Sir Harry (Harold) Evans (1928-2020) 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 expose 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 on 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 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 wrote two critically acclaimed and bestselling histories of America: The American Century (1998) and They Made America: From the Steam Engine to the Search Engine (2004), as well as 12 other books including his vivid 2009 memoir My Paper Chase. In 2011, Sir Harry was named Editor-at-Large at Reuters.
Knighted by the Queen in 2004, Sir Harry received the lifetime achievement award from the UK Press Award committee. 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.
He died in 2020, aged 92.
Sir Harry and Durham University
For all of his adult life, Sir Harry was a senior ambassador and highly engaged member of Durham University’s senior alumni community.
In 1949, having achieved entrance as an undergraduate to University College, Durham – also known as Durham Castle, a universally important landmark built in 1072 – he became a contributor and later editor of Palatinate, the University’s independent student newspaper through which he honed his skills and passions for a lifelong career at the helm of global journalism.
In 1998, he received a prestigious Honorary Doctor of Letters from the University for his services to journalism, presented to him by then University Chancellor, Sir Peter Ustinov. A proud ‘Castleman’, Sir Harry returned on numerous occasions to lecture and mentor students at the University, helping later to relaunch Durham’s alumni and benefactor activities in New York and across the United States whilst Editor-at-Large, Reuters.
Sir Harry and Reuters
Sir Harry joined Reuters in 2011. In his role as editor-at-large, he moderated conversations with global newsmakers in business and politics who included John Kerry, Tony Blair, Madeline Albright, Al Gore, Samantha Power, Preet Bharara, General Jim Mattis and Satya Nadella.
He also created and oversaw a number of Reuters editorial events celebrating photographers and photojournalism. “Iconic in an Instant? One Trillion Images” brought photojournalists from around the world together to discuss the risks and rewards of combat photography, forensically detecting photo manipulation, the ethics of publishing shocking images and the role of the photo editor in the digital age. “Women in Focus” brought together an all-female group of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographers, photo editors, curators and journalists to discuss their ground-breaking work.
While at Reuters, Sir Harry also penned columns looking back at his memories of the Second World War, fresh questions about the lack of a verdict in the thalidomide criminal trial and the 2016 U.S. presidential race.
“Editor-at-large means you’re free to create as much havoc as they will tolerate,” he was quoted as saying by the Financial Times.
Some select photos from Sir Harry's life and career
Sir Harry Evans reading from William Wordsworth's a 'Character of a Happy Warrior' at Service of Thanksgiving for Sir Denis Hamilton, in 1988.
Sir Harry Evans in conversation with reporters.
Sir Harry Evans received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from Durham University for his services to journalism in 1998.
Sir Harry Evans and Tina Brown CBE, in conversation over breakfast.
Sir Harry Evans leaving the composing room of a printers office.
Sir Harry unveils The Northern Echo Tidy Village Trophy, won by Sedgefield in October 1964.
"Harold Evans was an epic of decency, courage and moral determination." Simon Schama, Historian writing for TIME Magazine.
Sir Harry Evans and Tina Brown CBE, at an event in India.
Sir Harry in London, September 1968.
Former Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at a Reuters Newsmaker discussion with Reuters Editor-at-Large, Sir Harry Evans on the nuclear agreement with Iran, which Congress has to approve or reject by September 17 at Thomson Reuters in New York City on August 11, 2015.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair speaks as Reuters Editor-at-Large Sir Harry Evans moderates a Reuters Newsmaker conversation "Politics on the Edge," with Blair in Manhattan, New York, U.S., September 20, 2016.