The nicest bloke in Fleet Street

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TRIBUTE: Colleagues produced this Page One when Terry retired


WAS this the nicest bloke in Fleet Street? The thought kept coming back as I considered the life and career of my old friend Terry Evans, who has died aged 69.

 In a world where Alpha males (and later, females) bestrode their territory, Terry ran the Picture Desk of the Sunday Express with unfailing courtesy and kindness.

The characteristics that some in that ultra-competitive world imagined to be weakness were in fact his greatest strength. He could bring in pictures, which were often stories in themselves rather than mere illustrations, with just a supportive word for a freelance photographer. (Oh, very well, perhaps a lunch at Joe Allen, too.)

Terry began his career in journalism with an educational publishing company, then moved to the Birmingham Evening Mail as a writer. It was there that he met Christine, his wife, who was at the time also a journalist. He was a proud Brummie and, inexplicably, a West Brom fan. His Jag’s number plate, bought as a gift by his son Jonathan, began with the letters WBA.

In 1973, he took a job on the night picture desk of the Daily Express. He rose to be assistant picture editor and then an invaluable deputy – hard-working, diligent, a rare voice of reason and sound judgment, sometimes steering the ship away from the rocks while the boss was “meeting contacts”.

When, after 29 years on the Daily, he was invited to become Sunday Express Picture Editor, he was finally in his element. He brought a daily newsman’s values to the job and added sharp intelligence and a whimsical sense of fun. He loved working for Editor Amanda Platell and she plainly admired the way he went about his task.

He treated his staff with respect and was always willing to help someone scale the greasy pole. In return, they showed him a loyalty and affection that few other picture editors could command.

When I was appointed first the paper’s Night Editor and later Deputy Editor Terry and I worked particularly closely. He was a man you would want alongside you in the trenches.

Terry once brought me a picture thought to be of an Army officer involved in a big story. He put it down on my desk and said: “We’re pretty sure it’s him but we can’t be 100 per cent. We’re checking.”

“He fits the description,” I said.

“He does.”

“Military bearing.” I said.

“Certainly has.”

“Is that the right house he’s leaving?” I asked.

“Yes. But we still haven’t confirmed it’s him,” warned Terry.

“Tel, you worry too much.”

Three hours later and with our deadline nearing, I am looking at a proof of a Page 4-5 spreadover, which is dominated by a cut-out picture of the chap in question, when I spy an anxious Picture Editor hurrying in my direction.

“That picture I gave you,” he began. “It’s not him.”

This was a disaster. We’d have to rebuild the page in about ten minutes. Without a picture.

“Not him?” I muttered.

“No, but this is,” said Terry and with perfect comic timing and a certain flourish, he produced a picture of a different military-looking chap. The right one, this time.

That was Terry. He brought solutions, not problems.

He lunched so often at Joe Allen they allowed him to host his farewell party there

And never mind the trenches, you would want him alongside you at lunch, too. He was a charming man, cultured and with a bottomless well of Fleet Street stories.

He gained a degree in music from King’s College, London, and on my way from Temple to our regular lunches at Joe Allen I would pass the university, with its windows displaying pictures of its many alumni from the worlds of politics, science, diplomacy and literature.

“Terry,” I would tease him, “they still haven’t got your picture up.”

“John Downing’s taking it next week,” he would say.

He lunched so often at Joe’s (and so well – I saw the expenses) that when he retired in September 2012 he was allowed to host his farewell party there, attended by some of the Express’s great photographers and most of the picture editors in Fleet Street. The management even allowed him a brass plaque on the wall next to his favourite corner table.

Terry could have retired sooner than he did but his burning enthusiasm would not let him. There was one last story he wanted to add to his CV, alongside the wars, natural disasters, Royal weddings, acts of terrorism. He wanted to mastermind the Sunday Express’s coverage of the London Olympics, a once-in-a-lifetime story.

He had survived one previous health scare. He contracted cancer of the oesophagus but underwent surgery and returned to work just in time for the office Christmas party. The Editor used his speech to welcome Terry back and the ovation went on and on. He was deeply moved by the show of affection.

When he sat back down at his desk he had the neatest contacts book Fleet Street has ever seen. He had used his enforced time off to copy painstakingly every name and number scrawled on scraps of notebooks or fag packets into new Filofax pages. And he set about putting them to good use.

When he died at home on Tuesday, April 7, it was sudden and unexpected. He had been unwell with a bug he picked up while travelling in the Far East. That, and the drugs used to treat it, had weakened him and when he was struck by ‘flu it proved too much.

As well as Christine and Jonathan, he leaves a grandson, Cillian.

I and his many other Fleet Street friends, some of whom were looking forward to having lunch with him next week, will miss him dearly.

© 2005-2022 Alastair McIntyre