Sir Edward Pickering - Obituaries - News - The Independent

Sir Edward Pickering

Editor of the 'Daily Express' in its heyday who worked into his nineties

Edward Davies Pickering, journalist: born Middlesbrough, Yorkshire 4 May 1912; Chief Sub-Editor,
Daily Mail 1939, Managing Editor 1947-49; staff,
Daily Express 1951-62, Editor 1957-62; Editorial Director, Daily Mirror Newspapers 1964-68, chairman 1968-70; chairman, IPC Newspaper Division 1968-70; chairman, IPC Magazines 1970-74; chairman, Mirror Group Newspapers 1975-77; Kt 1977; Chairman, Council, Commonwealth Press Union 1977-86; Master, Guild of St Bride 1981-97; executive vice-chairman, Times Newspapers 1982-2003; chairman, Times Supplements 1989-2003; married 1936 Margaret Soutter (one daughter; marriage dissolved 1947), 1955 Rosemary Whitton (two sons, one daughter); died London 8 August 2003.



Edward Davies Pickering, journalist: born Middlesbrough, Yorkshire 4 May 1912; Chief Sub-Editor, Daily Mail 1939, Managing Editor 1947-49; staff, Daily Express 1951-62, Editor 1957-62; Editorial Director, Daily Mirror Newspapers 1964-68, chairman 1968-70; chairman, IPC Newspaper Division 1968-70; chairman, IPC Magazines 1970-74; chairman, Mirror Group Newspapers 1975-77; Kt 1977; Chairman, Council, Commonwealth Press Union 1977-86; Master, Guild of St Bride 1981-97; executive vice-chairman, Times Newspapers 1982-2003; chairman, Times Supplements 1989-2003; married 1936 Margaret Soutter (one daughter; marriage dissolved 1947), 1955 Rosemary Whitton (two sons, one daughter); died London 8 August 2003.



For more than 60 years Edward Pickering held key positions in the Beaverbrook, Mirror, and Murdoch newspaper empires, and narrowly missed being a Rothermere editor as well. It was appropriate that such a master journalist should have become Master of the Guild of St Bride's, Fleet Street's own church.

He had all the skills of his trade but he also had something just as important in the roller-coaster world of national papers - luck. Three times his career appeared to be in danger but on each occasion he emerged to even greater success through events outside his control.

Born in Middlesbrough in 1912 and educated at Middlesbrough High School, he decided to miss university in order to become a journalist at the earliest possible moment. His career began conventionally enough - district reporter for the Northern Echo, promotion to the paper's sub-editors' table in Darlington and then progress to London.

Here he made his name as one of the most talented sub-editors on the Daily Mirror during the period when it was being transformed by Guy Bartholomew from a prim and unsuccessful picture paper into the rumbustious tabloid which was to become the country's largest-selling newspaper. His work was sufficient to attract an offer from the Daily Mail, where by 1939 he had become chief sub-editor. War took him into the Royal Artillery and an early commission. During the invasion of Europe he served on General Dwight Eisenhower's staff at Supreme Headquarters.

Back on the Daily Mail he rose swiftly to become Managing Editor and No 2 to Frank Owen. He was regarded as the probable successor to Owen but the editorship was given unexpectedly to Guy Schofield. Pickering resigned immediately and was considering his uncertain future in a gloomy night-club when he was summoned to the telephone and heard the rasping Canadian voice of Lord Beaverbrook, who had been informed that Pickering had left the Mail. "Mr Pickering, I have heard about you," said Beaverbrook. "There is a place for you in my house. Won't you come and join my house?" Pickering joined that night.

Beaverbrook was busy at this time hiring on a grand scale, regardless of immediate editorial needs. Pickering was sent to the Sunday Express to join a queue of exceptionally talented assistant editors, including Hugh Cudlipp, all waiting to be summoned to greater things. Cudlipp was duly summoned back to the Mirror Group - Bartholomew, who had sacked him, had in turn been sacked - while Pickering was moved to the Daily Express. He was Managing Editor from 1951 to 1957 under the editorship of Arthur Christiansen.

The Express was enjoying its great years. It described itself modestly as "The World's Greatest Newspaper" and it was not only its own journalists who accepted this claim. The staff, recruited from quality papers as well as tabloids, attracted by excitement rather than high salaries, harried by Beaverbrook and encouraged by Christiansen, took its circulation above four million. To many it was the glamour paper of Fleet Street.

Pickering played a considerable role in its success. He usually had late-night control of the paper and in Christiansen's final years, when he was losing both health and Beaverbrook's confidence, it was Pickering who really ran the paper. When Christiansen was forced out in 1957 Pickering was the obvious choice to succeed him.

He inherited an ageing executive staff and an ailing proprietor. The staff was the first problem. Many had been on the paper when Christiansen became Editor more than 20 years before. Another editor might have been tempted to go in for hiring and firing, but Pickering had his own methods. Within two years he had a new team in place, and with the older players moved sideways or apparently upwards there was surprisingly little rancour.

The skill with which he managed this was accompanied by satisfying results. Pickering, not so obviously exciting a figure as Christiansen, still overhauled all previous circulations and raised the figure to some 4 1/4 million, the highest ever achieved by the Express and never equalled by any other editor.

But Beaverbrook remained a problem, as he was for every Express executive. Pickering was a fine editor but he was not an outstanding conversationalist. Beaverbrook liked talkers. He was turning against editors anyway. He thought they were getting too much credit for their papers, diverting it away from him. He knew he did not have much time left and he still wanted glory.

Robert Edwards was brought across from the Sunday Express to become Managing Editor of the daily in 1959. The Pickering-Edwards team could have been a product of computer dating. Pickering was experienced, calculating, intuitive. Edwards was thrusting, zestful, often inspired. Edwards himself said they should have been left together for years. Instead, Beaverbrook played Edwards against Pickering and eventually installed him as Editor.

Pickering, feeling that enough was enough, left the organisation in 1964 but after a few months as a consultant he found himself once again receiving a telephone call that would change his life. This time it was Cudlipp, his old Sunday Express colleague, offering him a return to newspapers. The International Publishing Corporation, with Cecil King at its head and Cudlipp as No 2 and heir apparent, had paid a considerable sum to Lord Boothby as a result of a risky story and picture in the Sunday Mirror. Cudlipp wanted a safe pair of hands at the top, would Pickering become editorial director of the group?

He certainly would and he went on to become chairman of IPC's newspaper division from 1968 to 1970. Then, when he was shifted to head IPC's magazines from 1970 to 1974, it seemed as if his newspaper career had ended once more.

But at the end of 1974 Don Ryder, chairman and chief executive of Reed International, became chairman of Harold Wilson's new National Enterprise Board and a life peer. Alex Jarratt moved from the Mirror Group to Reed, Mirror's owners, to replace Ryder, and once again there was a vacancy for Pickering to fill. He was chairman of Mirror Group Newspapers until 1977, when he retired on reaching the company age limit of 65. In that year he was knighted for his services to the industry. It seemed a fitting end to a distinguished career.

Once more, however, his career was resurrected, this time as a result of a chance encounter in the early 1950s. Sir Keith Murdoch, the Australian newspaper publisher, had asked Beaverbrook if his son Rupert, just down from Oxford, could spend a few months on the Daily Express to gain experience. The production staff there viewed this as just another trial imposed by the proprietor but Pickering saw the promise and ambition in Murdoch and took great pains to help him. Some 30 years later Murdoch took pains to help Pickering.

He first made him an independent national director of The Times, his latest purchase. The national directors were a body created in the correct belief that it would help to head off a monopolies inquiry. Pickering was chosen as one of the journalists "of independence and distinction". He certainly qualified on one ground but his complete independence could be challenged - and was. This problem was removed the following year when Pickering left the national directors' board to become executive vice-chairman of Times Newspapers. He held this post throughout various editorships - their number must have reminded him of Beaverbrook Newspapers - and remained a calming figure during all the changes, and particularly in the tumultuous months that followed the move to Wapping in 1986.

He was a much more distinguished figure than the Pickering portrayed by Harold Evans in his book Good Times, Hard Times (1983), in which Evans described his editorship of The Times and how he was forced out. The book was a piece of special pleading from which most emerged badly, including Evans. For as a newspaperman Pickering had great qualities. He could write memorable headlines. Years after he had gone into management he could still cut a story with all the skill that had attracted Bartholomew's attention so long ago. As an executive he was encouraging and reassuring when things looked bad, never rushing a decision but invariably making the right one in the end.

Pickering's zest for newspapers never diminished. He visited his office at The Times every morning until nearly the end of his life, and like any old Beaverbrook hand he did not consider his day had begun until he had read the papers. His other great interest was the piano. He played classical music but was at his best with jazz, being a popular performer at Fleet Street parties and the old Press Club. He had a large collection of jazz recordings and possessed an encyclopaedic knowledge of 1930s musicals.

In the length and variety of a career lasting from the late 1920s to the beginning of the 2000s, and ranging from the Mirror to The Times, Ted Pickering stood alone.

Terence Lancaster

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