He was a man who journalists aspire to be, a man who went far beyond just reporting.
On Wednesday Sir Harry Evans died of congestive heart failure in New York.
In a career that span over 70 years, he took us beyond sensationalism and exemplified what it meant to be a journalist, to question and to expose. Armed by whit and charisma he campaigned for the underrepresented, exposing human rights abuses and political scandals.
Born in Eccles, Manchester in June 1928, to a working-class family, he went from humble beginnings to single-handedly pave the way of investigative journalism in the UK.
His journey is one of inspiration. A man who started his career at the age of 16 where during the Second World War he worked at a local paper. He first covered local news; courtroom cases, cake stalls, and eventful pub tales. After the apprenticeship, determined to be a journalist he went on to study at Durham University.
Shortly after he travelled to America in the 1950s where he covered the early Civil Rights movement. That’s when his love affair with America first began, fascinated by it he went on to live there, but only later in life after he had transformed and made his mark on newsrooms in the UK.
He returned to Manchester where he worked at the Manchester Evening News and eventually became the Editor of the Northern Echo. In 1966, he successfully won a posthumous pardon for innocent Welshman Timothy Evans who was hanged after being wrongly accused of killing his wife and child.
It wasn’t long before others started to notice that Harry was a force to be reckoned with and in his 30’s he became the Editor at the Sunday Times.
His most noted work remains the campaign and exposure of the victims of Thalidomide – A notorious drug that was given to pregnant women which left hundreds of children born with birth defects.
The campaign he launched was responsible for awarding the families with compensation. When describing in an interview what he felt when he uncovered the reports and evidence, he said ‘I was gobsmacked.’
A man of charm, infectious energy and a special way with words he was never intimidated by power and was led by conviction – To expose the truth.
‘Peeling the onion, peeling the onion’ he said, was the most important thing a journalist could to – find the facts and allow for them to lead you.
He worked at the Sunday Times until after 14 years he left to settle in America with his wife Tina Brown following a disagreement with Rupert Murdoch.
She said in an interview that the first time she saw him ‘was like watching the Nijinsky dance.’ She edited at the Vanity Fair and the New Yorker, while he became the founding editor of Condé Nast magazine. They lived in America where they raised their two children and he eventually was granted citizenship.
Harry was knighted for services to journalism in 2004.
With a sincere love of the craft at the age of 82, Harry was appointed Editor-at-Large at Reuters.
He taught us what the power of words meant, what they could achieve. How journalism is a craft with colour, both bright and dark. It has the ability to provoke thought, stir silence, and bring about change. He exemplified the best of the industry and he leaves with a wholesome legacy.
Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon have both led tributes on Twitter.
The Prime Minister, himself a journalist by trade, said: “Sir Harold Evans worked his way up from local papers to become a giant of British journalism.
“He will always be remembered for exposing the thalidomide scandal and for tirelessly campaigning on behalf of those who were affected. A true pioneer of investigative journalism.”
Ms Sturgeon added: “Very sorry to hear that the legendary Journalist, Sir Harold Evans has died. I always enjoyed talking to Harry, and we has a lively conversation when he interviewed me at the Women in the World in 2015. My condolences go to @TinaBrownLM and his family.”