Farewell to a Newspaper Genius without Compare; Sir David English, the Inspirational Force Behind the Success of the Mail on Sunday, Died Last Wednesday. Jonathan Holborow Today Pays Tribute to the Man He Knew for More Than a Quarter of a Century
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. …