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Echo editors past and present are brought together for first time

Past and present editors of the South Wales Echo have been brought together for the first time, as part of the newspaper’s Local Newspaper Week celebrations.

Six surviving editors – Geoff Rich, Pat Pilton, Keith Perch, Robin Fletcher, Alastair Milburn and current editor Richard Williams – enjoyed a get-together at the paper’s Thomson House headquarters in Cardiff, and reminisced about their time in charge over dinner.

Between them they have 34 years experience in the Echo editor’s chair, and first to take on the role was Geoff Rich, who was editor from 1971 to 1990.

  • (L-R) Geoff, Pat, Keith, Robin, Richard and Alastair
  • Now 74, Geoff remembered what an important influence the paper had on the area its serves.

    He said: “I always say the biggest stories during my time, as well as national events such as the Brighton bomb, were the local stories we really had to work for – especially the Cardiff Bay development.

    “If the Echo hadn’t supported the plans, it would never have happened because the population was divided over it. It was the effort of a lifetime for some people – and now it has been shown to be working.

    “Then there was the Miners’ Strike. I had lived in the Valleys and knew the miners as people, but we had a duty to report it – whether we liked it or not.”

    Following in his footsteps was Pat Pilton, now 66, who edited the paper from 1991 to 1993.

    Now doing consultancy work for the Press Association, he recalled how he helped the Echo attract more women readers.

    He said: “Cardiff is a big newspaper city and the Echo has always had tremendous respect for its readers, who expect a lot of it.

    “During my time, we looked to involve those readers more, with more lifestyle features and more ‘news you can use’, and we saw a shift in readership from predominantly male to predominantly female.”

    Also making a big influence on the paper was Keith Perch, now editor and managing director of Northcliffe Electronic Publishing, who transformed the Echo from broadsheet to tabloid.

    He said: “Almost as soon as I became editor, the Echo switched to a tabloid format. The paper was made for it and crying out for it.

    “We also put the emphasis on lots of hard news and campaigning – South Wales has always been a hard news area.

    “It was also a time when people were always talking about bad news, but when we launched as a tabloid, the front page lead was a choice between Cardiff taking on 200 new teachers or a gruesome murder in the city. We chose the teachers story.”

    Robin Fletcher, who now runs his own communication consultancy business, edited the Echo from 1996 to 2001. He revealed the biggest story the paper covered during his time there.

    He said: “In my time as editor, we had two general elections, two British Lions tours, the Rugby World Cup, the birth of the National Assembly – but by far the biggest story was the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

    “I’ve never known anything like it. One evening, we opened a telephone line for messages of condolence and had 450 calls in an hour-and-a-half – an incredible response.

    “If you want to know what the Echo is really about, it came with the councillors’ allowances story in 2000, which became a stand-off between us and the council.

    “We stood alongside our readers and won the battle. That’s the spirit of the Echo.”

    The Echo also crossed swords with the council while Alastair Milburn was editor.

    Now managing director of his own public relations firm, he said: “The biggest story during my time was definitely the Echogate scandal, when we revealed an attempt by a council officer to get letters praising council leader Russell Goodway published in the Echo.

    “The Geraldine Palk and Lynette White murder trials were also special for me, because they meant closure on two cases I had worked on as a reporter.”

    New editor Richard Williams also spoke fondly of the Echo, and told of his plans for the future.

    He said: “I want to continue the Echo’s positioning as the people’s paper – representing them, campaigning for the things they care about, challenging authorities on their behalf and being as relevant as possible to them.

    “As it says on the front page, the Echo is at the heart of people’s lives. We want to provide news, but we also want to provide a platform for them to get things done in their community and improve their lives.

    “This is a great time to come to Cardiff. The paper is in good health and has been well looked-after by those who have been here before.

    “Now I’m looking forward to keeping the traditions of the Echo while developing it for the future.”

    To read what other newspapers got up to during Local Newspaper Week, click here.