Guardian readers, politicians, media figures and former colleagues have paid extensive tributes to the former Guardian editor Peter Preston, who died at the weekend, aged 79. Preston oversaw significant changes to the newspaper while in the role between 1975 and 1995, including a move to Farringdon, the addition of the G2 daily supplement, the famous Hillman redesign, and an early decision to publish on the web. He guided the title to record circulation figures, and was editor when the paper alleged that then-MPs Neil Hamilton and Tim Smith had been paid to ask questions in parliament. Hamilton launched a libel action against the Guardian but eventually dropped his case in 1996.
From Guardian colleagues
Katharine Viner, the editor-in-chief of the Guardian and Observer, said: “At 10am on Monday morning, as usual, we had the Guardian’s editorial conference – our daily meeting which is hosted by the editor but which, unlike at most other news organisations, is open to all colleagues. It was Peter Preston who introduced the idea of making this meeting open to everyone, and on Monday the discussion focused, quite naturally, on him. His vision. His innovation. His pipe. His rare ability to admit when he got things wrong. His kindness, which was discreet and thoughtful and experienced by so many of us.
“Every email he sent me included words of encouragement, from ‘more power to your elbow’ to ‘hope you’re in good heart’. You always felt that Peter had your back. He was excited about the Guardian as it is today – he loved the membership scheme, how we’ve put journalism at the heart of it, and he was thrilled that we decided to go tabloid on 15 January. I wish he could have seen it.
“His last column, filed just a few days before he died, was powerful. He wrote in the Observer that the media ought to be ‘a business that means treating readers in a jam like human beings, identifying distress, becoming a functioning part of society rather than commentators at its edges.’ I can’t think of a better way of summing up what the Guardian should be.”
Alan Rusbridger, who followed Preston into the role of Guardian editor in 1995, said: “Fleet Street editors tended to have their favourite dining haunts. Over the years I enjoyed breakfasts, lunches and dinners with colleagues on other papers at a fine collection of deferential five star restaurants and whisperingly-exclusive members’ clubs.
“The backdrop to a meal with PP [as he was known] was usually the opposite. You’d saunter out of the office in (the then-not-very-fashionable) Clerkenwell and find yourself in an obscure eatery that did not feel long for this world. He and I discussed prototypes of the first Weekend Guardian over an early evening half pint in a pub then best known for its lunchtime strippers. When he took me out to lunch in January 1995 to tell me he’d be stepping down as editor it was over a mediocre ham sandwich in a basement spit-and-sawdust café that no-one else on the staff had ever noticed.
“He could be very good company; but he was entirely unclubbable. He was an outsider to his core – and the Guardian was, geographically, historically and spiritually, the outsider paper. However you defined the establishment, Peter wanted no part of it. His work on parliamentary sleaze grew out of the same slightly puritanical soil. Westminster was another club he never wanted to join.
“He was dogged, stubborn, tough-minded – and was always the first to slip away from the (frugal) Christmas drinks to get back to a half-written editorial. But he was also amused and humane. Under his leadership, the Guardian was place where great characters thrived; great fun was had, and great journalism happened.”
Martin Kettle, columnist and leader writer for the Guardian, observed that “Preston turns out to have been the last editor of the Guardian who wrote Guardian editorials regularly. This is largely because in those days the job of editing still allowed time for that. And it was partly because he was a 24/7 journalist long before 24/7 journalism was invented. He loathed not to be working. He often said he felt twitchy if he hadn’t written each day. He always gave the impression that he could do most jobs in the paper better than the person who was doing it – with the possible exception of Hugo Young. He may have been right about that. There were certainly jobs he coveted – film critic and Washington correspondent high among them.
“Peter’s readiness to write cut both ways with the leader writers. The up side was that it took some of the daily pressure off us, so that we didn’t have to write all the time and could get out of the office to read, interview and (those were the days) lunch, hopefully for the good of the paper and the leader column. The down side was that it inevitably led to a characteristically warm but withering remark as he summed up the discussion: ‘Martin, you get a well-deserved input day’ – the words emphasised sufficiently for his gently censorious point to be made. Input, it was clear, was not Peter’s idea of journalism. What mattered, to him and to the readers, was output.”
Anne McHardy worked alongside Preston for many years as reporter and then night news editor: “Two incidents sum up Peter Preston’s journalistic integrity and professionalism for me,” she says. “The first in 1978 while I was working as Northern Ireland correspondent and was back in London from Belfast. Peter walked down with office with a big grin on his face and said: ‘You must be doing a good job! I have just had the secretary of state take me to lunch to complain about you … Let me take you for lunch now!’ and the second in 1987, while I was night news editor on the night of the King’s Cross fire, which broke out just before first edition time. The paper was in transit between two technologies and the night desk was where they met, which meant is was often mayhem. Peter, in a dinner suit, came back into the office and stood behind me as I bridged the technology gaps. ‘What can I do?’, he said. ‘Organise the tea for us all!’ I said, and he did. The rest of the night he helped count numbers of the dead as well, of course as writing himself and encouraging us all, not least as we realised one of our number was badly hurt. On a more personal note, being a devoted family man, he would often arrive behind my desk in late afternoons to see, over my shoulder, what his son, then working for PA, was writing.”
Polly Toynbee recalls her appointment to the paper by Preston: “The call from Peter Preston came out of the blue. Would I write a 2,000-word column on the famous/infamous Guardian women’s page? I was a reporter on the Observer, writing mainly about industrial disputes and working life – it was 1977 – and I’d written a book on unskilled work.
“I wasn’t an obvious choice: I’d written little about women, except at work. Did I want to join the feminist ‘wimmin’, as Private Eye mocked great women’s page columnists such as Jill Tweedie, Mary Stott and Posy Simmons’ dazzling strip cartoon? Other women’s pages were still all woollies, jellies and how to keep your man, while the Guardian’s trailblazing pages wrote about domestic violence, periods, the menopause, oppressive obstetrics, orgasms – and other things that frankly made Preston blench a bit. ‘You don’t have to write just about women,’ he said slightly pleadingly.
“He was proud but instinctively alarmed at what he had created, so his remedy was to seek out women writers with no feminist track record. As women’s editors he chose Liz Forgan, then Frances Cairncross, political and economics writers. But we all went native, tugged into the strong feminist slipstream by Jill Tweedie’s radiant wit, raw indignation and soaring refusal to tolerate a male-dominated world. It changed my life, for the better. Liz Forgan says the same. The mark of a great editor is to sow new seeds and let them bloom: Preston came to see this feminist vanguard as one of his many triumphs, and I’m forever grateful.”
Posy Simmonds, who contributed to those pages, added “he was the corduroy-jacketed features editor when I first worked for the Guardian in 1972. As a freelancer, delivering drawings to the office once or twice a week, I was more on smiling and nodding terms with him. On one occasion, he nearly collided with me as he hurried to his desk. ‘I’m just going to put out a small brush fire,’ he said.
“One day in 1977 I met him in the lift. He asked, rather shyly, whether I’d consider doing a strip for the paper. For a second, I mistook his meaning. He explained that John Kent, creator of the Varoomshka cartoon strip, was going to America, leaving an empty space in the bottom half of the Women’s page. I will always be very grateful to Peter for giving me the opportunity to create the Webers strip, and also, after the strip’s wobbly start, for having the patience to let me develop the idea.”
Liz Forgan describes the process that also led to her working on that section. “The letter arrived at my desk at the Evening Standard out of the blue. An invitation to tea. I went to an old Guardian hand for decoding. ‘This means there’s a job. You must go to tea but remember to shake his elbow not his hand – and if you don’t talk no one will.’
“I went. Forgot the elbow. Babbled uninterrupted for over an hour until people started hovering outside the door and I realised that someone had to end this meeting if the paper was to get out that night. Still mystified, I thanked him for tea and stood up to go. ‘I should have got some biscuits’ was the only reply – until a letter next day offering me a job editing Guardian Women.
“Peter was hard to read but a joy to work for. Caustically witty, enigmatic, brave and utterly incorruptible he was never cosy with anyone but he inspired more affection that he would have believed. Deeply committed to an idea of Europe, to independent journalism as a crucial tool of liberal democracy and to pluralism as an editorial principle, he moulded the Guardian with serious purpose but enlivened its solemnity with humour and humanity.”
The Guardian’s theatre critic, Michael Billington, was hired by Preston in 1971, having previously worked with him in Oxford and while as a trainee journalist at the Liverpool Post and Echo. He remembers being “in awe of his ability tap out punchy, authoritative leaders on local, national and international issues. In 1971 I got a call from Peter, then features editor, inviting me to become the Guardian’s theatre critic. Since I’d known Peter in Oxford and Liverpool, this might have smacked of favouritism. Only later did I learn that it was Peter who was persuaded by others to appoint me. I took that as the mark of the honesty and integrity of a truly great newspaperman.”
Peter Cole, who served as news editor and deputy editor under Preston said: “He loved newspapers to the point of addiction. He loved popular newspapers almost as much as he loved the Guardian. His critics accused him of being ‘qualipop’; in reality he believed there was no harm in selling copies. And that Guardian readers should not be excluded from the national conversation because many of the staff were too lofty to allow ‘popular’ stories into the paper. He would assess the size of the group of his staff around the TV when the news was dominated by scandal, royalty, or celebrity, and then remark to the news editor that the more people watching, the less likely he would be to find it in the next day’s Guardian.
“He did not announce himself; he would materialise. The only warning as he approached the newsdesk with his usual question ‘Anything happening?’ was the pungent smell of pipe tobacco. He did not announce himself on the phone either. As duty editor I would take the call which came seconds after the last boing of the News at Ten headlines. ‘It’s me,’ he would say, and wait for my update.
”His favourite expression was ‘I slightly think.’ But he knew exactly what he wanted, and expected you to work out what it was. His judgment was usually spot on. He was editor when the Guardian sold more copies than at any other time in its history.
Final snapshot: an away-day for executives at a country hotel just outside London. We were discussing major changes to the paper and the day went rather well. We gathered outside at the end for a drink. PP decided not to stay. As he drove past the rest of us on his departure he gave a modest wave and for no apparent reason most of us gave a mock salute. He looked terribly pleased. And we felt very affectionate.”
Hadley Freeman recalls how Preston continued to support and mentor younger journalists joining the Guardian. “It takes an enormous generosity of spirit to be an older journalist who looks at the younger ones coming up behind you, ones who write about things in which you have absolutely no interest, and support them. Preston did that for me. There was no reason for him to be so kind to me. After all, I started at the Guardian long after he stopped editing the paper, and I wrote about fashion, a subject in which I’m sure he had minimal interest. And yet he often sent me encouraging emails and even praised me in his own column sometimes, much to my astonishment. I can only hope that I’ll be half as open-minded and open-hearted at 40 as he was at 79. An inspiration on so many levels.”
Deborah Orr described Peter as “a brilliant, complex, kind and lovely man” whom she hadn’t recognised when she first met him in a lift in the Guardian’s offices. She also recalled how in the early 1990s, when she was editor of the Guardian’s Weekend magazine, after the acquisition of the Observer, Preston called her into his office, which she described as “a big thing”. “I’m wracked with guilt,” he said, “The man who edits the Observer magazine is paid £5k more than you. I have to give you a £5k raise.”
Matthew Engel speaks of a unique editor’s tactic that Preston employed during the 1980s: “Potential defectors were often kept in the Guardian fold by the offer, not of a slap-up meal and a huge pay rise, but Peter’s own favoured lunch, ‘a cheese and tomato sandwich’. It could be surprisingly effective: confronted with his integrity and devotion to the paper, it was very hard to be disloyal.”
On Preston moving people in the other direction, Simon Hattenstone says “He was the first editor to sack me from the Guardian.”
“I was a 27-year-old casual subeditor,” he explained. “The arts editor, Helen Oldfield, kindly suggested I wrote a weekly diary– gossip, upcoming movies, crap jokes, that sort of thing, It was the tiniest column on the paper. Weirdly it became popular(ish). Except with Peter Preston. What I didn’t know back then was that he was mad about films, formidably knowledgeable, and had history as a diarist himself. After a few months, he told Helen that she had to get rid of the column because it was awful. I barged into his office uninvited to ask me why he hated me so much. Any other editor might have called for help. He simply said that he didn’t hate me, just my writing.
“One of the great things about him was that he constantly re-evaluated his opinions and was happy to admit when he thought he’d been unfair. After another three years’ casual subbing – and failing to get the many posts I applied for – he called me into his office to tell me he was offering me a job as a features subeditor. It wasn’t just the fact he offered me the job that made it special, it was the way he did it. ‘Simon, I am particularly pleased to be able to offer you this,’ he said. He meant it, too – I could tell from the way he puffed on his pipe. He apologised and said he’d got me wrong. It said so much about him, and still means so much to me. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so good.”
Jonathan Freedland recalls Preston as someone who worked tirelessly, right until the very end, on supporting the cause of press freedom: “After vacating the editor’s chair, Peter Preston spent much of his time working with organisations defending and promoting journalism abroad, especially in those places unused, or hostile, to a free press. My last message from him came three days before Christmas: it was encouraging to me, as always, but it came from Peter in his capacity as a committee member of yet another organisation advocating for the international press. What I did not know – but he surely did – was that, as he sent it, he was in the final weeks of his life. Even then, facing death, he was mentoring a journalist and championing journalism. It was his life’s work, to the end.”
Richard Gott, formerly features editor, took on a role that Preston had previously excelled at. “I was acutely conscious that this was a role in which he himself had been notably successful. However, I was never given the slightest hint about what I should do, apart from an initial comment that he thought the department had too many feature writers. For the next 10 years I imagined that I was in sole charge, yet I always knew that he was looking over my shoulder, often literally. One day he suddenly announced that I could start a new page of political comment, to be called the Agenda Page, and it would start next Monday. He concurred with my only stipulation that it should contain comment beyond the existing consensus. So I signed up Enoch Powell and Tony Benn, and very soon, with the advent of the Thatcher era and the formation of the SDP, we had exceptionally lively pages, the model for what now appears daily in all the quality papers.
Alan Travis, the Guardian’s home affairs editor, alluded to Preston’s fascination with an unlikely art: “It is often said that the one thing you need to know about Nigel Lawson was that he called his daughter ‘Nigella’. So with Peter it was said the one thing you needed to know about him was that he was a member of the Magic Circle. To be a member you have to have one conjuring trick that is yours and yours alone. The mystery with PP, with his polio-withered right arm and disabled left hand, was to know what piece of manual dexterity qualified him for Magic Circle membership. The answer was that his trick, and his alone, was ‘that the Guardian came out everyday. Nobody knew how it was done.’”
Martin Woollacott, former foreign editor, remembered one of Peter’s characteristics as editor was “his ubiquitous presence in the newsroom. He was never one to stay in his office. His constant quiet patrols took him from desk to desk, allowing him to look over your shoulder and appraise the work you were doing without your being immediately aware of it. Sometimes there was an early warning in the form of a puff of fruity pipe smoke, sometimes not. This was alright if you were virtuously engaged in Guardian business but disconcerting if that was not the case. On one occasion I was writing a letter of complaint to Sainsbury’s for charging me for parking because I had not spent the £10 necessary to park for free. Yet, as I was bitterly pointing out, with Peter just then looming up behind me, this was solely because Sainsbury’s had failed to have in stock the quails I had planned to buy. He coughed to alert me to his presence and said ‘What are you after then? Free quail for life?’”
Nicholas Bannister, who joined the Guardian in 1970 aged 23, and retired in 2003, highlighted both Preston’s attention to detail, and his kindness: “Peter, as editor, was always kind and considerate, especially when I was plagued by epilepsy. He would often come into the City office for a chat after everyone had gone home and I was just double-checking that I had not missed anything. In the morning he would often stop and give me a lift when I was waiting for the bus. Small things like that perhaps but a sign of his very generous and human side. He was undoubtedly a very brave and innovative editor and the world of journalism has suffered a great loss.”
Former Observer editor Andrew Jaspan recalled how he was poached for the role: “Peter called out of the blue in January 1995 and asked if I would ‘throw my hat in the ring’ for editorship of the paper. Next day he was in Edinburgh and we were walking up to the castle. Looking across the city we discussed journalism, his move from editing the Guardian to becoming editor-in-chief. I asked why I should leave Edinburgh and the Scotsman. His reply: because it’s the Observer.
“Being new to the Guardian/Obs family and the Scott Trust he guided me through every key step. Mostly asking me to ‘drop down’ to his office where we talked through plans to revitalise the content and structure of the paper, as well as bring in some new blood. It was a difficult time for him and the papers, and then part of an IRA bomb smashed the Guardian’s Docklands printing press. Throughout he dealt with every matter with equanimity and logical calm. And with kindness and wit.
“I pressed him to write a column for the Observer on media matters. Soon he was rattling cages with Andrew Neil at the Sunday Times calling me to complain about Peter’s column and asking if I wanted ‘to declare war’. Peter chuckled at that. He helped the paper recover its voice and verve.
“We last met in the Guardian’s canteen in December 2015 when he readily agreed to help and join the board of a new global journalism project, TC Global.
“That generosity of spirit and comradeship along with his razor-sharp mind combined to give us a giant of public service journalism. We all miss him. Terribly.”
John Mulholland, Observer editor since 2008, said he “got to know Peter only a little when I joined the Guardian in 1990 but it was during my time on the Observer – where he wrote a weekly media column – that I came to know him well, and I soon came to relish our occasional meetings and chats. He would appear in the office infrequently but a sighting of Peter meant that you were assured of two things. Firstly, he would invariably offer a precise and laser sharp insight into whatever political/structural/personnel issue you troubled him with. And, secondly, and much more fun, would be Peter’s voracious appetite for media gossip, and the closer to home the more interested he was.
“He would listen intently, shuffle a little as he turned to go and then offer a gnomic observation on what he had just heard followed by an outrageously mischievous smile. My professional memories of Peter are of his steadfastness, judgment and foresight – and my personal memories are ones of tremendous warmth, playfulness and enormous loyalty to the Observer in the latter decades of his career.”
Around the media
Preston helped found the European Press Prize in 2012. He poured extraordinary energy into building it, despite his declining health, striving to honour quality journalism being produced across Europe in increasingly challenging times.
Sir Harold Evans, former editor of the Times and Sunday Times and chair of the European Press Prize jurors, wrote: “He inspired us all with his vision of what it might achieve in uniting the journalists of our diverse continent Europe. He was a journalist imbued with the ideals of Europe and committed all his life to the highest standards of integrity in our ceaseless search for truth.”
Preston also started the Guardian’s environmental supplements, placing Melanie Phillips, the Guardian’s former home news editor and now a Times columnist, in charge of it. She describes Peter as “a complex, difficult character who hid behind a wall of elliptical utterances and deniable obfuscation. Presiding over the temple of media liberalism, he himself was no ideologue. When I worked as the paper’s social policy editorial writer, there were occasions when he approved the argument I was making even though it was clear he didn’t altogether agree.
“He was an editor of genius. One of his great achievements was to spot a cultural trend and use it to attract lucrative advertising. When deep green environmentalism arose as a cause in the late 1980s, he decided to start a new supplement, Environment Guardian. Even though he knew I believed this was a deeply reactionary movement for putting modernity into reverse, destroying the integrity of science and damaging the developing world, he appointed me as its editor – to the fury of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. He adored rocking the boat; and for a long time, I adored him.”
Former BBC Radio 4 Today programme presenter James Naughtie served as chief political correspondent at the Guardian during the 1980s while Preston was in the editor’s chair. “One of the odd things about working at Westminster for PP, as we all knew him, was that we knew he couldn’t stand the place. He once summoned the political staff to a rendezvous in the old Press Gallery bar, and we knew it must be bad news because there was nowhere that he tried more resolutely to avoid. He was indeed bringing tidings that weren’t welcome at the time. The details don’t matter now, but he was characteristically blunt, sharp and determined. They were, of course, the qualities for which we admired him. Even in his more elliptical leaders (you knew it was him when his giveaway words ‘happenstance’ or ‘plangent’ appeared) the thread was strong and iron-clad. His pen raced almost as quickly as his mind, and you were aware that he missed nothing on the way. He could cut a piece like a razor, spot any dodgy construction, and winkle out the fatal weakness in a conclusion. Above all, lurking under the mask of his shyness, was a generosity to his staff – especially to their rampant diversity, which would have destroyed some editors – and to the spirit of the paper, which he treasured so much. His was the newspaper era that moved from complacent security to permanent uncertainty, but he never doubted the purpose, nor lost the gleam in his eye. That’s why so many of us were proud to work for him.”
Mark Damazer, master of St Peter’s College, Oxford and controller of Radio 4 2004-2010, recalls Preston’s international efforts: “Peter was for decades the indispensable ingredient of the International Press Institute – a multi-national, multilingual body of editors and publishers championing a free press around the world.
“For 20 years he presided over its British branch with impeccable courtesy and acuity – bringing together senior editors of all ideological persuasions in print and in broadcasting for off-the-record lunches with cabinet ministers, publishers, bishops and anybody he thought would interest us. It was the only such forum where at least some of the institutional and physical barriers between print and electronic media were dismantled.
“But even more importantly – he was the moral core of the IPI as an international organisation. He was happy and palpably more relaxed when away from purely British media and political concerns and was venerated as an indefatigable harasser of repressive regimes. He was a masterful author of formal documents condemning autocrats and delighted in asking rude questions of their lackeys. But he also put in the hours to ensure that a hard-pressed institution survived. His impact went way beyond Britain.”
The South East European Media Observatory, who Preston worked with via the Guardian Foundation, paid tribute in a page on their website. Brankica Petković wrote that Preston, as a member of the Advisory Board of the EU investigative journalism regional award scheme in the Western Balkans and Turkey, “helped us many times with his exceptional judgement, gentle determination and wisdom to navigate through the obstacles and challenges of organising the award in sometimes hostile political environments, with a clear aim to protect, promote and celebrate good journalism.”
Ben Hicks, executive director of the Guardian Foundation – formally the Scott Trust Foundation – said that Peter was the driving force behind the creation of the charity, which, via the Scott Trust Bursary Scheme has launched the careers of Gary Younge, Tania Branigan, Homa Khaleeli, Mustafa Khalili and other Guardian journalists. “Over the last two years we’ve met at his house for tea once a month,” wrote Hicks. “He never spoke about his career as Guardian editor to me unless I really pushed him. I will really miss him, he was a very special man with unshakable values and a passion for independent journalism to the very end. A pure journalist who did so much for other journalists, particularly those disadvantaged or marginalised.”
From the world of politics
David Steel, former leader of the Liberal party and Liberal Democrats, said “I have the fondest memories of Peter Preston. When he was still a cub reporter he was sent to cover the by-election in Roxburgh, Selkirk & Peebles in the spring of 1965, where I was the candidate. All the major newspapers had reporters embedded full-time in the constituency – changed days! He followed me around much of the time and ended his final report with what was to me a disappointing appraisal that he ‘half expected’ the Liberals to win. I teased him many times about that, and got to know him as one of the paper’s shrewd political correspondents before becoming editor. Two years ago he was kind enough to return to the Borders to open my 50th anniversary exhibition, and wrote a column about it. He was always a witty and erudite companion, surmounting his polio disability, and is a huge loss to the profession of serious journalism.”
Neil Kinnock, the former Labour leader, wrote: “Peter was perceptive, creative and – above all – brave in thought and deed. His courage had no flamboyance, it was simply a resolute, even relentless, application of enlightened instinct. He did and said what came naturally to his intelligence and he acted and articulated with painstaking determination rather than dashing lunges.
He was a newspaperman who believed that journalism in the service of the public is a cause and not just a profession, and he rigorously put that conviction into effect as Guardian editor and as an analyst and commentator.
Peter was enigmatic and reserved, his humour was dry, his manner unassuming. And all of those unpretentious attributes made his unbending dedication to justice, liberty, transparency and accountability hugely impressive and – as his record graphically shows – often productive.
His values, his work, his sense of purpose advanced freedom and fairness against forces that seek to resist both. Peter was, in short, the best of progressives – clear in his objectives and with the steel needed to achieve them.”
Roy Hattersley recalls working with Preston as editor: “For 10 years of my long stint as a Guardian columnist, Peter Preston was my editor. And for much of that time, I was deputy leader of the Labour party. Whenever we met – employer and employee or politician and journalist – Peter was always the same. He possessed a calm self confidence that absolved him from the necessity of demonstrating how clever or how well informed he was. Conversations with Peter contained periods of un-nerving silence while he waited for the answer to his trenchant question. Asked to adjudicate between Alan Rusbridger (then his deputy) and me about whether or not my column should be moved from Saturday to Monday, he crushed us both by saying that it did not matter. It was such a civilised rebuke that I, at least, accepted it with good grace. I shall remember him as thoughtful, moderate and radical – all the qualities that the Guardian, at its best, embodies”
From Guardian readers
Sue Wilson, from Gwynedd in North Wales, recalls meeting Peter Preston in 1987, having won the prize of a wine-tasting trip to the Bordeaux region in a Guardian competition, and a visit to the paper to see how it was produced. “I was surprised when Peter Preston took time to come and talk to me,” she recalls. “At the end of our chat he said that had he been eligible to enter the competitions mine was the very prize he would have fancied. I knew he could have afforded as many wine-tasting trips as he pleased but I heard something in his voice that made me think what he really meant was he wouldn’t mind the freedom, just once in a while, to be the carefree Guardian reader without the editor’s responsibilities. Maybe I was just being fanciful. Who knows?”
One website contributor, stokey95, commented: “In a manner somewhat like Doctor Who, the editor who was in charge when you first come to the Guardian is always going to be the best. I would like to thank Preston for bringing me into a lifetime of reading and affiliation.”
Another commenter tells of meeting Preston when they were training to be a local radio reporter: “Back in the late 80s I was on a BBC Local Radio training course in London. We were asked to go out and interview someone and bring it back the next day to play to the group. I called the Guardian and asked if I could speak to someone on the paper for a few minutes that evening about how the paper is put together etc. When I arrived I was surprised that the editor, Peter Preston, had asked to do the interview with me. I spent an hour with him as he was taking urgent calls about that night’s paper. He was as interested in my job as I was in his.”
Preston showed similar interest when Jane Drake, who went on to become a local newspaper reporter, visited the Guardian’s offices on work experience. “Peter made a huge impression on me. One day he casually came up to me and asked me if I would like to sit in on the editors’ meeting where Peter discussed with a handful of senior editors, and with the cartoonist present, what would be the lead stories going to press that day. I couldn’t believe that he would let me sit in on a meeting like that, and I remember how kind he was and how straightforward, and the memory of that experience has stayed with me all my life.”
From family and friends
Ben Preston, his son, writing at the weekend for the Sunday Times, where he is executive editor, said: “Dad died a good death, one that amplified the qualities we so admired while he lived. Resilience, bravery, wisdom – he was loved and loving until the end. He showed [his children] who we should aspire to be. If only we could be so resilient, humane and wise – in life as well as death.”
Tim Cook met Peter Preston when they were at infants school aged eight, and they remained friends. “Before contracting polio he was a fanatical goalkeeper, never happier than making great saves and the muddier the goalmouth the better. After polio, as he fought to regain mobility, three of us played hours of cricket with him in his garden. Peter was the batsman attempting flashy shots, either connecting or falling over but never giving up or complaining. At the grammar school he was the outstanding talent in our generation though at one point the school thought he should become an accountant. He was always immersed in newspapers. On a trip around Europe with him and two friends in 1959, Peter was able to spot kiosks selling English papers from afar, and off he went to buy them. The Colosseum could wait while these papers were digested along with the cappuccino. His great journalistic career was to us in no doubt. Over 71 years we shared so much, including the cinema, and I was truly lucky to have such a friend.”
His last column
Preston’s first foray into journalism was reviewing magic shows on the television for the Magic Circle News. He says he was sacked after a few months for being too critical. “We were supposed to say how wonderful all these magicians were. They weren’t,” he told the Leicester Mercury five years ago.
His final piece was also about honesty. His son says that by the time he wrote it “1,800 words were easier to write – pecking, one-fingered at the keyboard – than to speak” but that it wasn’t intended to be valedictory. “Within minutes of sending it, he started fretting about what he’d write the next week.”
- Letters to the Editor Tuesday, April 17
- 11.20.14 Editor's Desk
- Remembering a revolution: May 1968
- BBC Yorkshire political editor dies
- Kenya: Police Officers Filmed Trying to Forcefully Evict Sick Colleague's Wife
- Boulder newspaper opinion editor fired after writing about his paper’s hedge fund owner
- Remembering Clay: What Clay Thompson taught me. I'll keep it short
- We Are Here Because You Were With Us: Remembering A. Sivanandan (1923–2018)
- Readers sound off on plastic bags, Megyn Kelly and and Muslims
- Remembering a past many Americans would rather forget
- Honolulu of the ’50s was wild for Scotty’s fries
- Why the Wallabies' Indigenous jersey must be made permanent
- Cute Shoes Are Useless, and Other Lessons From Three Months Traveling the World
- Concerns about teaching, students and the general state of education in Texas
- School districts struggle to comply with new law. They're short of cash and cops.
- Empire versus upstart, coloniser versus colony: The contests which define the Ashes
- Dead Letters: "Now Start Your Down Fall"
- Tips For Playing God Of War
Peter Preston: politicians, readers and colleagues remember the former Guardian editor have 6460 words, post on www.theguardian.com at January 8, 2018. This is cached page on Auto News. If you want remove this page, please contact us.