Reading Donald Trelford’s history of a public friend and companion

The former Observer editor’s book tells how newspapers have an existence of their own – and sometimes their lives need saving

Today’s print newspapers still, in one sense, wrap tomorrow’s cod and french fries. But there is a different way of remembering them. One of the things that prompted Donald Trelford, editor of this paper from 1975 to 1993, to write Shouting in the Street, his collation of reminiscences (Biteback, £25), was simply that. He had two very young children who, as he turned 80, would never really understand the life he had lived – unless he told them.

What will Ben and Poppy make of it all once they are fully grown? Perhaps that the great journalists who fill the book’s pages – David Astor, Michael Davie, Katharine Whitehorn, Anthony Sampson and many others – were more than names on a dusty page. Perhaps that there always was and always will be ambition and double-dealing in any human activity, including newsrooms: see Trelford’s feline dispatch of a conniving deputy, Anthony Howard.

But they will surely be struck most of all by their dad’s gallant efforts to sustain the Observer as, through his years in charge, he fought for its survival in a world of ever-changing ownerships. They won’t know Tiny Rowland from Lonrho, Sir Edward du Cann or Robert O Anderson of Atlantic Richfield: but they will know that editing so well for so long was victory snatched from the ever-snapping jaws of defeat.

They may also learn something profound about the business of journalism. Newspapers, first very rough drafts of history, may disappear with the fish and chips. But newspapers are living organisms, the constructs of time, vision and history that give them an existence. They live, too. They are stages where the curtain rises fresh each morning.

Trelford – often lonely, perpetually embattled – helped save the paper he loved. He sensed an instinctive duty to a historic friend and public companion. Will Ben and Poppy find that in the Facebooks and Googles of their lives when they’re grown?


Peter Preston

The GuardianTramp

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