30 January 2015

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Four-times former regional newspaper editor dies at 81

A former journalist who edited a number of regional newspapers during his 48-year career and was a former president of the Guild of Editors has died at the age of 81.

David Williams edited the South East London Mercury, the then Southend Evening Echo, where he was the founding editor, the Argus in Brighton and the Bury Free Press, where he began his career as a trainee reporter in 1949.

At The Argus, he was named Journalist of the Year in 1984 in the British Press Awards for his reports on famine in Ethiopia and his paper’s coverage of the Brighton bombing that targeted the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

David had lived with Parkinson’s disease since 2007 and has died after being diagnosed with a brain tumour at the end of August this year.

Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, said: “David was a quietly spoken but tough editor. Driven by powerful principles concerning the freedom of the press and practical common sense, he led the Guild of Editors with style, good humour and under-stated strength of purpose and character.

“Those qualities were valuable in the transformation of the Guild into the Society of Editors working for all sectors of the media. He never gave up being a journalist.”

After beginning his career at the Bury Free Press in 1949, David joined the Daily Mirror in 1955 before gaining his first editorship in 1965 at the South East London Mercury.

He went on to be the founding editor of the Southend Evening Echo in 1969 before joining The Argus.

David returned to Fleet Street as deputy editor of the People and The European before returning to edit the Bury paper in 1989.

He was president of the Guild of Editors in 1992-93 and helped guide the change to the Society of Editors in 1999, when he retired after a 48-year career. He has also been honoured with an MBE for services to journalism.

In his retirement, David went on to write a book Poison Farm in which he solved a 1938 murder that had baffled detectives and he was working on a second book when he died.

David leaves his second wife, Elizabeth, his first wife, four children and six grand children.

His funeral will take place at 11.15am on 30 September at West Suffolk Crematorium in Bury St Edmunds.


  1. Andy Cooper

    Bob Satchwell has it spot on when he describes David as quietly spoken, but tough. He was a great Editor to work for when I was on the BFP. He came ‘home’ to the paper after a stellar career but a) he never harped on about former glories and b) he certainly wasn’t back for an easy number as I can testify from the tough times he gave me as News Editor!

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  2. Paul Deal, Wiltshire

    I owe a great debt to David Williams and was saddened to hear he has died. David took me on as the Evening Echo’s first trainee reporter in 1971. I later joined the subs desk where I made a spectacular mistake in what I felt had been a tasty rewrite of a badly-written splash about the paper’s breast cancer appeal. I thought we had hit the target and so gave it the full “We’ve done it, folks!” treatment. Unfortunately we had simply raised the funds for the building. We now needed to raise the money to keep it running.
    David attended a meeting of the appeal trustees that evening and got some serious stick for closing the appeal. The next morning I received a bollocking, delivered in David’s quietly-spoken way, that I shall never forget. I recall my fellow subs taking me out for a stiff drink to calm my nerves and put some colour back in my cheeks. It was a useful lesson learned.
    I am immensely proud to have worked for such a great newspaper man. The experience stood me in very good stead when I later became an editor myself.

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  3. Ivor Harvey, Norfolk

    David did enormously valuable work for the old East Anglian Guild and brought loads of common sense and sensible focus to our rambling meetings.

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  4. Peter Hoxley, Bury St Edmunds

    I worked with David on his return to his ‘home town’ newspaper the Bury Free Press and although I was on the commercial side of the business I learned a good deal from him. He was from the era when the Editor was truly at the helm of the newspaper and as Ad Director I was often sent packing too. However, in reality, David was always fair and accommodating and was a first class Editor, colleague and friend.

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  5. Richard Bryson, Suffolk

    I was David’s deputy editor at the Bury Free Press in the early 1990s.
    After his career highs on Fleet Street David could easily have been quite dictatorial when he came back to his first paper to be editor. Instead he let myself and other senior journalists do their jobs and gave us quiet encouragement. There was no doubt who was in charge, and he could be tough, but there was also a twinkle in his eye at the weekly new conferences. For him the BFP was about maintaining standards, working hard but also having some fun too and he seemed to love his time there. “As happy as a pig in muck”, he wrote in one of his first editorials.
    I’ll also rather uncomfortably remember his urgent, almost devil-may-care, driving of his company Vauxhall Cavalier. Even if he was back in Suffolk he liked life in the fast lane occasionally.

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  6. jim worsdale, southend

    Hard to add much to the splendid, much-deserved comments already made, but I’ll try. I was one of three interviewed for the editorship of the new Southend Evening Echo in 1969. David beat me to the job – and rightly so, too. Shortly afterwards he invited me to join him as his deputy and we had with us a grand team. Memorable times indeed. I was later transferred to Swindon to edit the Evening Advertiser, but returned to edit the Echo when David moved to Brighton. We stayed in touch, not least because of our shared passion for Ipswich Town Football Club. David was a smashing bloke and a superb newspaperman. Deeply sad he has gone, but so many memories remain.

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  7. Boxer Jones, Bury St Edmunds

    David gave me my first job as a trainee photographer when I was a 17 year old. I think it may have been because like him, I’m a fan of Ipswich Town. He was a true gentleman, and one i’ll always be thankful I met. My thoughts are with Liz and his family

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  8. Jon buss, Ipswich

    David brought me to east anglia from brighton in 1989, moving from an evening paper still in its prime to be features ed at the bury free press, where he had recently returned as editor. He knew I had family ties in Suffolk and anyway, he was a realist. He offered me much more money to go from a big evening to a big weekly.
    I found a superb team already in place, Amanda Hatfield as news ed, later replaced by andy cooper, Richard Bryson as deputy ed with two great traditional and talented young news subs, Claire and Kate, working with him. Add to that my friend Ian hulland, one of the best picture eds I have ever worked with, and the bfp was a very strong unit. Ad director peter Hoxley also nurtured a stream of people who went on to be ad managers in their own right in a time when we all worked and played together. Management, notably John Allen and Liz Sayers, were also newspaper people with a real enthusiasm for what the editorial team was trying to do (although these were the golden goose days).
    David would indulge himself with a bottle of ale on the desk on press day (never more than one) and when I became an editor I understood why.
    A great figure in journalism and worth keeping on the top stories section of htfp a little longer I would say, perhaps with a picture. Nigel Pickover and the gorilla stayed there for days…

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  9. Chris Oswick

    I was proud to have sserved as David Williams’ news editor during that golden period on the Evening Argus in the Eighties – if you can call an African famine and the IRA bombing of the Grand Hotel ‘golden’. Still, at least Brighton & Hove Albion made it to an FA Cup Final replay against Man Utd – and David rose to every challenge with the same quiet, steely professionalism. A role model, if ever there was one, for aspiring journalists.

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  10. Amanda Penman (Hatfield), Derbyshire

    I am sorry to have had to miss David’s funeral but I am sure many tributes were paid to a fine newspaperman.
    Without David’s encouragement, while I was part of the team Jon Buss talks about, I may never have become an editor myself.
    He lured me from the EADT back to the BFP as news editor and those few years I spent with him were some of the best of my career. He taught me that quality content about people was what really mattered.
    We produced cracking award-winning newspapers and therefore had a motivated, enthusiast and dedicated team.
    He truly was an inspiration as a journalist.

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  11. steve rider, berkshire

    In 1968, as a sixth-former inBlackheath, I was asked by David Williams to write a six hundred word report on the FA Cup Final. As a result of that he offered me a job as a Junior Sports Reporter on the South East London Mercury, starting wage £9.14s a week,(I still have the letter of engagement).
    Because of his imagination and enthusiasm I found myself on a newspaper that was punching way above its weight. I remember in particular him sending a reporter to Prague for the local angle on the russian invasion, and also publishing the exclusive first colour photographs from the other side of the moon, even though Catford was not quite visible.

    Despite all this excitement he encouraged me to stick with sport, and whatever I have been lucky enough to achieve since then was down to his initial belief and support. A good man and an outstanding newspaper man. SR

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