Sir Harry Evans
Sir Harry (Harold) Evans was voted by his media peers the Greatest British Newspaper Editor of all time. He set the gold standard for journalism in the public interest, championing causes overlooked or denied. His work was distinguished by rigorous truth-seeking, campaigning tenacity, and presentational flair.
The son of a train driver, he began his 70-year career in North East England. Sir Harry became internationally acclaimed as editor of the Sunday Times from 1967-1981 under the paper’s ownership by Lord [Roy] Thomson, of whom Sir Harry said, “It was not simply a question of editorial independence being absolute and unthreatened under Thomson, father and son; it was celebrated.”
One of Sir Harry’s greatest triumphs was his ten-year campaign to win compensation for the victims of the morning sickness drug Thalidomide, which had inflicted thousands of birth deformities.
Others include exposing the cover-up of Britain’s intelligence services in the case of double agent Kim Philby; the unmasking of the corporate deception at the heart of the DC-10 Paris air crash in 1974 and the June, 1971 exposé by Anthony Mascarenhas of the Pakistani army’s brutal massacre in its effort to suppress the Bangladeshi uprising, considered one of the most influential pieces of journalism ever written about South Asia. This story and Mascarenhas’s reporting doubtless helped end the war by turning popular opinion against Pakistan.
Sir Harry credited his most formative years as those at Durham University, which he attended from 1949-1952. As an undergraduate at University College, he became a contributor and later editor of Palatinate, the University’s independent student newspaper.
Graduating into the rich ecology of North East local news and politics, he became Editor of the Northern Echo in 1961, where his campaign to win a pardon for Timothy Evans, a young illiterate man hanged for a murder he never committed, was a key influence in the ending of the UK death penalty. His crusade in the Echo to introduce pap smear tests for cervical cancer screening for women in the UK was an initiative that saved thousands.
In 1984, he moved to the United States, where he founded Condé Nast Traveler magazine and became President and Publisher of Random House, bringing scope and panache to a list of authors that included Norman Mailer, William Styron, and General Colin Powell. He was the author of more than a dozen books including Pictures on a Page, Good Times, Bad Times; The American Century, They Made America, My Paper Chase and Do I Make Myself Clear? In 2011, Sir Harry was named Editor-at-Large at Reuters.
Knighted in 2004 for services to journalism, Sir Harry was the recipient of many industry awards including the lifetime achievement award from the UK Press Award committee, European Gold Medal for his enlargement of the freedoms of the British press, and was named one of 50 world press heroes by the International Press Institute. His work in photojournalism is recognised in the lifetime achievement award in the International Center of Photography. Sir Harry received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from Durham University for his services to journalism in 1998, and remained an active alumnus and mentor to younger students.
Evans was married to editor and author Tina Brown and was the father of five children. He died in 2020 in New York City, aged 92.