1. Hundreds gather to remember Sir Harry Evans
In the heady days of the 1970s and the early 1980s, as a young newsdesk executive on The Press and Journal
(P&J), still effectively learning my trade, there was one British journalist whom I hugely admired, away and away above several other formidable contenders for my praise.
That journalist was Sir Harry Evans, a hard-bitten but extremely humane man, born from working-class roots in Eccles, near Manchester. He had reached the pinnacle of his career as the relentlessly campaigning editor of The Sunday Times
(ST) from 1967 to 1981, and many regard him as the greatest British journalist of all time.
Thus, I was delighted to hear that hundreds of journalists and others touched by his life had gathered at Mansion House in London, on 9 June, at a memorial event to celebrate his life.
Evans had arrived at the ST via the then conventional route of joining a local weekly newspaper, aged 16; an assistant editorship on the Manchester Evening News
; and editor of The Northern Echo
Darlington-based daily newspaper from 1961-1966. However, shrewdly, along the way, after applying to all the 14 universities then in existence in Britain, he was ultimately accepted by Durham University and graduated with a degree in economics and politics.
He hadn't had the most auspicious starts in life. Evans, who described his Welsh parents in his memoirs as 'self-consciously respectable working class', encountered his first major setback by failing the 11-plus – debarring him from a grammar school education, and then, although demonstrably intelligent, due to an administrative error was forced to see out his national service in the RAF as a lowly clerk.
At The Northern Echo,
Evans, who was knighted in 2004 for services to journalism, had successfully campaigned for cervical smear tests to become more readily available and a pardon for Timothy Evans, wrongly convicted and hanged for murders in London.
He was appointed editor of The Sunday Times
in 1967. Early on in his editorship came the title's exposure of Kim Philby as a member of a spy ring involved in espionage on behalf of Russia. He was warned the revelations threatened national security, but went ahead with publication regardless, believing moves to halt it had been issued to inoculate the government against bad publicity.
Then came the notorious Thalidomide scandal. Thalidomide was a drug prescribed to expectant mothers suffering from morning sickness and which led to thousands of British children having severely deformed limbs. Evans took on the drug companies responsible for its manufacture and unwilling to pay compensation: pursuing them through the English courts and eventually gaining victory in the European Court of Human Rights in 1979.
The British families of thalidomide victims eventually won compensation of £32.5m as a consequence of Evans' magnificent campaign, and his ongoing support for the Thalidomide Trust until his death in 2020, aged 92, has helped it secure payouts worth more than €5bn for victims of the drug around Europe.
The Sunday Times
also famously published extracts from the controversial diaries of former Labour cabinet minister Richard Crossman shortly after his death. Evans risked prosecution under the Official Secrets Act for breaking the 30-year-rule preventing disclosures of government business. However, Lord Chief Justice Widgery ruled that publication would not be against the public interest, and that was yet another triumph in a long run of sterling successes for Evans and the ST in holding power to account.
Evans was promoted to be editor of The Times
but after only a year in the job, he fell out with its new owner, Rupert Murdoch, over the the issue of editorial independence, and quit.
Along with his second wife, very accomplished magazine journalist and author Tina Brown, he headed for the US in 1984 where he eventually became a US citizen and built a remarkably impressive second career in the American newspaper and publishing industry.
Among the publications he was involved with at a very senior level were the US News & World Report
, The Atlantic Monthly
, New York's Daily News
, and The Week
magazine. He also founded Conde Nast Traveler
and was publisher of Random House books.
Evans was also a prolific author, with more than 25 books to his credit, including a number of standard reference books on newspaper practice. And from 2000, when he retired from journalistic managerial positions to devote more time to writing, he remained a regular contributor to The Guardian
and BBC Radio 4, and served for a period as editor-at-large of the Reuters news agency.
Reporting on the memorial event, the Press Gazette's editor-in-chief, Dominic Ponsford, surprised me and many others by revealing that despite all these celebrated journalists present… 'it was left to a historian to explain why the job he did matters and what we all should do now he has gone'.
Dominic explained: 'Sir Harry's friend Simon Schama said we live in a scoundrel age
and that we need the great editor back to set out in black and white the unvarnished truth
'. Imagining what Evans would say if he were present, Schama memorably volunteered: 'What is the point of being a one-off: we need more of the right stuff. Multiply me'. And he added: 'The best thing we can do to honour him is to work at creating an army of Harrys – unwavering in their passion for truth'.
The work of creating his legacy begins with the launch of a salaried Sir Harry Evans Global Fellowship for early career journalists to spend six to nine months pursuing an investigative project in the Reuters newsroom. Applications are now open. It is paid for through the Sir Harry Evans Memorial Fund which currently stands at $6m.
Introducing the memorial service, Tina Brown, her voice faltering with emotion, said: 'Harry never lost his conviction that goodness would prevail but only if people of will and courage held careless power to account'.
James Harding, a former editor of The Times
, declared that Evans proved 'that a good man can be the best journalist of them all'.
Journalist Hunter Davies recalled that he first met Evans in 1958 when they were working on rival daily newspapers in Manchester, and declared: 'I'm looking forward to meeting him in heaven, and I when I get there he will be shouting: Hold the front page'.
Novelist Jilly Cooper owed her career to Evans, recruited by him to write a column for the ST. She remembered only being censored by him once, when he ruled that her account of watching a male stripper at a hen do was not suitable for a family newspaper. She recalled, to much hilarity: 'I wrote that he rotated his member in the same way an English setter wagged its tale around when covering a bitch'. Jilly likened Sir Harry to Ulysses in the poem by Lord Tennyson: 'To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield'.
Don McCullin, a world-class news photographer at the ST under Evans, told the audience: 'He was the most democratic human being you could meet. Everyone who worked at that newspaper was treated equally and humanely. The door was always open to his office, but he was practically never in that office'.
David Walmsley, the editor of Canada's Globe and Mail
daily newspaper, whom was mentored by Evans, shared his five rules for pursuing investigations:
• Be relentless.
• Resource the work properly.
• Remember the newsroom will lose interest at precisely the moment the audience starts to pay attention.
• Maintain a neutral line of enquiry.
• Accept the premise may be wrong.
Other speakers at the memorial event included Magnus Linklater, the former editor of The Sunday Times Magazine
, David Thomson, chairman of Thomson Reuters, journalist Bruce Page (via a recording made a few weeks before his own death) and Elaine Potter, co-founder of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
2. Stratton gets new job in wake of Partygate scandal
Surprisingly, Boris Johnson has somehow held on to his job as the UK's Prime Minister despite losing the backing of two-fifths of Tory MPs and being publicly castigated for his role, or should we say lack of a role, in the long-running Partygate scandal.
We are led to understand that a number of 10 Downing Street civil servants, plus government and Tory party advisers, either lost their jobs or were demoted and moved elsewhere in the aftermath of Partygate.
However, six months ago, the most public scapegoat of Partygate emerged in the shape of former 10 Downing Street press secretary, Allegra Stratton, whom, you may recall, confirmed her resignation on national television news bulletins amid floods of tears.
Like many others in the media, I have felt that Nottingham-born Allegra was treated somewhat unfairly. She became the highly-publicised Partygate scapegoat by doing the honourable thing in resigning while other malefactors clung on to their highly-paid posts without any apparent consequences.
Allegra had been appointed as spokesperson for COP26 after her prestigious Downing Street press secretary post was suddenly abolished for internal reasons which were not made public. However, she felt she had no option but to resign from her new post last December after ITV News broadcast 47 seconds of video footage of her at a December 2020 mock press conference in which she joked with colleagues about a Christmas party that secretly took place at 10 Downing Street while the country was in a COVID-19 lockdown.
Prior to leaving journalism to serve the UK Government, Allegra, a Cambridge University graduate, had had a very successful media career – working for The Times
and The Guardian
before joining the BBC where for four years she was political editor of BBC2's Newsnight
programme. Subsequently, she was for two years the national editor of ITV News and co-presenter of the Peston on Sunday
current affairs television programme.
In 2018, in a major career change, she was appointed as a spokesperson for the UK Government – initially serving as Chancellor Rishi Sunak's director of strategic communications at the Treasury before taking on the newly-created post of press secretary for 10 Downing Street. When it was decided to scrap that job, she became the spokesperson for COP26… and then came that fateful resignation decision which meant she had landed herself in the dole queue.
However, the good news is that Stratton has a new job, joining Bloomberg News as UK contributing editor. From 20 June, she will write a newly-launched daily newsletter called the Readout
which will be sent out at 5pm daily featuring the best of the day's news coverage from Bloomberg.
Allegra, a mother of two, is married to James Forsyth, political editor of The Spectator
3. Major UK television channels unanimously snub Saudi golf offer
The controversial Saudi-backed rebel golf tour, launched last week at the Centurion Club in St Albans, has failed to secure a UK TV deal despite pitching to all the major broadcasters.
The Scottish Daily Mail
(SDM) has revealed that representatives of the LIV Series offered rights to Sky Sports, BT Sport, DAZN and the major streaming services without attracting any serious interest. SDM informed us: 'Sky Sports is the home of golf in the UK, showing over 100 tournaments each year including all the majors and the Ryder Cup, but did not seek to take on the £200m event. The broadcaster has close links to the PGA Tour so may have declined for political reasons. With no interest from UK channels, the LIV Series opted to stream [last week's] tournament free on their own website, YouTube and Facebook'.
The tournament was won by former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel who pocketed $4.75m (£3.86m) with a one-stroke victory at the inaugural invitational event. In three days work at the Centurion Club, the 37-year-old from Johannesburg picked up a sum equal to the amount it has taken him the last four years to earn on the PGA Tour.
'All I can say is that the evolution of golf has arrived,' LIV Golf's chief executive, Australian Greg Norman, declared at the presentation ceremony. 'For 27 years there have been a lot of obstacles put in our path, a lot of dreams have tried to be squashed but they couldn't squash us,' added the former world's number one golfer whom had first tried to set up a world tour in the mid-1990s.
4. Sadly, it's game, set and match for broadcaster Sue Barker
Scottish Daily Mail
columnist Emma Cowing relates how sorry she is that the 'fabulous' Sue Barker is hanging up her microphone after Wimbledon this year – despite being offered a three-year deal by the BBC to stay on as the face of its tennis coverage.
Emma laments: 'For me, Barker's very voice conjures up Centre Court on a sunny day, crowds eating strawberries and cream, and the reassuring thwack
of an ace serve. Wimbledon just won't be the same without her'.
Well, I can certainly second that, Emma.
5. A 'fine commentary' for all the Scottish hacks, says Alf
One of the minor frustrations of writing a weekly column in Scottish Review
is that, unlike newspapers, there is not a vehicle for getting feedback – good or bad. I am now trying to remedy this by supplying readers with my email address each week.
So I must admit that I was just a wee bit chuffed to receive an email from a most distinguished semi-retired Scottish journalist which read: 'I've been meaning to get in touch for some time to tell you how much I look forward to your media column each week in Scottish Review
. Today's segment about the demise of Scottish Business Insider
and your email address means I can say to you directly – what a fine commentary it is for all us Scottish hacks. Well done!'
Sadly, I have to report that my poor back, already afflicted by the ghastly never-ending pain of post-herpetic neuralgia (shingles for life), is now even more sore with all the self-inflicted pats which it has had to endure. And, regretfully, I must lay the blame at the door of a certain Alf Young!
Should you wish to get in touch with me, please email me at: email@example.com
Caithness-born Hamish Mackay is now in his 57th year as an occasional/sometimes regular contributor to the UK's exceedingly diverse media market