Without warning, Sir David English, editor of the Daily Mail, called his heads of department into their daily conference half an hour early and told them: 'This will be the last conference under my editorship.'
Earlier, Stewart Steven, editor of the Mail on Sunday, was planning to board an aircraft with half a dozen of his senior colleagues en route to Dundee, where Iain Walker, an executive editor of the MoS who died in a climbing accident, was to be cremated.
'He was pulled from the flight and told he couldn't go,' said one senior staffer. 'Later, he was told the news and he passed it on. We are all still shocked by the suddenness of it all.'
The shock yesterday appeared to be on two levels: the extent of the changes across all the publications and the fact that, after 21 years at the helm, Sir David would no longer be there.
Rumours have persisted over the past 12 months that he was planning to stand down but, in the words of Max Hastings, the editor of the Daily Telegraph, most people expected him to be 'editing the Mail when the rest of us were pushing up the daisies.'
Educated at Bournemouth School, Sir David joined the Daily Mirror in 1951 as a reporter before being lured by Lord Rothermere to the Daily Sketch as features editor and, later, assistant editor.
In 1969, after a spell as foreign editor, the Daily Sketch made him the youngest editor in Fleet Street at the age of 38. He became editor of the Mail in 1971 and oversaw its successful transition from a broadsheet. In 1982 he was knighted for services to journalism, an honour criticised by Labour MPs because of his relentless support for the Tory party.
Fellow editors regard him in the highest esteem. Richard Stott of the Daily Mirror described him as 'A great professional and a great editor.' Lord Rothermere once referred to him as 'God'.