Former editor of The Sunday Times, Sir Harold Evans, has died aged 92. A campaigning journalist whom Reuters called The Gold Standard of reporting, Harry became editor of the esteemed paper in 1967 and shortly after used it to unmask Kim Philby as having been a spy for the Soviet Union since 1933. This brought the concept of there being a fourth man in the Cambridge Spy ring to national attention, who was later revealed to be the Queen’s art expert Antony Blunt. This was the continuation of a career forged at the Northern Echo, where he pieced together the innocence of executed Timothy Evans, wrongly convicted of his wife’s murder in 1950. She was actually murdered by Rillington Place serial killer John Christie. This campaign not only got Evans a posthumous pardon, but helped bring about the abolition of the death penalty in Britain.
In the 1960s, despite growing evidence of the dangers, thalidomide was still regularly given to mothers to cope with pregnancy sickness. Harry Evans took on the drug companies through the courts, using the Sunday Times to support the victims of thalidomide poisoning (and resulting birth deformities), and gaining a European wide victory on compensation. Light shown on corporations, as he put it, can help show up weeds. He even got the UK laws on reporting on such cover ups to change, and further annoyed higher ups by investigating the true causes of the Bloody Sunday massacre in 1972. In 1974, despite government attempts to block it, Harold Evans published the diaries of former Cabinet minister Richard Crossman, revealing government business and civil service workings long before the 30 year rule was up. (Crossman, a leading Labour politician of the 1960s, had died of cancer in 1973.)
And then, in 1981, Rupert Murdoch gained both Times newspapers. He moved Evans to The Times, where Evans was highly critical of Margaret Thatchers social policies until he was removed a year later. Evans on meeting Murdoch referred to him as Lucifer, before wryly noting that Satan is the most engaging character in Paradise Lost, otherwise he wouldn’t be the devil. Evans later moved to the US, taught at Yale University, and became President of Random House publishing, where he personally signed a young unknown politician, Barack Obama, to publish Dreams from my Father. Editor of Reuters within the last decade, he campaigned on social injustices to his dying day, and was named one of the 50 press freedom heroes of the 20th Century in 2000. Harold Evans was a solid progressive from the days when journalists aimed to speak truth to power, speak for the dispossessed and vulnerable, and get answers from the aloof elites rather than focus on clickbait, horse races and ratings.
He was picked by two teams, theme team British (D)i(e)sles, and Gooseberry Crumble’s esoteric selection of picks.
28 June 1928 – 23 September 2020