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How Harold changed Times

Former editor of the Sunday Times led the exposure of the thalidomide scandal

08 March, 2018 — By John Gulliver

Sir Harold Evans. Photo: David Shankbone

OUR paths almost crossed. Almost. Eager to start life as a reporter I wrote off to a small country weekly paper in Cheshire – and even swung an interview though not the job.

Harold Evans, on the other hand, landed his first job on a nearby Cheshire weekly in Ashton-Under-Lyme at 16 – and rose to edit the Sunday Times and The Times.

But all those years melted away as he sat on a settee in front of an audience of journos at the HQ of the National Union of Journalists in Gray’s Inn Road the other week and talked about journalism, the digital world – and thalidomide, of course.

That, at 89, is his legacy. As editor of the Sunday Times he led the inspiring exposure of the thalidomide scandal – showing how the drug led to terrible malformations that shocked – and, for once, the word “shock” isn’t a cliché – the nation.

Later, he became editor of The Times, clashed with his proprietor, Rupert Murdoch – and left to work in New York.

How he does it, I don’t know, but he seemed to have the energy of a man in his 40s, not nearly 90.

There is also a firm look about him which made me think he must have been a tough cookie to work under. I glimpsed that when he talked about something he was editing now which he said had the title of From the Steam Engine to. . .??? “Come on you subs (sub-editors!)” he snapped as the word “to” hung lifelessly in the air. “What is it?. . . Search Engine, of course.” A slight look of annoyance seemed to come over him. Then he laughed. And we all relaxed.

Just in case you may be thinking all this belongs to the past you should know that Sir Harold Evans is still hot on the tails of the thalidomide manufacturers exposing events in Germany and Latin America where the killer drug is still being peddled. The pharma companies had better watch out!

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