Obituary Ewen Campbell

HOLDING COURT: Ewen Campbell, centre, with Jon Marsh, left, before the launch of Eastern Express in Hong Kong                                        Photo: Copyright Paul Lakatos

Former Starman Ewen Campbell died on July 26, 2022, aged 69

Ewen Campbell’s career spanned the helter-skelter era of British national newspapers and today’s sprawling digital media age. It took him to three continents, and the city that was never far from his heart, Hong Kong.

Yet it all began in his home town of Whitley Bay in the Northeast of England. After leaving grammar school, he joined the weekly Whitley Bay Guardian as a junior reporter.

It was the start of a journey that would take him to Hong Kong, Bangkok and Auckland via Manchester. But before then, he would hone his skills as an outstanding production journalist on The Northern Echo. 

Even in the 1970s, it still bathed in the afterglow of Harold Evans’ editorship a decade earlier. The Darlington-based newspaper was also the largest-selling provincial morning in the country.

As a news sub-editor in the early 70s, Ewen became part of a team destined for Fleet Street titles such as The Sun, the Daily Star, The Times and The Independent.

His larger-than-life character and side-splitting humour would single him out and complement an array of journalistic skills that would endear him to his colleagues.

“I worked with Ewen at the North Press, The Northern Echo and the Daily Star,” said former colleague Steve Wolstencroft. “There aren’t many people in the sometimes-backstabbing world of newspapers who never have a bad word said about them. Ewen was one of them.

“He was the bloke you’d want to have beside you in the office and next to you at the bar in the pub. He was a great lad.”

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It was those characteristics that would stand him in good stead when he moved to Manchester in 1979 to join the newly launched Daily Star. With other national newspaper wannabes from the Echo, he rolled up on the sports desk as a sub-editor.

Trisha Harbord, a close friend and Daily Star colleague, said: “Ewen was a gifted, intelligent and knowledgeable writer – sport, news, business – he did them all. He was also a superb story-teller and I can see him now standing at a bar in Ancoats with everyone around him howling with laughter. He was a one-off, a true star.”

By the time Ewen, pictured right,  left in the mid-80s for Hong Kong, he was on the back bench. But at first, his new beginning on the best-selling South China Morning Post did not go according to plan. 

Finding out that the sports editor’s chair he had been promised had been taken, he switched to news. In the years that followed, he worked on the back bench at the SCMP before eventually taking over the sports editor’s role.

By now, new technology was shaking up the media landscape in Hong Kong and Ewen was in the thick of it. Recruited as production editor for the launch of Eastern Express, he worked closely with the editor Steve Vines and managing editor Jon Marsh to build a formidable team.

Jon said: “The launch deadline was very tight and the new technology shaky. Ewen was the driving force who kept everyone going as publication day loomed. His relentless energy and extraordinary ability to get people to work together no matter what pulled us through. 

“He was the glue. Without Ewen, Eastern Express would never have met that deadline. He was a true force of nature and a wonderful friend and colleague.”

Owned by the Oriental Press Group, the English-language daily was hailed as a critical success when it rolled off the presses in 1994. Two years later, it was closed down after being plagued by commercial problems.

But before that happened, Ewen was in Bangkok, working on another launch project. This time for Asia Times, a daily newspaper modelled on the Financial Times with bureaus across Asia and the United States. 

Printed in Bangkok, Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York and London, it first appeared in 1995. But again, the newspaper suffered commercial challenges and became a victim of the 1997 Asian financial crisis. 

Next stop for Ewen was Auckland, where he was sports editor of The New Zealand Herald before returning to his beloved Hong Kong and the scenic seaside village of Shek O in the early 2000s.

He went on to work for publications such as iMail and the satirical magazine Spike before re-joining the South China Morning Post. When he left in 2012, he was night editor.

Ewen later branched out into the world of corporate communications before helping to resuscitate the online version of Asia Times as an editorial consultant.

Former colleague Gordon Watts, who worked with him in the UK, Hong Kong and Thailand, said: “He was always a newspaper man and a brilliant one at that. He was also one of life’s good guys.” 

David Harbord, a former Daily Star colleague, who met up with Ewen in Asia just a few weeks ago, also paid tribute to his great friend of 45 years: “He was huge fun to be around and enriched so many lives. I thought of him not just as a friend, but a brother.”

Ewen died from cancer in Hong Kong, aged 69. He leaves his beloved partner Teri, daughters Sarah and Molly, son Hamish and grandchildren Malcolm and Edie.

© 2005-2022 Alastair McIntyre