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Friday, October 22, 1999 Published at 13:38 GMT 14:38 UK


Journalist legend calls it a day

End of an era: Evans is a celebrated campaigning newspaperman

By BBC News Online's Jonathan Duffy

The New York papers are at it again, devoting column inches to that bright English chap called Harry, whose magical powers have become legendary on both sides of the Pond.

Harold Evans talks to David Frost in 1998 after revealing he became an American citizen
But this time the subject is not the young schoolboy sorcerer with the surname Potter, but a notable elder statesman of journalism, surname: Evans.

Harold Evans, the celebrated former editor of The Times and Sunday Times, has made what promises to be his final headline career move, into retirement.

Anyone familiar with Evans's reputation as a tireless grafter will be reassured to hear he is not quitting for the well tended fairways of Long Island.

He plans to follow up his book The American Century with two more works on US history.

[ image:  ]
Nevertheless, his decision to call it a day as editorial director of the New York Daily News and US News and World Report is a sad day for journalism.

It marks the end of a sparkling 55-year career that began in the newsroom of a weekly paper in northern England and progressed to the pinnacle of east-coast American high society.

In Britain, Evans will be remembered as an old-school editor, one of the last great campaigning newspapermen with a conscience he brandished on his sleeve.

He spent 14 years in the top chair of the Sunday Times (1967-1981) and a further year at the helm of its sister daily, The Times.

For many, Evans's crowning achievement will remain the establishment of the Sunday Times' Insight team, which became famed for its meticulous investigative work.

Evans carried a deep-seated passion about investigative journalism, seeing it as a powerful tool in helping uncover corporate wrongdoing.

[ image: Evans rose at 5am every day for 12 years to write his book]
Evans rose at 5am every day for 12 years to write his book
In the Thalidomide case, the Sunday Times fought judicial suppression to publish the facts about the drug responsible for terrible birth defects in children whose mothers had used it.

The case has been called Britain's Watergate and ended in victory for the paper with a judgement in the European Court of Human Rights.

Despite his humble origins - Evans's father was a railway worker all his life - he has never felt uncomfortable in the company of the rich and powerful, such as Lord Thomson, one-time proprietor of the Times stable of papers.

But in Rupert Murdoch he found an arch-enemy; someone at odds with all that Evans held dear about the trade.

In his book Good Times, Bad Times, Evans tells how Murdoch's buy-out of the Times and Sunday Times hurriedly led to a showdown. At issue was Murdoch's constant interfering.

'Broken guarantees'

"[Murdoch] guaranteed that editors would have control of the political policy of their newspapers ... that the editors would not be subject to instruction from the proprietor on selection and balance of news and opinion ... that instructions to journalists would be given only by their editor," he wrote in Good Times, Bad Times.

"In my year as editor of The Times, Murdoch broke all these guarantees."

In today's climate, where newspaper editors come and go in a conveyor-belt-like fashion, it is hard to imagine the impact of Evans's departure.

[ image: Evans fell out with Murdoch]
Evans fell out with Murdoch
It prompted a question in the House of Commons, and letters of support for Evans from, among others, Henry Kissinger.

When the editor's resignation statement finally came in 1982, it was delivered in front of an ITN camera crew.

But in retrospect this was only the end of the beginning for Evans, then already well into his 50s.

Inspired by his marriage a year before to Tina Brown, a fiercely ambitious journalist 26 years his junior, Evans headed to New York for a new start.

The couple thrived both professionally and socially in Manhattan. Brown, as editor of Vanity Fair and then the New Yorker, earned the sobriquet "the Queen of New York".

[ image: The Daily News: Evans's last newspaper job]
The Daily News: Evans's last newspaper job
Evans, though eclipsed by his wife's startling success, was also a big player in the US media. He launched Condé-Nast Traveler magazine, before leaving journalism to be president of the publishing giant Random House.

During his seven years there, he scooped the memoirs of former Gulf War personality, General Colin Powell, snapped up the election campaign spoof, Primary Colours, and recorded record profits with Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

But he also presided over costly mistakes, including the memoirs of former Clinton aide Dick Morris, which bombed after a $1.5m advance. He later revealed he had become an American citizen.

In 1997 Evans quit and returned to journalism, overseeing the output of the New York Daily News.

At the time, he said: "I'm a newspaperman. Newspapers are still in my veins."

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