Louis Kirby

Shrewd evening-newspaper editor

Louis Albert Francis Kirby, journalist: born Liverpool 30 November 1928; reporter, then courts correspondent and political correspondent, Daily Mail 1953-62, Deputy Editor 1971-74; chief reporter, then leader writer, political editor, assistant editor, executive editor and acting editor, Daily Sketch 1962-71; Editor, Evening News 1974-80, vice-chairman 1975-80; Editor, Evening Standard 1980-86; editorial director, Mail Newspapers plc 1986-88; Editor, UK Mail 1993-2006; married 1952 Marcia Teresa Lloyd (two sons, three daughters; marriage dissolved 1976), 1976 Heather Nicholson (one son, one daughter), 1983 Heather McGlone (two daughters); died 14 October 2006.

In 1976, Beaverbrook Newspapers and Associated Newspapers, the owners of London's two evening papers, began talks about a possible merger of the competing titles, both making a loss. But the talks soon hit a serious snag.

The Beaverbrook negotiators, led by Jocelyn Stevens and Charles Wintour, insisted that the new combined paper should be edited by Simon Jenkins, then Editor of their Evening Standard. Associated, in the persons of Vere Harmsworth - soon to become the third Viscount Rothermere - and David English, were just as adamant that their man, Louis Kirby of the Evening News, should fill the Editor's chair.

The refusal of either side to budge led to the suspension of negotiations the following year. Within three years, though, the Beaverbrook group had been taken over by Trafalgar House and renamed Express Newspapers. Simon Jenkins had stepped down from the editorship of the Standard to be replaced by his predecessor, Charles Wintour. The merger of the two titles went ahead in 1980 and Kirby became Editor of the new paper, in which both groups had a 50 per cent share until Associated acquired complete control in 1985.

The hybrid that Kirby created was briefly called the New Standard, in an attempt to incorporate elements of both titles. Paradoxically, though, it was much more closely related to the old Standard than to the News. Forced to make more than 100 journalists redundant, he wielded the axe almost entirely on his former colleagues. Said Stevens, still smarting at being thwarted over the choice of editor: "It was like the RAF winning the Battle of Britain and finding Goering in charge at the end of the war."

There was a sound commercial reason for this apparent anomaly. The News had traditionally been the paper for working-class London, by then a dwindling constituency. By contrast the Standard, under Wintour and his protégé Jenkins, had developed into the journal of the capital's savvy middle class, later dubbed the chattering classes. For the advertisers on whose support the new paper would depend, the Standard's was by far the more desirable readership.

The shrewd Kirby proved as adept at serving this target audience as his friend and mentor David English had been in re-launching Associated's Daily Mail as a mid-market tabloid nine years earlier. Indeed, Kirby had been heavily involved in the Mail's transformation. In 1962 he had joined Associated's Daily Sketch and had risen to become Executive Editor, under English, when the company decided to merge the Sketch with the Mail in 1971. English took Kirby with him as Deputy Editor of the Mail, until he was appointed Editor of the Evening News in 1974.

Born in Liverpool in 1928, Louis Kirby was educated at Coalbrookdale High School and took his first job as a reporter on the Wolverhampton Express and Star. In 1949 he went to Bermuda, where he spent two years on the Royal Gazette. On his return he worked as a freelance before joining the Daily Mail's office in Manchester in 1953. He stayed with Associated Newspapers for the next half-century - a remarkable record even in an era when journalists were less inclined than today to flit promiscuously from title to title and group to group.

He worked for the Mail in his native Liverpool and then in Dublin before being transferred to the head office in Fleet Street in 1956. Before long he was working in Westminster as the paper's lobby correspondent. In 1962 he moved to the Daily Sketch as chief reporter and climbed the editorial ladder to become Executive Editor under English, who was appointed Editor in 1969. He and English developed a rapport that ripened to become a lifelong friendship.

They were an ideal team. English, although charming when off duty, was a demanding and often irascible editor. Kirby, by contrast, was emollient, adept at smoothing the feathers that English had ruffled. He was also by then skilled in all aspects of newspaper production, and thus able to lead by example.

That was why, when the Sketch was closed in 1971 and English was appointed Editor of the Mail, he took Kirby with him as his deputy. Their brief was to turn the declining broadsheet paper into a tabloid without lowering editorial standards or compromising its mid-market appeal. By 1974, when Kirby was given his own editorial chair at the Evening News, the transformation had been successful.

At the News, he demonstrated that his respect for English did not amount to subservience. When the Mail acquired an exclusive picture of the first test-tube baby, Louise Brown, he agreed to buy subsidiary rights for the evening paper for £1,000; but the Mail had second thoughts and cancelled the deal. Kirby decided he would publish the picture anyway.

Senior executives on the Mail protested to Lord Rothermere and some even demanded the insubordinate editor's dismissal. Rothermere summoned him to his villa at Cap d'Ail in the South of France, but then delivered only the gentlest of rebukes.

One of the reasons for his appointment as Editor of the News was that Associated believed the tabloid format might be the answer to the evening paper's problems as well. Kirby duly oversaw the switch but the demographics of the capital worked against its success and within three years it was clear that the paper's losses could not be stemmed without merging with its rival.

He edited the merged Evening Standard for six years. One of his most far-sighted appointments was of Jeremy Deedes to edit the paper's Londoner's Diary. Kirby urged Deedes to make it the section of the paper where readers would turn first for riveting gossip about the movers and shakers in politics and show business, the capital's two most conspicuous industries. By and large, the diary maintains that character today.

In 1986 Kirby was promoted to be editorial director of Mail Newspapers and from 1988 to 1993 was political consultant to the Daily Mail. For the next 10 years he edited UK Mail, a weekly news digest for readers overseas.

If his career was remarkable for his loyalty to a single employer, his private life was not so seamless. He married three times, producing five children with his first wife, two with his second and two more with his third.

Michael Leapman

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Ashdown Group: Senior Systems Administrator - London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Systems Administra...

Recruitment Genius: .NET Web Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity for a t...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£14616 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading specialist in Electronic Ci...

Recruitment Genius: Pre-Press / Mac Operator / Artworker - Digital & Litho Print

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: With year on year growth and a reputation for ...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003