint in the US, as editor of The Northern Echo in Darlington.

Peter Barron, Northern Echo editor from 1999 to 2016, paid tribute to his predecessor, saying: “I was editor half a century later and the people of County Durham, North Yorkshire and Darlington still revered him.

“If I went to give a talk in the community, Harold Evans always came up, at Women’s Institutes, Townswomen’s Guilds and Rotary Clubs, somebody always had a memory of him.

“He made a lasting impression on the people of the North East because of his journalism.

“He changed the world, he believed in campaigning journalism and he also understood the importance of getting out and listening to people.”

Mr Evans became editor of The Sunday Times (ST) in the late 1960s, and editor of The Times soon after Rupert Murdoch bought the paper in 1981.

He left the paper around a year later after clashing with Mr Murdoch over editorial independence.

Mr Evans was renowned for his promotion of investigative journalism.

One of the most famous investigations conducted under his stewardship was that of exposing the plight of hundreds of British thalidomide children who were not compensated for their birth defects.

Sir Harold Evans and his wife Tina Brown (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Glen Harrison, a thalidomide survivor and deputy chairman of the campaign group Thalidomide UK, said: “He was an outstanding human being for our cause.”

“A true gentleman and honestly we wouldn’t know where we would be without him, a really sincere loss and condolences to his family.

“A true warrior, a true champion for our cause. It’s a tragic loss.”

Another thalidomide campaigner, Guy Tweedy, from Harrogate, also mourned the passing of a “dear friend”.

“He was an icon. The world’s greatest journalist, and Harry was, and will always remain, a hero of thalidomiders worldwide.

“What he did for thalidomide survivors and their families in the UK was enormous. He trod where no one else did.

“If it wasn’t for him fighting against the Establishment, and having the courage to expose this horrendous scandal, we would never have got any justice at all.”

Mr Evans also wrote several best-selling books, including The American Century in 1998 and the sequel They Made America in 2004.

He described journalism as his “basic passion” and was a firm advocate for accurate, truthful reporting.

“Journalism is not easy. It’s the first rough draft,” he said.

“I don’t think you need to wait around until you have the definitive thing.

“You record what’s there; don’t delude yourself that this is the ultimate historical view.

“Attempting to get at truth means rejecting stereotypes and cliches.”

He was also conscious of the power of journalism and the media, saying: “The camera cannot lie, but it can be an accessory to untruth.”

“Propaganda is persuading people to make up their minds while withholding some of the facts from them.”

Other tributes have been paid by prominent journalists and politicians to the “inspiring” former Sunday Times editor.

Sir Harold Evans with a group of thalidomide victims at the premiere of Attacking The Devil (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan described Mr Evans as a “witty, charming, fiercely intelligent man” and said the thalidomide scandal had “epitomised his crusading, campaigning, fearless style”.

He wrote on Twitter: “RIP Sir Harry Evans, 92. One of the all-time great newspaper editors.

“His stunning thalidomide investigation when he ran the Sunday Times epitomised his crusading, campaigning, fearless style.

“A wonderful journalist & a witty, charming, fiercely intelligent man. Very sad news.”

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said the passing of Harold Evans “should remind us of the vital role the free press plays in our democracy”.

“He was a giant of investigative journalism, uncovering great injustices and informing the public without fear or favour,” he said.

“At a time our newspapers remain under serious pressure, we can all help #buyapaper.”

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon added her condolences to Mr Evans’ family, tweeting: “Very sorry to hear that legendary journalist, Sir Harold Evans has died.

“I always enjoyed talking to Harry, and we had a lively conversation when he interviewed me at Women In The World in 2015.”

Kevin Maguire, associate editor of the Daily Mirror, tweeted: “RIP Harold Evans, inspiring former editor of the Northern Echo and Sunday Times.

“Embodied the best of journalism incl at the ST exposing the thalidomide scandal.”

Stephen J Adler, editor in chief of news agency Reuters, said: “I am so grateful Harry Evans became my mentor and friend.

“All of us at Reuters are blessed to have worked with him and learned from him these past 10 years.

“His example will continue to guide us.”

More in this section

IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox