Media families; 23. The Wintours

Charles Wintour (long-time editor of the London `Evening Standard') begat Anna (editor of US `Vogue') and Patrick (political editor of `The Observer')
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The Independent Online
At the end of 1976, when the abrasive Charles Wintour stood down as editor of the London Evening Standard after 17 years to become managing director of the Daily Express, a disgruntled employee scrawled "The Wintour of our discontent" on the wall outside his new office.

Ten years later his daughter Anna was editing the British version of the fashion magazine Vogue - and her harried staff used the same phrase to characterise her demanding year there. Yet she was so successful that the owners, Conde Nast, soon asked her to move to head office in New York, where she now edits the magazine's US edition.

That tells us two things: first that journalists are hopelessly hooked on feeble puns; secondly, that Anna inherited the touch of steel which made her father one of the most highly regarded editors of his generation.

Charles has four children by his first wife, Eleanor Baker, the daughter of a Harvard professor, whom he married in 1940 and divorced in 1979. Now scattered, the children were reunited in May, when he celebrated his 80th birthday with a family party.

The eldest, Jimmy, is assistant director of housing for Lambeth Borough Council. Nora works for an international organisation in Geneva. Patrick, the youngest, made his name as a labour correspondent on The Guardian before becoming political editor of The Observer last year.

Charles, who came from a military family, fought in the Second World War and joined the Evening Standard in 1946. He soon caught the eye of its owner, Lord Beaverbrook, and was moved to the Sunday Express and Daily Express before returning to the Standard as editor in 1957. By hiring talented young writers, and requiring the highest performance from them, he developed it into one of the liveliest reads of all.

He made way for his protege Simon Jenkins in 1976 but returned in 1978 and stayed on until 1980, when Lord Matthews, then owner of the Standard, did a deal to share control of the paper with the Daily Mail group, which eventually took it over.

In 1979, Charles married Audrey Slaughter. Characterised by Private Eye as the "flame-haired temptress," she had created and edited several magazines for young women, including Honey, Petticoat and Over 21. Together, she and Charles launched the colour magazine in the Sunday Express in 1981.

Later she founded Working Woman and briefly assisted the launch of The Independent. Charles, meanwhile, acted as consultant on several newspaper projects, including Robert Maxwell's ill-starred London Daily News.

Now retired, he is gratified that two of his children followed him into journalism, although he insists he did not actively encourage it: "Anna said she felt that what I was doing was exciting and I think Patrick just drifted into it through left-wing politics."

What was the most important editorial skill he passed on to them? "Journalism is a creative business and creative writers are often temperamental. But it's important to let them and the staff know that you're on the writers' side and not let the sub-editors reign supreme."

Journalists whose work has been icily dissected by Anna may find it hard to recognise much of her in that. In the competitive world of Manhattan media, you do not make your mark by being protective of your contributors' egos. "I'm horribly hands-on," she has confessed. "I like to read every caption."

That crucial attention to detail helped her climb through senior editorial positions on several London fashion magazines in the seventies until, in 1981, she moved across the Atlantic to work on New York magazine and Harper's Bazaar. There she married David Shaffer, a child psychiatrist.

In 1986 she returned to London to edit Vogue but was back in New York a year later, first at House and Garden and then American Vogue. Apart from her famed froideur ("Nuclear Wintour" ... aargh!), she is celebrated for her figure, her devotion to high fashion and her refusal to bow to the anti-fur lobby: for that, she had a frozen raccoon hurled at her in Four Seasons restaurant on Park Avenue.

Will the dynasty continue? Patrick's small daughter and son are not yet old enough for school. Anna's nine-year-old daughter Bea shows more interest in dance then deadlines, but Charles has hopes for her son Charlie, II:

"He's very bright - knows all there is to know about computers." With luck he may have inherited grandfather's editorial genes, as well as his namen

Michael Leapman

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