Sir Harold Evans: Working class lad who became ‘greatest newspaper editor ever’

Harold Evans was once voted the greatest newspaper editor of all time.

It was just one of a string of plaudits bestowed upon the Fleet Street legend, but as a newspaper man through and through, it was probably among his most treasured.

As editor of the Sunday Times in the 1970s, he founded the Insight team of investigative journalists who brought in scoops including uncovering the Kim Philby spy scandal.

Sir Harold Evans knighthood
Sir Harold Evans knighthood

During his leadership the newspaper risked criminal prosecution under the Official Secrets Act to publish the diaries of former Labour housing minister Richard Crossman, and its coverage of Bloody Sunday still reverberates today.

But his most famous campaign was on behalf of the victims of Thalidomide, the drug which left hundreds of children with severe birth defects after it was given to their mothers during pregnancy.

Mr Evans fought a legal battle with the drug companies for years, eventually leading to victory in the European Court of Human Rights – which he described as “one of the most memorable days of my life” – and compensation for the victims’ families.

He was given a knighthood for services to journalism in 2004 and received a lifetime achievement award at the British Press Awards for what the judges described as “a lifetime of honest reporting which has made him an icon of his trade”.

Harold Matthew Evans, known as Harry, was born into a working-class family in Manchester on June 28, 1928.

He left school at 15 and was working as a reporter on a weekly newspaper by 16 before serving in the Royal Air Force and studying at Durham University.

He went on to work on the Manchester Evening News and forged his reputation as an editor at the Northern Echo, where campaigns resulted in a national screening programme for cervical cancer and a pardon for a man wrongly hanged for murder.

From 1967 to 1981 he was editor of the Sunday Times and then went on to edit The Times, although his tenure there finished in 1982 after policy disagreements with its new owner Rupert Murdoch.

In 1984 he left Britain for America with his second wife Tina Brown and the couple went on to dominate the media scene in New York, where Ms Brown edited Vanity Fair, the New Yorker and Talk magazine.

Mr Evans was the founding editor of the Conde-Nast Traveler Magazine and was appointed president of the publishing giant Random House in 1990, where he acquired books including the autobiographies of General Colin Powell and Marlon Brando, and the political satire Primary Colors.

His own writing was also successful, including the best-seller The American Century, and in 1999 he became an American citizen – meaning his knighthood came in the Diplomatic List for services to journalism.

He had two children with Ms Brown, and three from a previous marriage which ended in 1978.