Sir Frank Rogers

Newspaper industry guru respected for his unflappability and sound judgement
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The Independent Online

Although never a household name, Frank Rogers was one of the half-dozen most influential newspaper executives of the second half of the 20th century. He ran the Daily Mirror in its 1960s heyday and was later chairman of Emap, the highly successful magazine and regional newspaper publisher. He played a key role in the success of the Daily Telegraph group following its acquisition by the Canadian entrepreneur Conrad Black in 1985 and became a popular guru of the industry, respected for his unflappability and sound judgement. One of his enduring achievements was to mastermind the establishment of the Press Complaints Commission in 1991.

A grammar-school boy from the Potteries, Rogers joined the Daily Mirror's Manchester office in 1937 as a 17-year-old sports reporter. During the Second World War he served in Italy and afterwards returned to the Mirror, first in Manchester and later in Portsmouth. In 1947 the Mirror bought a small group of papers in West Africa, including the Nigerian Daily Times. Initially these were run by Cecil King, later the Mirror chairman, but after two years he advertised for a general manager to be resident in Lagos and take over responsibility for them.

Rogers was by then beginning to feel that his talents were more those of an administrator than a journalist, and he applied for the job. King took a liking to him and in 1949 Rogers and his wife Esma - they had married that year - headed for the tropics. He proved an able manager and in 1952 was sent out to Australia to run the Melbourne Argus, which the group had just acquired.

He returned to London three years later and in 1960 was appointed to the board of the Daily Mirror, then dominant in the tabloid market with a circulation approaching five million. His principal responsibility was to exert control over the print unions, whose powerful position in the industry made it hard to resist demands for ever-increasing wages and inflated manning levels. Rogers, a firm but emollient negotiator, succeeded in keeping costs under control; but he came to recognise that eventually the proprietors would have to engineer a showdown with the unions, as Rupert Murdoch did more than two decades later.

In 1961, after a takeover battle, the Mirror acquired Odhams Press, publishers of a string of successful magazines as well as the ailing Daily Herald. Rogers, along with the editorial director Hugh Cudlipp, initiated the transformation of the Herald into The Sun, a mid-market paper "born of the age we live in". It failed to catch the public's imagination and after five expensive years Rogers was a key figure in selling the title cheaply to Rupert Murdoch in 1969. The new proprietor took it into head-to-head competition with the Mirror - something that Cudlipp and Rogers had naturally been unwilling to do - and within a few years The Sun had overhauled the Mirror's circulation.

The group was reorganised in 1965 as the International Publishing Corporation (IPC), with Rogers as its managing director. In 1968 he and Cudlipp were the prime movers in the sensational ousting of Cecil King as chairman. King had written a vicious front-page editorial calling for the resignation of the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, and had been involved in discussions about establishing an alternative national government, in which he would have played a role. Rogers and Cudlipp saw all this as sign of failing judgment and, when King refused to resign, the board dismissed him.

Rogers himself quit IPC two years later, in another corporate reorganisation, and was appointed to the board of Emap. Here he became involved again in the industry's troubled labour relations, steering the company through a bitter six-month strike by journalists on the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph in Kettering, who had sought to make union membership compulsory. By now he was an active member of a number of industry bodies, including the Newspaper Publishers' Association and the International Press Institute.

When Conrad Black bought a minority interest in the Daily Telegraph in 1985, he nominated Rogers as one of his representatives on the board. This was at the recommendation of Andrew Knight, editor of The Economist, who had introduced Black to Lord Hartwell, the Telegraph's owner. When Black took full control a few months later, with Knight as his chief executive, Rogers was appointed Deputy Chairman - a position he held until stepping down in 1995 at the age of 75, although he stayed on the board until 2001. He played an important part in negotiations with the print unions for the introduction of new technology, and also advised on the appointment of the senior managers who would steer the paper back into profitability.

As chairman of the Newspaper Publishers Association in 1990, he was instrumental in establishing the Press Complaints Commission as a self-regulatory body to address concerns about increasing intrusions into privacy in sections of the media - snatched pictures, kiss-and-tell exposés and the like. The existing Press Council had become toothless and discredited and he judged that only a new, more vigorous institution could head off growing demands for privacy legislation - to which, like most senior figures in the industry, he was instinctively opposed.

Until his 80th year, Rogers played an active role in organisations as diverse as the Reuters Trust, the British Internet Publishers Association and the European Publishers Council. He became ill some three years ago and was cared for at his Hertfordshire home by his second wife Sheena, whom he married in 2001 following Esma's death in 1998.

Michael Leapman

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