Anthony Howard: Journalist, broadcaster and writer, respected as one of the most astute political analysts of his generation

In August 2009 Anthony Howard was the guest on the Radio 4 programme With Great Pleasure, where significant figures introduce readings of prose and verse that have meant much to them. Of the ten extracts he chose, six were from political memoirs of his contemporaries, while the one poem in the list, Wordsworth's "Upon Westminster Bridge", is a hymn to the area of London that was the setting for Howard's most notable work. It was not hard to identify the principal passion of his professional life.

For nearly 50 years, almost until his death, he was among the most astute and authoritative analysts of British politics. He wrote for numerous newspapers and journals, made frequent broadcasts on radio and television and was the author or editor of a number of books that dealt with the recent political past. And although he edited the weekly New Statesman for six years, he never became editor of a national newspaper – a role he certainly coveted and deserved.

Born in London in 1934, he was the son of a clergyman, but was disinclined to follow his father into the church. He attended Westminster School and Oxford University, where his interest in politics was signalled by his election as chairman of the University Labour Club in 1954 (succeeding Jeremy Isaacs) and the following year as president of the Oxford Union. He initially trained as a barrister, but his career path changed when he was called up for National Service in 1956 and commissioned in the 2nd Royal Fusiliers, serving in the Middle East during and after the Suez invasion.

Like many educated men conscripted into the armed forces, he was appalled at some of the conditions they were made to endure and by the seeming incompetence of the top brass. He wrote articles on these themes and submitted them to the New Statesman, where they caught the attention of Kingsley Martin, then coming to the end of his 30-year stint as the journal's editor.

The publication of these initially anonymous articles persuaded both Howard and potential employers that his true calling was journalism, and on leaving the army in 1958 he was engaged as political correspondent of Reynold's News, a fading Sunday paper (it closed in 1962) allied to the Co-operative Movement. After a year he was recruited to the Manchester Guardian, where his clear promise was recognised in the award of a Harkness Fellowship that allowed him to gain experience in the US.

In 1961, John Freeman, who had just taken over from Martin at the helm of the New Statesman, invited Howard to become the journal's first-ever political columnist. It was a move that would define his career. A long period of Conservative rule was stuttering to a halt and the Statesman was influential in defining Labour's policy for its next term of office. Howard enjoyed privileged access to the senior politicians who would, in 1964, become ministers in Harold Wilson's administration.

He stayed with the journal until 1965, the year of two events that further altered the course of his life: he married Carol Gaynor, also a journalist, and he was asked by Denis Hamilton, the editor of The Sunday Times, to take on a role that was then unique in British journalism. He was to be the paper's Whitehall correspondent, cultivating contacts with civil servants to reveal the truth behind how policy decisions were made. The principal instigator of the initiative was Hamilton's deputy, William Rees-Mogg, who wrote a leading article describing it as "a major departure, and one which if it is successful will change British newspaper practice in an important way."

In the event, the experiment bore just a single fruit – a detailed examination of the disagreements on economic policy between the Treasury and the newly-created Department of Economic Affairs. The article included quotes from named civil servants, something previously unknown in British political journalism. Wilson was appalled and issued an edict barring civil servants and ministers from talking to Howard.

This effectively put an end to the initiative and the following year he moved to The Observer as its Washington correspondent. After three years in the US he returned to the New Statesman, as assistant editor to Richard Crossman, the former cabinet minister. Crossman quickly gained a reputation as a disorganised editor and Howard and his colleagues found themselves having to do most of the donkey work to bring the journal out on time every week.

In 1972 Crossman was fired by the journal's board, then led by Sir Jock Campbell of the Booker Group. For the first time, the next editor was chosen by a semi-democratic committee made up of three directors and three senior members of the editorial staff, nominated by their colleagues. A short list of six names was compiled and Howard was chosen by a comfortable majority.

In his book A Short Walk Down Fleet Street, Alan Watkins – a member of the committee that selected him – wrote of Howard: "He was the most conscientious and industrious editor for whom I have worked. Letters were answered by return of post, manuscripts read all the way through. Unlike most literate editors, he read the whole paper, not just the parts of it that had been written by himself." Although contributors for the most part enjoyed writing for him, he was notoriously frugal with the magazine's funds and paid some of the lowest rates in London.

He spent six years in the post. Although during his tenure the journal was highly regarded, it had to compete for circulation with its direct rival, The Spectator, which had seen a revival in its fortunes. In 1978 he was replaced by Bruce Page; yet he continued throughout his life to take a sympathetic interest in the weekly's fortunes, writing letters of encouragement to new editors when they were appointed.

After leaving the Statesman, Howard went off for two years to edit The Listener, a weekly journal owned by the BBC. Then, in 1981, he was invited by Donald Trelford, editor of The Observer, to return to the paper as its deputy editor. Howard stayed in that post for seven years, but the relationship between the two men was always uneasy. Trelford was energetic, a first-rate newspaper technician and a good manager of his disparate staff. Yet he was three years younger than Howard, who carried more weight as a public figure and could never rid himself of the conviction that he, rather than Trelford, should be occupying the editorial chair.

By now Howard was making a name for himself as a television pundit. Although his face could not be described as televisual, his range of contacts, his ability to explain issues succinctly and, above all, his conviction that in politics personalities counted for more than policies, meant that he was always worth listening to. For three years he presented Face the Press, a programme based on an American model, and also appeared on the BBC flagships Panorama and Newsnight.

In 1993, Howard accepted the position of obituaries editor on The Times, although he was no great admirer of its proprietor, Rupert Murdoch, and disapproved of the powerful influence he was able to wield on successive British governments. Obituaries were going through a period of change, led by The Independent and the The Daily Telegraph, which had broken away from the mould of dry-as-dust records of a person's life and achievements, giving their obituarists the freedom to include assessments – sometimes controversial – of the subject's contribution to his or her field, spiced with revealing anecdotes.

In moving The Times obituaries closer to that model, Howard occasionally courted trouble. In 1998, when Rev. Brian Masters, the Bishop of Edmonton, died, he insisted on writing the obituary himself so that he could attack the Bishop's fervent opposition to the ordination of women. He described Masters as "one of the last relics", adding: "The best that could be said of his sermons was that they tended to be short." The paper received scores of complaints and the obituary was denounced by the Bishop of London from the pulpit of St. Paul's. After quitting the field of obituaries in 1999, Howard contributed a weekly column to The Times for the next six years.

His books were nearly all about politics. In 1965 he collaborated with Richard West to produce The Making of the Prime Minister, an account of Wilson's rise to power, and later he wrote well-received biographies of R.A. Butler and Richard Crossman. He also edited Crossman's diaries for publication. His final biography, diverting at last from politics, was Basil Hume: the Monk Cardinal, published in 2005.

Howard was a clubbable man (a member of the Garrick and the Beefsteak) and an enthusiastic gossip. He was a regular attender at the informal gatherings of a clutch of high-profile columnists at El Vino's, the wine bar that stands near the junction of Fleet Street and the Strand.

He was awarded the CBE in 1997 and two years later his contribution to journalism was recognised by his peers when the television programme What the Papers Say presented him with the Gerald Barry Award for his lifetime achievement.

Anthony Howard, journalist, broadcaster and writer: born London 12 February 1934; married 1965 Carol Gaynor; died London 19 December 2010.

The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried