Peter Preston remembered by IMPRESS CEO Jonathan Heawood
I first met Peter Preston, who has died aged 79, when I joined the books desk of the Observer. He was no longer the editor of the Guardian, but he kept a close eye on things at Farringdon Road, where the Guardian and Observer had their offices. He often wandered over to our corner of the newsroom to talk about books and journalism and – with particular pleasure – books about journalism.
He was just as interested in the past of Fleet Street as its future, but he was no romantic. In a review of Newspapermen – Ruth Dudley Edwards’s biography of the Mirror owner, Cecil Harmsworth King, and his editor, Hugh Cudlipp – Peter described post-war Fleet Street as ‘a managerial desert and elephants’ graveyard’ which often produced no more than ‘cheap showbusiness.’
Still, he believed fervently in the public role of journalism, and supported a number of journalists’ charities and press freedom campaigns.
He was a journalist to his fingertips, a member of a tribe that tends to look on itself through rose-tinted spectacles.
Peter disagreed with my belief in the need for independent self-regulation. But he was prepared to give airtime to both sides of the argument, and he excoriated those in the press who failed to live up to his own high standards.
He was always in favour of dialogue, and we continued to meet, to speak on the phone and to exchange emails into the last few months of his life. Our last phone call ended with Peter saying that we would just have to agree to disagree. It was characteristic of his civil yet pugnacious approach. I will miss him.