Steve Kahn, the kindest man on Fleet Street

By RUTH SUNDERLAND, Business Editor, Daily Mail

The death of Steve Kahn, former Daily Express City Editor, has led to an outpouring of sadness among his many former colleagues, rivals and friends.

This is no surprise to any of us who knew him well. Steve, as well as being a fine and dedicated journalist, also had, as we say in the North-East, a heart as big as a dustbin lid.

Milimetres below his gruff exterior, he was the kindest man on Fleet Street. 

Not that he was a soft touch. He also had a highly-tuned antenna for bullshit, whether from corporate PRs or indeed his own reporters, a trick we did not usually dare try twice.

At the start of my career I had the enormous privilege of working with Steve for four years on the Daily Express City desk where he was then deputy City Editor.

Those were among the happiest days of my professional life, spent shoulder to shoulder with Steve, Nick Fletcher, Sally Hamilton, Virginia Blackburn, Julia Finch, Andrew Moody and the late Tom McGhie.

In a sometimes surreal environment, Steve was always a source of stability, common sense, and laughter.

I can, two decades on, still remember some of the extremely funny jokes he told, though in these woke times I dare not repeat any.

One ritual all of us from that time remember vividly took place every day at about 5pm.

It took the form of a Beckettian exchange between Steve and Andrew Moody.

‘What are you having for your tea, Mood Machine?’ Steve would enquire. 

‘Baked beans,’ Andrew would reply. 

‘Cold, straight out of the tin?’ Steve would respond.

For some reason, this seemed hilarious. Perhaps you had to be there.

 But I think the humour was that, beneath the supposed dig and the faux pity, Steve was genuinely concerned about us then young reporters in his care. 

If he had discovered that any of us had really been eating cold beans for tea, I have no doubt he would personally have made sure we were properly fed.

As a couple of former colleagues reminded me this week, Steve always defended us youngsters when  — inevitably — we got ourselves into trouble.

He would afterwards, at least in my case, deliver a stinging private rebuke. One of his: ‘That wasn’t very clever, was it?’ conversations was quite enough.

As a young female reporter at a time when sexism was still fairly routine, I noticed that Steve never patronised his women colleagues. 

I will always be grateful to him for the early help and encouragement he gave me, which helped me to thrive in a still male-dominated field. I owe him a lot. Many of us do. 

Steve was always generous. He took great pleasure in hosting a Christmas drinks party each year when he was City Editor for current and former members of the Express City desk, for which he paid out of his own pocket.

He was an excellent reporter and writer, who always made even the most complicated City geekery clear to any interested reader

Though he worked long hours, he had an extensive hinterland. He was well read, a film buff and very insightful on political issues. He loved his kids Charlotte and Daniel and was very proud of them both.

He finally retired ten years ago at the age of 65, after three decades with the Daily Express, but he was such a presence it seems he was around last week. 

He was one of journalism’s great survivors, having served under multiple editors and proprietors.

What saw him through was his manifest love of journalism and his job.

He was an excellent reporter and writer, who always made even the most complicated City geekery clear to any interested reader.

At the time of his retirement, he said he was glad to have reported on the financial crisis and to have been in the thick of things rather than sitting at home reading about it.

If he had still been around I have no doubt he would have been reporting with vigour and relish on the current financial crisis caused by Covid. 

Steve started his career in the late 1960s on a CBI house magazine called Industry Week and always said visiting steel mills, car plants, and textile factories gave him a grounding in business life beyond the boardroom.

 He then had a stint at the ad industry magazine Campaign, before becoming stock market reporter at the Daily Mail for four years before arriving at his long-term home, the Daily Express, where his last eight years he ruled the roost as City Editor. 

He was a stickler for the timeless virtues of journalism: accuracy and clarity. He really understood his readers, and he wrote for them, not for the City or the PRs. His was not an easy task: he took charge as the Express and the whole newspaper industry began to experience turbulent times and the squeeze on costs started to hit.

Through all that he ran a small team that punched above its weight and he didn't just look after his staff, he really cared for them.

Peter Cunliffe, Steve’s deputy and successor as City Editor sums it up. ‘Steve  never lost his sense of humour and there was never a day without laughter in the office when he was around. I loved working with him.’

 We all did. 

Steve Kahn died aged 75 on 21 November, 2020 after suffering a heart attack

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