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Editor credited with saving daily paper dies aged 95

A legendary former editor who helped turn around the fortunes of a regional daily has died at the age of 95.

Eric Price, left, was editor of the Western Daily Press from 1960 to 1980 and was credited with increasing sales from 12,000 to nearly 80,000 a day, becoming editor of sister title the Bristol Evening Post before his retirement.

Eric started out in journalism at the Wiltshire Times and then went on to work for titles including the Swindon Advertiser, Leicester Mercury and Manchester Evening News.

He worked on six national newspapers including the Daily Express before returning to his native West Country and he was said to have applied Fleet Street techniques to regional journalism.

Tributes have been paid after Eric died in Bristol’s Frenchay Hospital on 14 October following a short illness.

Ian Beales, his former deputy at the WDP who later became its editor, said: “He hit it like a tornado, transforming a grey and sleepy provincial daily into a gutsy mid-market broadsheet, with a powerful blend of national and regional news.

“It looked so much like the Express that one seasoned Express staffer visiting Bristol bought it by mistake and was halfway down the street before he noticed. It worked. The circulation went from 12,000 to 55,000 in five years and went on to peak at nearly 80,000.

“The paper was packed with stories, and hard-hitting campaigns: he branded the WDP as ‘the paper that fights for the West.’ It was the champion of regional causes, such as Concorde and the Port of Bristol, but the ferocious opponent of bureaucracy in all its forms – civil servants, town planners, municipal officialdom – pretentious Tory pomp, and interfering Socialism.

“Eric was a ball of energy with a passion for journalism that often exploded into anger, moderated – thank God! – by his great sense of fun. He believed fervently that newspapers were invented for journalists to enjoy themselves.

“He was irascible, raging and outrageous. But all this was redeemed by his touchingly schoolboyish sense of humour – he would put drawing pins on sub-editors’ seats, and light little fires under them. It was a stark contrast to hurling the office teapot across the room, which also happened from time to time. No one slept while Eric was on.

“His essential journalistic talent was that he was the great sub-editor: hacking and re-writing copy to give it zip, and insisting on punchy and provocative headlines. Subs, he said, were ‘the uncrowned kings of journalism.’  This made the Western Daily Press the accredited boot camp for sub-editors with ambition.

“Eric could be inspiring and exasperating in equal measure. But that was his charm. He was a great mentor, boss and friend. He was the ultimate Editor’s Editor.”

Bob Satchwell, the executive director of the Society of Editors added:  “For editors advanced in their careers, Eric will be remembered with great respect and fondness for his skills as an editor, great humour and contempt for red tape.  He had a great competitive spirt and was always wonderful company.”

In 1980, Eric was appointed editor of the Bristol Evening Post and group editorial director of Bristol United Press Ltd until he retired in 1983.

His wife of 72 years Barbara died earlier this year and Eric leaves two sons, three daughters, nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

19 comments

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  • October 16, 2013 at 9:58 am
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    Sad news. The last time I spoke to Eric he said his health wasn’t so good and he had lost a leg, adding: “It’s not that much of a problem – it’s not the one that holds the alcohol.”

    Typical of the man.

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  • October 16, 2013 at 10:47 am
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    The redoubtable Mr Price was a guest speaker at my Harlow pre-entry course back in the 1970s and was quite firm in his opinion that he would never appoint any scruffy tieless oiks with premature beards, long hair and jeans as trainee reporters. I think I was wearing cords that day but I ticked every other box on his hate list and thought my career was over before it had even started. Still got the beard, though – perhaps I have grown into it. RIP, one of the old school and I bet nobody from today’s generations will ever be able to repeat a sales success story like that. Anybody know how many the WDP is selling today?

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  • October 16, 2013 at 11:51 am
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    Very sorry to hear of Eric’s passing. To use a phrase he would not approve of, he was a legend amongst young editors and subs — and a very good friend.

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  • October 16, 2013 at 11:53 am
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    I always wanted a job in journalism and as a young school-leaver sans qualifications of any kind, I found it difficult to get a job. Editors of weekly papers mostly didn’t reply to my letters enquiring about job prospects and those who did said they’d put my name on file. Was that a euphemism for waste-paper basket?

    I decided to stage a sit-in at the WDP offices every night for about six months. Reporters and the news editor Norman Rich made me welcome and gave me little editorial tasks to carry out – even checking the galley proofs of next day’s obits column to see if any famous local person had died.

    Eventually, Eric Price approached me and said in his colourful language: “Your are getting me into f…… trouble with the unions”.
    Apparently, the inkies didn’t like me wandering around the comps room. Eric went on: “You’d better have a job. Start on Monday!”

    Would anything like this happen now? I doubt it. You wouldn’t be allowed into the building let alone sit next to the News Editor.
    Ah, those were the days.

    Maurice Fells
    Bristol (Former WDP staffer now freelancing and writing books)

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  • October 16, 2013 at 12:13 pm
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    As night sub of the Bristol Evening Post before becoming features editor (under the equally characterful Gordon Farnsworth) Eric Price was a joy to behold – at, mercifully, the other side of the subs’ room in Silver Street.

    But, as for hurtling the office tea pot across the room what about the typewriter going out of a window?

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  • October 16, 2013 at 12:23 pm
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    If you can lay your hands on a copy, Eric’s autobiography ‘Boy in the Bath’, published in 1982, is still a great read!

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  • October 16, 2013 at 5:31 pm
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    I’d worked free on the Bristol Evening Post every Saturday for about a year as a desperately keen student. Finally, exams meant I had to give up and on my last day I went out for quite a few goodbye drinks. Eric called me into his office on my return and – horrified, as I was terribly drunk by then – I staggered in, expecting a rollocking. Instead, he grandly offered me a job on the WDP. However, made bold by the bucket of Chianti I’d knocked back, I slurred back: “I don’t want it. I want to work on the Post.”
    He looked furious at the snub for a second, then peered hard at me. Finally he said, in admiring tones, “You’re f**king p*ssed!”
    It seemed to seal the deal. He called in Ian Beales and that was it – the best job in the world was mine after I’d finished my course. So thank you Eric (and Ian) and goodbye. Inspirational, terrifying. exacting, outrageous and terribly funny, never forgotten by this grateful hack, who was sometimes seconded from the BEP onto his subs desk, quaking.
    (Actually, Eric was normally touchingly careful not to swear in front of women: often a visible struggle that ended in failure however…)

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  • October 16, 2013 at 8:27 pm
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    The man was a legend. His influence on those journalists he knocked into shape and taught to meet his uncompromising standards cannot be overstated. All of them went on to greater things.I was one of a group of journalists at the WDP who formed The Hole In The Head Gang, a sort of Eric Price tribute drinking club. We had club ties with a picture of his head with a bullet hole in it. When he found out he loved it – such was his sense of fun – and the Hole in the Head Gang remains as strong today as it was then.

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  • October 17, 2013 at 1:12 pm
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    Eric always took great delight in explaining the reason for his partial leg amputation: failing circulation.

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  • October 17, 2013 at 1:50 pm
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    I joined the WDP as chief sub in 1964 and for two years Eric and I definitely sparked off ach other. In the end the spark became a conflagration– we both had fiery tempers — and I left for pastures new. Of course, we later re-established good terms. Working for him was certainly a stimulating experience. He would have wanted to make the century and I wish he had.

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  • October 17, 2013 at 3:19 pm
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    Mad as a hatter but a great journalist who led by example. He used to hurl giant paper clips at the back of subs’ heads with considerable force if he caught them unawares and lob his cheese sandwiches in their faces on a regular basis. I had a quiet word with him as chief sub after he threatened to sack a sub for going to the lavatory. His reply: “I’ll sack you as well if you go for a p..s when there’s copy to sub on your desk.” During the massive floods in the West Country many years ago, a Western Daily Press photographer returned, wet through and covered in mud with great pictures of an old woman scrambling on to the roof of her home as the water rose to her upstairs bedrooms. Eric flicked through the prints – he always insisted that all shots should be printed – praising them all in turn then called staff to attention. He said: “This toggie is an example to you all. He got these shots by standing in the middle of the road, up to his chin in water in the freezing rain. That’s what I call dedication.” He then threw all the prints on the floor, announcing melodramatically: “I’m not using them, I’ve got better agency pics.” As usual, he was right. Ian Manning

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  • October 17, 2013 at 4:37 pm
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    I was one of the many staff photographers working for both publications, the WDP and the BEP. I was subjected frequently to Eric’s shock treatment to go out and come back with the best picture of the day. In the first days of his taking over the WDP he introduced a rather novel way of getting new readers by getting us to do a “Miss West of the Day”. This involved us in chatting up hairdressers, barmaids, shop assistants and any likely reasonable looking girl who would pose full length (dressed) and could fit into a single coloumn space on the top right hand corner of page one. Never short of the expletive Eric would shout across the newsroom, ” I don’t care what they look like as long as they’ve got t*ts and an ars*e” Equally he would compliment you as being the best photographer he had ever had one day and the next day, showing a colleague’s print, would contrast it with, “why cant take pictures like this instead of the sh*t you turn in”. He loved photographers and showed his understanding and appreciation. I will miss him.

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  • October 17, 2013 at 4:40 pm
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    I will miss him. He knew how to use photographers work well and showed his appreciation daily.

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  • October 18, 2013 at 10:44 am
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    Eric had a son (named John I think) who worked as a sub on the Evening Mail, Birmingham in the 70s and for a short time on the Daily Express, his Dad’s old paper. I never met Eric but John talked a good deal about him – about his crusading passion and the enormously long hours that went with that. Eric sounds like a terrific bloke. Are there any like him around today?
    Peter Laud, once of Birmingham UK now of Kettering, Tasmania, Aust.

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  • October 21, 2013 at 11:04 am
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    Eric rescued me from the threat of the dole queue in 1970 when the PR job I had taken on after eight years on the subs’ desk of the Bristol Evening Post collapsed under me. There followed two years on the subs’ desk of the WDP during which I barely drew breath – first as a down-table sub, then as deputy chief sub, and finally as chief sub.

    Life with Eric was a roller-coaster – exasperating, exhilarating, even frightening sometimes – and never dull.

    It fell to me now and then, when a story broke, to interrupt the nightly purdah of Eric’s leader-writing session – first breaching the battlements set up by formidable secretary Mrs Stone. If he judged the interruption worthy, he was a pussycat, if not . . . well, it was interesting!

    His dedication to his craft and the WDP was total – yet he could switch off, and did so nightly at “break” when we all trooped across to the Social Club for half an hour or so and Eric would concentrate totally over a pint or two on beating the one-armed bandit.

    Then it was back to the fray . . . often prefaced by a joyful jab with a copy spike into copytaster John Reece’s left buttock, and a doom-laden pronouncement that “an agonising reappraisal” was necessary.

    Unmissable, unforgettable days.

    When finally I told him I was leaving to go back into PR (as regional press officer for the National Farmers’ Union), his facial expression was one of unutterable distaste and he then paid me what I have always regarded as the ultimate compliment, coming as it did from the master . . . “But you’re a bloody sub”, he spat out.

    They don’t make ’em like that any more . . . more’s the pity.

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  • October 21, 2013 at 11:16 pm
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    Gosh, now there’s some names from the past. Greetings to you all and, if you’re at the funeral, I do hope we recognise each other. I’ll be there with my wife, Jo Bayne.

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  • November 4, 2013 at 6:13 pm
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    Brilliant journalist, exhilarating to work with if he liked you. A terror to the rest.

    Fun on WDP: Eric to news editor Peter Gibbs: Tell him (a reporter) that if he has another heart attack he’s fired

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  • November 4, 2013 at 6:16 pm
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    And then there was the sub who walked out in despair during his break on his first shift…

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