Barry Askew: Newspaper editor who upset the Queen


When Barry Askew arrived in Fleet Street to rescue the ailing News of the World, his star was in the ascendancy. Eight months later his future was all behind him. His brief stewardship proved to be one of the shortest editorships in journalistic history.

Spending his formative years in the Peak District, Barry Askew wanted to become a professional footballer, but at 16 became a trainee on the Derbyshire Times. Five years later he moved to the Sheffield Telegraph before an invaluable apprenticeship with Raymonds News Agency, based in Derby.

His editorial career began in earnest in 1961, with a not entirely untroubled stint at the Matlock Mercury. He went on to edit the Sheffield Morning Mercury and Sheffield Star before moving to Preston in 1968 to take charge of the Lancashire Evening Post. Over 13 years Askew turned this somewhat venerable daily broadsheet into a vibrant and successful campaigning newspaper.

On taking over, he became aware that all was not well at nearby Whittingham Hospital, then one of the largest mental hospitals in the country. Increasingly desperate claims of overcrowding, understaffing, racketeering, cruelty and even murder were ignored or suppressed by the hospital's management committee. Askew's campaign helped turn the institution on its head and ultimately brought about national reform within the mental health sector.

He went on to serve on the Davies Committee, set up in the wake of the Whittingham affair to reform hospital complaints procedures. His crusade brought him the 1971 National Press Awards Campaigning Journalist Award. Further honours would follow, most notably for his pursuit of Stanley Parr.

In July 1976, a Blackpool police officer, Harry Roby, made a formal complaint about Lancashire's Chief Constable during the annual inspection of the force. A subsequent report by Sir Douglas Osmand, then Chief Constable of Hampshire, outlined 37 charges against Parr. They included misuse of police manpower, showing favour to individuals, falsifying documents, intervening to reduce criminal charges and securing preferential treatment for motorists accused of speeding and parking offences.

With the County Council trying desperately to keep the matter under wraps, all would have remained secret had Askew, in February 1977, not published the charges in full. Suspended a month later, Parr was dismissed that December. Askew produced a damning 50-page dossier outlining further allegations of corruption then seemingly endemic at all levels of local government.

In 1979, a phone call intended for Askew and recorded by a receptionist at the paper's Fishergate headquarters created national headlines. Purporting to be the Yorkshire Ripper, aman with a Wearside accent referred to the unsolved murder of Joan Harrison, murdered in a derelict Preston garage in 1975. Seriously wrong-footing the police hunt, the phone call was later found to be a hoax. In 2006, a 49-year-old unemployed man, John Humble, was convicted of perverting the course of justice.

Alongside his newspaper work, Askew was also forging a successful career on radio and television. A regular contributor to regional news programmes, he also regularly presented Granada Television's What the Papers Say. Arriving in Fleet Street in April 1981, he was by then the archetypal hard-drinking, hard-living hack, soon to be lampooned by Private Eye as "The Beast of Bouverie Street".

With circulation of the News of the World in free-fall, his bold launch of a colour magazine quickly reversed the decline. However, behind the scenes he was enduring an increasingly fractious relationship with the paper's owner Rupert Murdoch. Matters soon came to a dramatic head over Sonia Sutcliffe, wife of the Yorkshire Ripper. Askew thought he had successfully negotiated a successful deal for her story, but suddenly the Murdoch coffers clanged firmly shut.

In December 1981 he was one of several editors invited to Buckingham Palace after Princess Diana had been hotly pursued by photographers when popping out of Highgrove to buy some wine gums in Tetbury High Street. His host had expressed her sadness that her daughter-in-law was being unduly harassed by the press, "With respect Ma'am, don't you think it would be a good idea if she sent a servant out for the wine gums instead of going herself?" Askew rather unwisely observed. "That is a most pompous remark, Mr Askew," responded the Queen before quickly moving on.

Rupert Murdoch was also not amused. Within a week, Askew had gone. Thereafter, not always in the best of health, while fronting a Lancashire cable television company, he also edited a number of Fylde Coast free sheets.

Kenneth Shenton

Barry Reginald William Askew, journalist: born Basford, Nottinghamshire 13 December 1936; married firstly June Roberts (one son, one daughter), secondly Deborah Parker; died Broughton, Lancashire 17 April 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
Clarke Carlisle
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
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

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'