18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
It's probably unfair to say that Harold Evans has led a charmed life, but there's ample support for that conclusion in this spirited memoir of his diverse career in newspapers and publishing. The story of his rise from a working class background in Manchester, England to the heights of British journalism is a briskly and skillfully told tale of hard work, a healthy dose of luck and an unflagging commitment to the highest standards of the profession he has pursued with admirable intensity for more than half a century.
From his days as a 16-year-old working on the Ashton-under-Lyne Reporter, Evans seemed to have newspapers in his blood. Overcoming his share of Britain's class prejudice as he scrambled up journalism's equivalent of Disraeli's "greasy pole," he displayed a healthy appetite for the grunt work that brought him to the attention of superiors who offered him positions of increasing responsibility along the way until he became editor, in 1961, of the stodgy Darlington Northern Echo, a regional paper in England's northeast. In that role, he launched a series of investigative campaigns that served as the model for the more far-reaching and dramatic ones he would pursue when he moved to London.
Evans astutely grasped early in his career that "transmitting information is easier than creating understanding," and throughout, he devoted himself to stimulating readers and provoking them to action. Although it's apparent he possessed rich stores of self-confidence to sustain him in the rough and tumble world of British journalism, there's a nice air of self-deprecation in observations like this one, attributed to one of his colleagues: "The only qualities essential for real success in journalism are rat-like cunning, a plausible manner, and a little literary ability."
The pace of the memoir slows somewhat in its second half, the bulk of which recounts the years that Evans served as editor of the London Sunday Times. In contrast to the crisp and frequently humorous stories of his upward climb in the newspaper business, in these chapters he tends to dwell at length, although with understandable pride, on the investigative journalism he relished. One chapter details the obstacles posed by Britain's Official Secrets Act to the effort to uncover the truth about the Kim Philby spy case. Another chronicles the paper's lengthy campaign to help secure just compensation for the young victims of the drug Thalidomide, exposing a sorry tale of corporate greed and the intransigence of the British civil justice system in the process. And in one of the book's lengthiest accounts, Evans relates the mystery surrounding the death of the Times Middle East correspondent David Holden, the victim of a still unsolved murder plot in Cairo. While Evans narrates these stories with passion and verve, some of the controversies lack sufficient intrinsic interest, and most of the principal actors are so little known, that American readers, at least, may find their interest flagging.
Although it's given fairly cursory treatment relative to the rest of his memoir, the most recent quarter century or so of Evans's life, including forays into the worlds of magazine (Condé Nast Traveler and U.S. News & World Report) and book (Atlantic Monthly Press and Random House) publishing, has been among the most stimulating. He's frank in describing how his affair with glamorous journalist and editor Tina Brown (so famous, he notes wryly, that some have referred to him as "Mr. Harold Brown") brought an end, amicable as he describes it, to his first marriage. His take on Rupert Murdoch, who purchased the Times as it emerged from a year-long strike in 1981 and forced Evans from his position as editor of the paper after barely a year in that position, is harsh, but in some respects oddly admiring. These portraits, and numerous others like them, are offered up in a witty, verbally dexterous style.
MY PAPER CHASE closes by reminding us that not a week goes by when there's not some dispiriting story of the real or threatened collapse of a venerable newspaper in this country. Given the dismal state of the industry, one might expect the memoir of a man who had spent most of his life toiling as a print journalist to end on an elegiac note. Instead, reflecting the adaptability that sustained his career, Evans is optimistic about the ability of the traditional newspaper to transform itself into something just as important and useful in the new world of online media. "The question is not whether Internet journalism will be dominant," he writes, "but whether it will maintain the quality of the best print journalism. In the end it is not the delivery system that counts. It is what it delivers."
If the current generation of journalists is determined to carry on with integrity and grit equal to Harold Evans's, perhaps those who cherish newspaper journalism don't have as much to fear as they may think.
--- Reviewed by Harvey Freedenberg
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Gaby at Starting Fresh blog
- Published on Amazon.com
Harold Evans' My Paper Chase: True Stories of Vanished Times appears a bit intimidating at first, if only because of the breadth, depth, and heft of it. But Harold Evans' writing flows, I found myself thoroughly engrossed. Born in 1928 from working class parents, Evans became a reporter at sixteen. His natural ability, drive, tenacity, and nose for a good story led him not just to excel in his field but to take on unrecognized and unpopular causes and to sway public opinion. One of the book's greatest strengths is the extent to which Evans gives us the background and context for each of the events or stories that he shares.
At the start, Evans delves into his own background. His father had little formal education but was a genius at numbers. For instance, if you named a date whether it was 25 years ago or just a few months, his father could unerringly identify which day of the week it was. He worked his way up at the railway, beginning as an engine cleaner to the position of driver. His ability to calculate how much a person's wages would be, taking into account the different wage scales, overtime, deductions, and irregular hours, was recognized in his company's accounting staff and won him the gratitude and affection of his colleagues at the railway. Evans points out that in England at that time, his father's mathematical abilities, even coupled with hard work, would not have afforded him better opportunities because of "the Geddes axe." Sir Eric Geddes, a.k.a. Lord Inchcape, a Minister of the Crown and the former manager of the North Eastern Railway Company, had a strong contempt for the abilities of the working class. In his committee's examination of the expenditure of public funds, he advised against giving secondary school education to poor children, "children whose mental capabilities do not justify it" - essentially consigning an entire generation to very limited prospects.
Evans' generation were given the opportunity to advance through a limited number of scholarships granted to ex-servicemen by the Ministry of Education, through the Butler Education Act in Great Britain. The Butler Act was a more restrictive version of the G.I. Bill but it paid for Evans' university education.
Evans shares what it was like to work in the early newsrooms, where typewriters, typesetters, scissors, spikes, and paste were critical tools of the trade. In the chapter Stop Press, Evans shares what it was like as a young "copy taster" managing the coverage of the unfolding of the Harrow-Wealdstone disaster - a train crash that quickly became a collision of three trains with 75 dead and 110 feared dead for Manchester Evening News. He managed, edited, revised, and published eight editions in six hours, without the help of computers.
Evans' projects range from battling air pollution to helping improve overseas newspapers, to beautifying Manchester to exposing the cause of the deadliest DC-10 air crash and uncovering one of the largest health scandals in the century.
I wish that I'd gotten this review out earlier to help people who might be looking for a good book whether for themselves or their loved ones. I found it fascinating - it's a book that I'll enjoy rereading at leisure.
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (November 5, 2009), 592 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.