Sir Harold Evans, former Sunday Times and Palatinate editor, dies aged 92

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Sir Harold Evans, former editor of The Sunday Times and Palatinate, has died at the age of 92 of heart failure in New York. 

Born in Salford in 1928 to a working class background, Evans studied politics at University College in Durham after completing his national service.

In Durham, he edited Palatinate during epiphany term, 1951, just three years after the Paper was established in 1948. He later said this experience was “indispensable for a career in journalism.” He also wrote about his experience for Palatinate to mark the paper’s 800th edition.

He recalled his time in Durham fondly, saying in 2016: “this amazing, historic peninsula awakens dormant senses. Who could not be thrilled, and changed, by the learning, the music, the debates, the architecture, the companionship, the contiguity of town and gown.”

After graduation, he returned to Manchester to work for a local newspaper, before becoming editor of the Northern Echo in 1961, aged just 33. 

“This amazing, historic peninsula awakens dormant senses.”

As editor of the Echo, Evans launched campaigns that would have national significance, including one which led to national tests for cervical cancer.

His trailblazing approach was noticed by The Sunday Times, who appointed him editor while still in his thirties. He would lead paper for 13 years. 

During his tenure as editor, his campaigns again had national significance, notably in his fight for greater compensation for the victims of the Thalidomide disaster. 

Thalidomide was a drug prescribed to pregnant mothers to control the symptoms of morning sickness in 1958. As a result of taking the drug, hundreds of mothers in Britain gave birth to children with blindness, missing limbs, deformed hearts and other issues. 

“Embodied the best of journalism.”

Evans’s campaign against the UK manufacturer, Distiller’s Company – and the Sunday Times’ most significant advertiser – to increase the compensation received.

Despite his formidable tenureship as editor, Evans was ousted from his position in 1981 after conflict with Rupert Murdoch, who had bought the paper the previous year with the backing of the Thatcher government. Evans described his departure as “the saddest moment of my life.”

Evans attributed his own demise to Thatcher, telling The Independent in 2010, “ultimately Mrs Thatcher was the reason I was fired.” He continued “because I was attacking her so much. When she started to dismantle the British economy, the most cogent critic of that policy… was the Sunday Times. I wrote 70 per cent of that criticism myself.”

Evans described his departure as “the saddest moment of my life.”

After his departure from the Times, with his second wife Tina Brown, he moved to the US where Brown had been appointed editor of Vanity Fair. 

In 2003 he received a knighthood in recognition of his services to Journalism, and in his final years, he continued to contribute to the BBC, the Guardian, as well as becoming editor-at-large at Reuters in 2011.

The news of his death has prompted widespread tributes.

Associate editor of the Daily Mirror Kevin Maguire, said he was an “inspiring editor” who “embodied the best of journalism”, while author Robert Harris told the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme “He really was the great British post-war journalist, no question.”

Palatinate editors and commented: “Whenever we talk about Palatinate alumni, Sir ’s name comes up. As students to know that we are starting out in the same publication that such an important figure in journalism once did is inspiring. 

“His contribution to journalism was remarkable and he will be much missed – we will also be proud to count him among former Palatinate editors.”

Professor Stuart Corbridge, Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, said: “Our community is devastated to learn of the loss of alumnus Sir Harold Evans – a journalistic pioneer whose exceptional career spanned decades and whose legacy will influence generations to come.

“Sir Harry is a deep loss to us all and will be remembered fondly here by so many of our staff, students, and alumni alike. Our thoughts and best wishes are with his family.”

Professor Wendy Chambers, Head of University College, said: “Our University College community is deeply sad to learn of Sir Harry’s passing. he was a proud Castleman with a highly distinguished career. He was a beacon of professionalism, integrity and advocacy many of our students continue to study and celebrate today; his legacy will be felt by generations to come.”

Evans is survived by his two children from his marriage to Brown, along with his three children from his marriage with Enid, his first wife, who died in 2013.

Image: Creative Commons

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