Byline: JONATHAN HOLBOROW
NO ONE who was there will ever forget it. The Editor's desk was on its side, chairs were overturned, even a pot plant seemed to cower in a corner of the room.
It had been 10 weeks since the launch of The Mail on Sunday, the first new national Sunday paper for decades. Optimism had been high. Ten weeks later, it was on the brink of collapse, hit by plummeting circulation, mounting chaos, soaring losses.
Viscount Rothermere, the paper's founder, sitting on the only chair upright in that office, was determined it was to be saved. And he turned on that hot July day in 1982 to the only man who could do it, David English. At once there was a recipe for survival.
Courage, excitement, drive, an appetite for hard work, unshakeable standards of excellence, a will to be better than anyone else. The subsequent success of this paper owes everything to those ideals.
Values not just for a newspaper, but for life itself.
Much has been written about Sir David since the Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of this, and our sister papers, the Daily Mail and the Evening Standard, died last week at the age of 67.
Many have concentrated on the breadth of his abilities: his mastery of every aspect of editing, from pictures and design to the quality of writing and flair for talent spotting.
But in many ways these only touch the surface of David's undoubted genius for newspapers.
What he really had was an all-consuming curiosity and interest in people.
Human strengths, not just technical brilliance, made him the man he was. He had an instinctive sympathy, an understanding of human beings, which helped him see the essence of a story or an idea and how to report it.
HE WAS fascinated with gossip, especially if it was political or involving the famous and powerful. Often he sensed stories well before anyone else, just by putting together snippets of information, watching body movements, using the insights he had gathered from his distinguished reporting days, to break news no other papers came near.
He adored parties, candid lunches, being the consummate insider. He was a friend to Margaret Thatcher and to Tony Blair. He was a dependable ally of Princess Diana during her divorce and, after her death, became an equally staunch defender of the young princes.
And yet in all this he always found time for the private passions in his life: books, the theatre and, most of all, the family he adored. It was all possible because he believed life was to be lived, not watched from the comfort of an office.
He could not stand being idle.
In his fifties he bobsleighed down the awesome Cresta run, a daunting prospect for a man half his age. He skied, he sailed and he loved amusing company, travelling, seeing new things, discovering new people and ideas.
He was one of the most innovative and imaginative individuals I have known. He was fascinated by new technologies and the opportunities they presented. He fell on new magazines and papers; he wanted to know as much as he could about everything he saw.
In politics he was an instinctive conservative with a small c, especially in his defence of the family. He knew its strengths from personal experience; he wanted everyone to have the same bedrock he had with his wife Irene and children Nikki, Neil and Amanda.
He also had another rare quality. Newspaper editors have more influence than most people. Some use it irresponsibly. David used his with wisdom and flair. He attracted loyalty because he gave it. He seldom bore grudges for long.
He knew how to get the best out of people, driving hard if necessary, but mostly by encouraging, supporting, motivating. A wealthy man, he made his own fortune by the skill and inspiration he brought to every job he did.
From the late Sixties until his death he played his part in a formidable partnership which has transformed Fleet Street. When Vere Harmsworth, now Lord Rothermere, relaunched the Daily Mail in 1971, he gave David the resources to hire the best writers, to investigate the top stories and to make the finest paper his young editor could produce. Their commitment matched each other's.
So when the call came asking David to rescue The Mail on Sunday, as well as run the Daily Mail, he didn't pause.
The challenge was irresistible.
THE next few weeks were frantic. He was early in the office and often the last to leave; popping in before editing the Mail, talking to people on this paper throughout the day and then calling in again on his way home to discuss ideas, angles, projections, new writers, editorials, no detail too small or too trivial to miss his eye or his thought.
He worked hard and expected others to do the same. When he swept into this newspaper that summer 16 years ago, I was one of a dozen or more who followed him, drawn largely by the excitement.
There was plenty of that. That first Saturday he did something new for a paper that had up to then been formulaic to the point of blandness.
With just hours to edition time, David insisted on getting an interview with the girlfriend of Barry Sheene, Britain's former motorcycling world champion, whose legs had been terribly smashed in a 160mph crash the day before. She poured out her heart and there it was instantly on the front page, the human touch that readers could relate to but with all the urgency needed to revitalise the paper.
It only took a few months of his magic for a total transformation. Now The Mail on Sunday had verve and direction.
Having set the standard, David stepped aside for a full-time editor - first Stewart Steven for 10 years (before he moved to edit the Evening Standard), then me from 1992. But David's influence continued.
Stewart and I both owe him an immense amount.
That summer, it would have been easy for him to have made us into a seventh day edition of a sister daily - a trap some of our competitors are still falling into. David shimmied around it with the mastery of a downhill racer.
He knew then that Sunday papers have to be different from dailies; that they need their own character and independence; that their rhythm and pace is more varied; that Sundays are special in more than the obvious ways.
In the office he treasured loyalty and honesty; missing out on a big story might just about be excused (once); lying or trying to pass the buck on to others was unforgivable.
And he gave loyalty in return. Always I could count on David, the Editor-in-Chief, for support when politicians turned nasty, and backing when we took on the Establishment. Last year, when this paper revealed the secrets of the shambles in M15, he was the first to call me as the Government's lawyers and heavy men moved to gag us. 'Keep going,' he said. 'It's worth it to get at the truth.' Only later did he tell me about the pressure that was coming on him, too.
Yesterday the Queen announced her Birthday Honours. Had he lived David, who was knighted in 1982, would have become a life peer. He would have loved the House of Lords and it would have been a fitting place for his knowledge of life and his perception.
But it would not have changed him. At heart he would have remained a journalist. He was that above all . . . first and last.
Just days before his death, David English was attending a conference in Moscow on Press freedom. It was a cause inseparable from everything which had taken him from a trainee reporter on the Dorset Christchurch Times to the heights of Editor-in-Chief of three great newspapers.
It summed up everything he gave to those of us who work on The Mail on Sunday - a belief in the right of our readers to be entertained, amused, provoked, informed, above all to know what is happening and why.
The Mail on Sunday's determination to continue that tradition and that spirit will be our tribute to him.…