Times obituary to chief sub


Tom Pride

Curmudgeonly Austro-Scot with a passion for crosswords and clapped-out cars who was a senior sub-editor on The Times

January 19 2018, 12:01am, 

The Times


       Tom Pride had a dry sense of humour

As a journalist Tom Pride had many strengths. Diplomacy was not one of them. If he thought your story, headline or taste in music was below par he would tell you so, in terms that were far from uncertain — “utter shit” being a description he favoured.

Rarely inhibited by sensitivity, he was certainly not one to dwell on both sides of an argument, even with the most senior editors. A lifelong Labour voter, Pride would stand his ground if he felt the management was treating staff unfairly. When the subs were not provided with a television to watch the 1998 World Cup, Pride articulated his anger to the management. “Our paper reported this morning that in the wilds of the Amazon rainforest the authorities had made clearings and set up large, communal TV screens so the natives can watch their boys in the World Cup,” he began. “That this organisation is unable to arrange a TV for the subs in time for the start of the competition is nothing short of disgraceful. We are all, to say the least, disappointed. As a Scot, I am livid.”

Yet the curmudgeonly Scotsman persona (he was half-Austrian, but full Scot when they were winning at rugby) was something of a veneer. There was nothing Pride liked more than sitting down with his family, eating, drinking malt whisky, smoking, talking music, politics and Tottenham Hotspur, or playing his guitar.

As a writer of music reviews, he incurred the wrath of Moody Blues fans with a scathing account for The Telegraph of their Wembley concert in 1991. The set was dated, he claimed, appealing only to an audience “whose grooviest years were before Ted Heath was in power”. The lyrics featured “embarrassing bouts of navel-gazing that leave few cliches unturned”. In true Pride style, which was something between misery and depression, he lamented: “I have always hatedNights in White Satin”.

If Pride thought he could get that past the Moody Blues’ fan base, who were known for their devotion, he was wrong. One reader wrote to Max Hastings, then editor, demanding that Pride be fired for “lacking in artistic sensitivity”. Others sent hate mail written in green ink, of which Pride was inordinately proud. He did, however, manage to win over some of his subjects: after interviewing Ian Dury, the pair ended up drinking and smoking in the local pub.

And he had a pleasingly dry sense of humour. His Top Tips for Life, for example, included: “A 171 bus will take you wherever you want to go”; “The name of the Spanish town, Jerez, should always be pronounced with flair, and must be mentioned at least once in every conversation. Regardless of the subject”; and, “All geographical locations can be compared to Newbury. Hence everywhere is half the size of Newbury, twice the size of Newbury, even ten times if it’s really big.”

Thomas Ligat Pride was born in 1954 in Newbury, Berkshire, to David, a doctor from Scotland, and Margaret, a radiographer, who was Scottish-Austrian. Due to his dual nationality, Thomas was made to attend Sunday school wearing lederhosen one week and a kilt the next. He attended Newbury Grammar School and showed an interest in English, both literature and language, a niche that would see him correcting people’s grammar throughout his life. After school he began reading politics at the University of Reading, but when he failed to do any work, he was invited to leave and tried again at Goldsmiths, University of London. There he was arrested for climbing over the gates of Greenwich Park after hours. He was fined but refused to pay, rightly confident, as it turned out, that the matter would be forgotten.

After graduating, he spent a couple of years teaching English in Spain before returning to Britain in 1979 to study at Harlow College for his qualifications in journalism. It was at this time that he met Rosalind Stopps, a writer. They had six children and, as a feminist, Pride wanted them to take their mother’s surname. Samuel is a deputy head at a secondary school; Anna has her own brand of fruit teas for children; Charlie works with children who have special needs; Molly teaches at a school for children with autism; and Joey is a salesman at Harrods. Another daughter, Georgia, was stillborn at term. After nearly 20 years together, Rosalind and Pride married in 1999.

He also adored the poetry of WH Auden and Philip Larkin. Shortly before he died, indeed, he shouted out: “Bring me f***ing Larkin,” which he read; quietly, contented.

With five children (he once said he bought 16 tonnes of cereal a month to feed them at breakfast), the Pride family home could resemble a war zone — filled with music, children shouting and a constant battle against mess. When Pride required silence for a weekly radio show he did on ABC in Australia, his family were not always sympathetic. He nevertheless stuck at the gig for 25 years and gained a large fanbase of Australians who enjoyed his wry take on British current affairs.

Not without his eccentricities, Pride bought an old stretch limousine to transport his family and turned its cocktail cabinet into a toy chest. “Tom liked the fact you could wind up the partition and block the kids out,” Rosalind recalled. They drove the limo all over Europe, but because it routinely broke down, most holidays ended with the Prides being towed back to London.

His first job in journalism was as a sub- editor on Doctor magazine. Four years later he joined The Daily Telegraph, where his many jobs included picture editor, news editor, music reviewer and motorbike critic. Throughout his time at The Telegraph he was continuously promoted, “which was he was dismal about,” Ms Stopps said. Moan as he might, Pride loved the newsroom and hardly ever took a sick day, even when his foot was broken after it was run over at a traffic light.

It was as news editor he was held in particularly great esteem. “He knew the hinterland of every story, was gruffly patient with learners like myself and when you rang in, maybe 20 minutes after filing, he would have already read the copy and could tell you what was right or wrong, what was missing and how it ought to be reworked,” Sean O’Neill, chief reporter at The Times, who worked with Pride at The Telegraph in the early 1990s, said.

In the 1980s Pride used his knowledge of the media to lead a campaign against the deportation of Ayse Halil, a Turkish woman whose children attended the same school as theirs. They won after producing a high profile campaign run from their living room, Pride acting as press officer and securing coverage in all the national newspapers.

Pride took redundancy from The Telegraph in 1992, having required the money to fix the dry rot in the family home. Jobs at Radio 4’s Today programme followed. He enjoyed the wireless, and after he joined The Times in 1994, contributed a digest of its pages to Radio Five Live.

For 19 years he was The Times’s chief “copytaster”, a job that involved being on top of all breaking news. A diligent and a voracious reader, he would scour the national papers every day before his shift started, except, out of principle, the Daily Express and the Daily Star.

His news judgment was said to be excellent. “He sent out stories he had found with instructions from simply ‘tart up the intro’ to highlighting a line in paragraph seven saying ‘that’s the story, put that at the top’”, one colleague said.

He spent his last few years as a chief sub-editor on the back bench, where his attention to detail was invaluable.

In 2008 Pride and Rosalind separated and he began a new relationship with Jan Winnicka, a retired teacher he had known since university. Together they bought a narrow boat called The Racy Mole and would spend most weekends on it listening to football on the radio. Another passion was crosswords; he contributed to a crossword blog and would attend conventions with fellow fanatics from all over the world.

He also adored the poetry of WH Auden and Philip Larkin. Shortly before he died, indeed, he shouted out: “Bring me f***ing Larkin,” which he read; quietly, contented.

“An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always.”

Tom Pride, journalist, was born on July 3, 1954. He died of lung cancer on December 22, 2017, aged 63

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