What sort of obituary do you think The Sunday Times would publish about probably its greatest editor, Harry Evans?
When you know that’s it owned by Rupert Murdoch you automatically assume it will be churlish and – surprise, surprise – it was.
The obituary starts promisingly enough: “Harold Evans’s mentor and predecessor as editor of The Sunday Times, Denis Hamilton, summed him up well when he wrote: ‘Harry could be wild and impulsive, but he had the sort of crusading energy a Sunday editor requires.’ After 14 mostly exciting and successful years editing the Sunday title, Evans was moved to The Times by Rupert Murdoch, who had purchased both titles in 1981.”
But then it goes on: “He swiftly and publicly fell out with his proprietor, however, and was asked to resign in March 1982, a year to the day after he had taken up his appointment. He remains the shortest-lived of the 23 editors of The Times. For a week Evans refused to go, causing one of Fleet Street’s more bizarre sagas.”
What the obituary didn’t say, but Private Eye (9-22 October 2020) did, was that Murdoch had demanded his resignation on the day Evans returned to work following his father’s funeral.
The obituary also claimed that the ‘frantic pace’ with which Evans sought to change the paper “undermined staff morale and deprived The Times of its essential authority.” No mention was made of the impact on staff morale of Murdoch’s demand that 43 staff be made redundant and that the generous budget Evans was allegedly given was one million pounds less in real terms than the year before Evans started in the job.
It also claimed that Evans’ changes provoked resistance from readers although the News Annual Report showed that under Evans Times circulation increased from 276,000 to more than 300,000.
According to the obituary it was all because Evans was just bitter and “never managed to move on from the personal animosity he felt towards Murdoch, popping up whenever the opportunity arose….to say disobliging things about the man who sacked him.”
The animosity was hardly just personal as Evans demonstrated in giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry when he admitted he had described Murdoch as “evil incarnate, the very personification of it. He’s had his heart removed long ago together with all his moral faculties and his human sensibility.”
He also gave forensic detail of how The Times purchase was achieved illegally using falsified figures and a secret agreement with Maggie Thatcher.
And there’s the rub. There’s little doubt that Evans’s sacking had much more to do with his refusal to give Thatcher unqualified support than any of the imaginary sins listed in The Times obituary.
Incidentally, it is rumoured that Donald Trump’s standing with Murdoch didn’t last beyond a phone call Trump made demanding that Fox News retract its call of Arizona falling to Biden. Now Rupert makes demands on PM’s and Presidents, not the other way round, and promptly the New York Post and others were no longer quite as enthusiastic about a loser who just might also set up a Trump TV channel in competition with Fox. Well at least if he can stay out of yet another bankruptcy and jail.