Times Obituary: Sir Ray Tindle

From The Times, 19 April, 2022

As the London-to-Brighton veteran car run clattered its way over the South Downs on the first Sunday of each November, cheers invariably went up for Ray Tindle, who completed the course on more than 50 occasions in his faithful single-cylinder 1904 Speedwell Dogcart. Wrapped up against the cold, the veteran newspaper proprietor attributed his success to knowing his stuff and keeping an eye on history, just as he did with the his media empire.

After the war Tindle had used his £300 demobilisation payment to buy the Tooting and Balham Gazette which had a circulation of only 700. He spent the next 70 years demonstrating the old adage that all news is local, launching and turning around titles too small to attract the interest of large regional groups. By the time he passed the business on to his son in 2017 he owned 220 titles and, according to The Sunday Times Rich List, was worth £110 million.

Although his stable of mainly weekly newspapers had small circulations and often smaller profit margins, Tindle prided himself on overseeing a debt-free private business. “I have never borrowed. Each paper must live within its own means in order to ensure its long-term survival,’’ he explained, adding in Churchillian tones: “We have never been beaten and we have never surrendered . . . I was personally and directly inspired by hearing Churchill’s words in 1940.’’

Much of what he did would seem counter-intuitive to larger publishers. He kept shock-and-horror stories off the front pages; eschewed unnecessary moves into a tabloid format; and embraced the internet only in destinations where he was convinced there was an appetite for it. Costs were kept to a bare minimum, notably printing charges, by sticking firmly to weekly titles. This allows time for contracting out, with some titles being printed many miles from their home district.

All Tindle’s titles were decidedly local. Editors printed lists of funeral mourners and flower-show winners in a way that once gave the weekly Somerset Guardian Standard 125 per cent penetration in Frome — in other words, a quarter of the population were buying more than one copy a week.

Over the years he bought up newspapers that were about to close and were thought to be unsaveable. He revived defunct titles and launched new ones, both paid-for and free, building up a prosperous business that included such glorious titles as Pulman’s Weekly News in Axminster, The Llantwit Major Gem and the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley Review.

In 1978 he gave the Tenby Observer a second chance when it was so bankrupt that he had to use a phone box to call the receiver because its lines had been cut. “They’d tried to save it by expanding and turning it into the West Wales Observer,” he explained. “That was exactly the wrong thing to do. I asked the staff if they could get the paper out that week, they said ‘yes’ and I said, ‘I’m in then, but throw out anything that isn’t Tenby. We’re not interested in Carmarthen and Haverfordwest.’ ” Observer sales climbed from 3,700 to 7,000 over the next 25 years.

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Tindle also made a point of not chasing the young reader, despite some of his editors telling him that they must target this market. “The young people don’t buy papers, they read their mother’s paper,” he explained. “They then get married and then they want a flat, then they want a house, then they want a pram and a car. There’s no need to convert the paper into a jazzy thing.’’

While his empire expanded, its high command did not. Only Tindle and a small group of executives held the whole thing together from an office in an old courthouse in Farnham, Surrey, where the group’s Farnham Herald was defended with particular élan. When a freesheet consortium tried to tempt away estate agents, Tindle converted three empty shops into fake estate agencies with fascias saying Herald Homes. They were dummies but he would have gone ahead with selling property direct if the agents had not caved in.

Tindle was not without his critics and was sometimes accused of undermining the quality of his titles by filling the news pages with copy from locals including shopkeepers, retired schoolteachers and self-appointed community correspondents. He denied compromising journalistic rigour and insisted that wholesale redundancies were not his thing, while defending the use of freelancers and local people. “If you’re the secretary of the cricket club, you’re the best person to tell us what the score was last Saturday,” he told the Financial Times.

Despite the pressure on print publishing caused by digital media, Tindle’s glass remained resolutely half-full. “I see a greater need for our local press now than I have ever seen in my 80 or so years connected with this business,” he told colleagues in 2017. “Yes, local papers will survive. Local news in depth is what people need. Names, faces and places. There is no doubt about it — sufficient demand is still there. Local detailed news is in a category of its own. It has survived many years. It will live for ever.”

Raymond Stanley Tindle was born in Streatham, south London, in 1926, the son of John Tindle, an engineer, and his wife Maud (née Bilney). The London-Brighton car run passed close to their home. “I can recall the exact spot on Streatham Common where my parents took me to watch these wonderful old machines pass,” he reminisced. “Of course, then the oldest car taking part was probably only about 30 years old but still totally different from their modern counterparts. I remember thinking how wonderful it would be to ride on one of those cars.”

He was at grammar school in London when the bombs began raining down on the capital. One fell near the family’s house and his mother rushed out to help. “That’s what everyone did,” he said. “She shouted up to me to get out of bed and come too.” When she returned, her son was still in bed and she stormed upstairs. “But I was only there because our roof had come down and I was under a beam.”


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