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Former newspaper boss Freddy Johnston dies aged 86

Freddy JohnstonRegional newspaper boss Freddy Johnston – the last member of his family to sit on the board of Johnston Press – has died aged 86.

Tributes have been paid to the former JP chief executive, whose family were involved in running the publishing group for 245 years.

Freddy, pictured, stepped down from the board of the company in 2010 after almost half a century of service.

Under his leadership, the group went from owning a handful of Scottish titles to running 200 daily and weekly newspapers across the country.

His death in a Wimbledon hospital on Sunday came just days after JP successor company JPIMedia announced it was to rebrand as National World, eroding the last trace of the Johnston family’s link to the company.

The Johnston family had been involved in the printing business since 1767 and bought control of its first newspaper, the Falkirk Herald, in 1846.

Freddy began his newspaper career at the Herald before going to read history at New College Oxford.

He took a trainee reporter role on the Liverpool Echo, then became a sub-editor and leader writer on the Liverpool Daily Post before moving to London to wotk as assistant company secretary at Times Newspapers.

Freddy joined the family firm, then known as F Johnston & Co Ltd, in 1962 as works manager and became managing director in June 1973, chairman in 1975 and then chief executive of Johnston Newspaper Group in 1980.

His son Michael, who also worked for the company, told the Falkirk Herald: “He had been born into journalism: it was in his blood. At that time Scotland was made up of family-run newspapers and everyone knew each other.”

The group’s first English purchase was the Derbyshire Times, the second-largest selling weekly newspaper in England at that time, while further acquisitions followed in Yorkshire, Sussex and the Midlands.

Freddy, who was president of the Newspaper Society in 1989-90, subsequently led the company through its major period of expansion after the group became Johnston Press plc and was floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1988.

He stepped down as chairman in 2001 but remained as a non-executive director for the following nine years.

Following his departure, Michael continued the family tradition and served as divisional managing director for Scotland and the North-East of England. However, he left the company in 2012 following a restructure.

Johnston Press briefly went into adminstration in 2018 before re-emergeing as JPIMedia after its bondholders agreed to wipe out £135m of the company’s debts in return for control of the business.

JPIMedia was then purchased by David Montgomery’s National World on 31 December 2020.

Paying tribute to Freddy, Scottish Newspaper Society director John McLellan told HTFP: “Proudly leading the business which had been in the family over 200 years, Freddy was a mainstay of the Scottish weekly press for decades and a great supporter of the old Scottish Newspaper Publishers Association.

“I was very sad to hear the news of his passing, along with Sir Ray Tindle another of a generation of newspaper proprietors who fully understood the power and importance of local journalism as cornerstones in their communities. My deepest condolences go to his son Michael and all Freddy’s family.”

Freddy is survived by wife Ann, to whom he had been married since 1961, sons Michael and Robert, their partners Claire and Nick, and grandchildren Kathleen, Patrick, Angus and Grace.

His cremation will be at North East Surrey Crematorium at 11.20am on Friday 10 June. His family have asked those who knew him to join them for a celebration afterwards at Hotel du Vin, in Wimbledon.