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Death of a giant in journalism

Keith Whetstone, former editor-in-chief of the Birmingham Post and Mail, and editor of the Coventry Evening Telegraph and Cambridge Evening News has died, aged 72. He had been ill with prostate cancer.

The three newspapers were owned at the time by the Iliffe family. Keith was at the Evening News between 1964-70, the Evening Telegraph between 1970-80 and the Evening Mail, from 1980 to 1984.

In 1984 he was appointed editor-in-chief of both daily Birmingham titles and held that position until his retirement in 1986.

He was also active in the then Guild of Editors – now the Society of Editors – being chairman of its parliamentary and legal committee and of the West Midlands guild. In 1976 he became national president.

Keith (pictured right) was awarded the OBE for services to journalism in 1983.

Born in Northumberland, he had most of his upbringing in the Midlands and was educated at King Henry VIII School, Coventry.

His career began on the Coventry Evening Telegraph as a reporter, from where he joined the Western Morning News in Plymouth, and later as a sub-editor the Birmingham Post. He rejoined the Evening Telegraph as theatre critic five years before his appointment at Cambridge.

Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors said: “Keith was an immense figure in the regional press in the 60s, 70s and 80s. Until the end he remained passionate about editorial standards and training.”

Lord Iliffe, chairman of the Yattendon Investment Trust plc, former proprietors of the Birmingham Post and Mail, Coventry Evening Telegraph and still proprietors of the Cambridge Evening News said: “Keith spent more than 36 years, most of his journalistic career, working for my family’s newspapers.

“During the time he edited at Cambridge, Coventry and Birmingham he always ensured that the highest standards were maintained and the integrity of the publication was never in question.

“Without doubt he was one of the great editors of the provincial press.”

Geoff Elliott, former editor of the Coventry Evening Telegraph and Portsmouth News and now head of journalism at the University of Central Lancashire, also paid a personal tribute.

He said: “Long after he retired as an editor Keith Whetstone liked nothing better than talking newspapers.

“He was not always complimentary about their modern standards, especially their lack of care over the English language he guarded so assiduously, but he loved them nevertheless. And he loved the people who made them.

“Many former colleagues like me will miss those conversations.

“Keith was always active within the industry. He was chairman of the Guild of Editors’ parliamentary and legal committee, winning battles in the 60s for journalists everywhere, especially over access to local government decision-making, and was West Midlands chairman in 1972/73. He became national president in 1976. He was also a member of the Press Council from 1980 to 86 and, as an old navy man himself, served on the old D-Notices Committee advising editors on defence issues.

“Since his retirement, Keith and his wife Monica, to whom he was married almost 50 years, shared their time between homes in France and near Coventry, where their three sons and nine grandchildren live.

“But he still found time for his beloved journalism, often travelling back from France to supervise NCTJ examinations in the West Midlands and marking candidates’ papers. For many years he organised the Samuel Storey Awards for writing editors.

“His greatest honour came in 1983 when he was made an OBE for services to journalism. Keith was an outstanding man of his time, as his many friends will always remember.”

  • A service of thanksgiving for the life of Keith Whetstone will be held on Monday at the village church in Berskwell, Warwickshire, at 2pm.

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