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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Jerry Seinfeld Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
peopleSitcom star urges men to be more supportive of women than ever
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
health
News
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
Sport
footballLouis van Gaal is watching a different Manchester United and Wenger can still spring a surprise
News
The spider makes its break for freedom
VIDEO
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Administrator

£14400 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a multi-d...

Recruitment Genius: Service, Maintenance & Installation Engineers - London

£34000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of Energy Consult...

Austen Lloyd: Planning Solicitor - Bristol

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: FIRST CLASS FIRM - A very exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner - Night Shift

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A leading Leicestershire based chilled food ma...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot