Harold Evans as editor of the Sunday Times in London shook the British establishment with a series of old-fashioned scoops.
Evans, who with his wife, Tina Brown, became a New York City cultural icon after leaving Britain, died Wednesday at age 92 from heart failure.
"My Paper Chase: True Stories of Vanishing Times," one of his many books, ranks among the best journalistic memoirs, telling how he rose from modest origins in Manchester, England, to leadership of Britain's most powerful newspaper.
Unlike most establishment British journalists, Evans didn't graduate from Oxford or Cambridge. He first made his mark as the editor of the Northern Echo in Darlington. Several stories at the regional paper that gained national attention fueled his jump to the revered Sunday Times, which he led from 1967-1981.
Under Evans' leadership, the Sunday Times "insight team" uncovered that the morning sickness drug thalidomide taken by pregnant women caused deformities in their babies. The newspaper also revealed that Soviet spy Kim Philby had been a high-ranking British intelligence official.
But the most consequential story for British society was the revelation that British soldiers shot and killed 13 unarmed Irish citizens in Derry, Ireland, in the Bloody Sunday massacre of Jan. 30, 1970. An official investigation claimed that the troops returned fire from the IRA, but Evans' reporters found that the shootings were unprovoked.
Evans was one of the last newspapermen who could perform every skill in putting out a paper: reporting, copy editing, editorial writing, layout, headline writing, photography, cropping a photo. Even in his later prestigious roles, he remained proud of his ink-stained roots. Several of his books dealt with aspects of newspaper work, including his last book, a primer on grammar and usage.
Unlike with major American newspapers, the Sunday Times and daily Times had separate editors. After right-wing press baron Rupert Murdoch purchased the Times and Sunday Times, Evans was briefly editor of the daily Times. But Murdoch's displeasure at Evans' criticism of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher led to his ouster.
Evans moved to New York City with his younger wife, Tina Brown, who rejuvenated Conde Nast's Vanity Fair and the New Yorker. Her recently published diaries give a view of their life among the New York cultural elite.
While Brown shook up New York's magazine world, Evans found several prestigious positions: editor of U.S. News and World Report, the founding editor of Conde Nast's Traveler magazine, professor at Duke and Yale, and president of Random House, where he published a number of mega-best sellers. In his later years, he was a high-ranking editor at Reuters.
His career paralleled that of another swashbuckling editor, the Washington Post's Ben Bradlee, who also left his first wife for a younger woman journalist, Sally Quinn. Evans and Brown were married at the Long Island home of Bradlee and Quinn.
Evans never lost his passion for the smell and feel of a freshly printed newspaper. A digital screen will never have that romance.