LONDON, Sept 24, 2020 (BSS/AFP) – Campaigners, journalists and
politicians on Thursday paid tribute to the crusading British
newspaper editor Harold Evans, after his death in New York aged 92.
Former Sunday Times editor Evans is best remembered for his
hard-hitting expose of the birth defects caused by the drug
thalidomide in what remains a high watermark for the profession.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, himself a former journalist and
columnist, called him “a true pioneer of investigative journalism”, as
others praised his fearless approach.
The head of the Society of Editors, Ian Murray, called him a “giant”
and “a true champion of a free press and holding the powerful to
Andrew Neil, one of his successors at the Sunday Times, said Evans
was “the greatest editor of his generation”.
At the time of his death on Tuesday from congestive heart failure,
the charismatic Evans was editor-at-large for the international news
Evans’ second wife, the publisher Tina Brown, confirmed his death on
her Twitter account and called him “the love of my life”.
“He was peaceful at home with his family. My soulmate for 39 years.
Thank you for all the beautiful tributes to the most magical of men,”
– ‘Shed a little light’ –
Evans took on the makers of thalidomide and exposed the lack of
proper testing procedures, campaigning to force the company to
increase compensation for those affected.
Glen Harrison, the deputy chairman of the campaign group Thalidomide
UK, called him “an outstanding human being for our cause… We
wouldn’t know where we would be without him.”
Fellow campaigner Guy Tweedy called him an “icon”. “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.”
Evans himself was modest about the achievement, recalling in an
interview with the Independent in 2014: “All 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.”
– ‘Basic passion’ –
Under Evans’ tenure from 1967 to 1981, the Sunday Times revealed
that British intelligence agent Kim Philby was a double agent working
for the Soviet Union.
He also published the diaries of a former government minister,
Richard Crossman, despite risking prosecution under the Official
Despite his later public profile, Evans had humble roots, growing up
in a working-class family near Manchester, northwest England, as the
son of a railwayman.
He began his career on local newspapers, notably the regional
publication the Manchester Evening News, going on to win his first
editor’s post at the Northern Echo at the age of 32.
Even half a century after he left, his legacy was still felt, said
one of his successors at the northeast England daily, Peter Barron.
“He understood the importance of getting out and listening to
people,” he said.
Evans called journalism his “basic passion” and summed up his own
philosophy to the profession by saying “attempting to get at truth
means rejecting stereotypes and cliches”.
Evans left the Sunday Times in 1981 to become editor of sister paper
The Times when media mogul Rupert Murdoch took over.
But he only led the paper for a year after falling out with the
owner in a row about editorial independence.
He also once said he was sacked because of his consistent attacks on
Margaret Thatcher, the prime minister at the time.
– Author and knight –
Evans and Brown then moved to the United States, where they both
later became citizens. He taught at Duke University and became
editor-in-chief of the Atlantic Monthly Press.
He was also appointed president and publisher of Random House,
editing authors including Maya Angelou.
His several best-selling books included “The American Century” in
1998 and “They Made America” in 2004, the same year he received a
knighthood for services to journalism.
Brown was also a respected media boss, rejuvenating Vanity Fair in
the 1980s and The New Yorker in the 1990s, with the couple earning a
reputation as mainstays of the New York politics and party scenes.