Magazine article The Spectator

Thrust upon Him

Magazine article The Spectator

Thrust upon Him

Article excerpt

A PEER WITHOUT EQUAL by Gordon Newton, edited by Malcolm Rutherford (cheques for 10 payable to HA. C., cIo Lee-Ann Landesbergh, The FT, 1 Southwark Bridge, SEI 9HL, pp. 158)

Gordon Newton was appointed editor of the Financial Times, much to his own surprise and that of most others, in 1949 and remained in post for almost a quarter of a century, until 1972. Rutherford rightly describes him as one of the greatest of British newspaper editors. He greatly improved the paper's quality, steadily broadening and deepening its coverage and internationalising its appeal, and saw its circulation more than treble. I was fortunate enough to join the paper relatively early on in Gordon's long editorship, in 1956, (my first proper job after two years' national service in the navy), and learned a great deal from him.

The mystery was what it was that made him such a great editor. So far from being larger than life, he appeared the most ordinary of men. The Clement Attlee of newspaper editors, he frequently resembled no one so much as Mr Pooter.

Certainly, in a number of respects he was lucky. He was lucky, first, to be in the right place at the right time. Those two fierce rivals, the Financial Times and the Financial News (on which Gordon was employed), merged in 1945, leaving the new FT with an unchallenged dominance in what was to prove the greatest growth sector of post-war journalism.

He was fortunate, too, in his proprietors: first the Eyre Trust, dominated by the forceful but enigmatic Brendan Bracken, and from 1957 the Pearson Group, then still very much a family business. As a matter of policy, they both left Gordon to edit the paper in his own way, without interference, and gave him their total backing whenever the powerful or influential sought to complain about anything that had appeared in the paper. This enabled him, in turn, to give his unqualified support to the journalist who had caused the offence.

And he was lucky, in a sense, in the quality of his staff. Among my FT contemporaries in the golden years of the 1950s were Samuel Brittan, Jock Bruce-Gardyne, George Bull (a rare Renaissance man), Ronnie Butt, William Rees-Mogg and Michael Shanks. Gordon's practice was to recruit graduates straight (national service apart) from Oxford and Cambridge, preferably with a first, although good seconds were tolerated. This meant he could pay them less than the minimum wage set by the National Union of Journalists for trained journalists (my own starting salary was 750 a year, compared with an NUJ minimum of 1,000). …

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