My mentor: Peter Wilby on Anthony Howard

'He had very high standards of writing and complete decisiveness'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The first thing he did was to convey expectations of very high standards of writing, complete decisiveness as an editor and, the most important thing, that although the New Statesman doesn't pay much, it is a privilege to be published in there. The writer should feel grateful, not the editor.

But he was the person you wanted to write for because he would always tell you immediately whether he thought it was a good piece or not. He was very definite in what he wanted and it didn't put me off because for the most part I managed to produce pieces that he liked. I had one very important piece he didn't like and he said, "Leave it for two weeks and then start trying to do it again." I did and he was thrilled with it, and it was the main story in the magazine that week.

Tony was very careful with the New Statesman's money, notoriously careful. He treated it as if it were his own and I'm afraid I was rather similar. If I went anywhere on a story I had to stay in the lowliest bed and breakfast I could possibly find, and no money was paid unless you actually wrote something. The standard length of a piece was 1,000 words in those days and for that you received £40, which wasn't terrible, but it wasn't very much money. Very occasionally you were allowed to write a longer piece, maybe 2,000 words. But, as Tony used to say, "I cannot pay you pro rata" and you would get £60.

We live in a more complicated world than we did 30 years ago and one is more easily overtaken by events. Tony was an unusually decisive person and I found it difficult to be as decisive as he was, but I did expect high standards.

Peter Wilby edited the 'New Statesman' from 1998 to 2005 and now writes its media column

Comments