Alan Rusbridger on Peter Preston: 'He personified the Guardian character and values'

Peter Preston was a Guardian lifer and personified the Guardian character and values. He was a loner and an outsider.

His first job as editor in 1975 had been to tidy up the loose ends of the still-recent move from Manchester.

In London, the Guardian was perched at the edge of Fleet Street, never quite part of the Club. And that, one sensed, suited Peter fine.

Many of the generation running the Guardian when he joined in 1963 had started in Manchester just after the war.

They‘d been hired by AP Wadsworth (editor from 1944 – 1955), who himself  had  joined the Manchester Guardian in 1917.

Wadsworth had overlapped with the greatest editor, CP Scott, for 15 years. And Scott went back to 1875. That’s continuity.

When I joined the paper in 1979 it still felt like – and, in a real sense, was – a family newspaper. Peter had been editor for just four years and was determined to professionalise it and put down solid roots in London.

Over the next 15 years he modernised the paper’s tone; transformed its design; and introduced a more urgent investigative edge.

To a paper that had virtually no features section (arts, comment, women were the three non-news desks) he added G2 and a much-enhanced Saturday package.

His Guardian came close to be eclipsed by the newly-launched Independent, but his radical 1988 typographical overhaul of the paper was the start of a typically dogged fight-back.

Peter was unshowy and low key. He could do every job on the paper, and people knew it. He was always on the look-out for the new.

When Saturday sales were becalmed he set up a team of young creatives in the basement to find new ideas: they came up with the A5 Guide which, along with a new magazine, turned Saturday from being the weakest-selling day of the week to the strongest.

In addition to editing and commentating, Peter worked tirelessly for press freedom and training abroad – especially in Africa and East Europe.

Numerous younger journalists have testified in recent days as to his warmth, generosity and encouragement.

He started on the Guardian in 1963 and wrote his last column – still employed by the same newspaper group –  nearly 55 years later. We won’t see the like of Peter Preston again.

It’s worth reading his last column carefully. Normally Peter was very gentle about his own profession, but his last column was quite sharp about feelings about his trade and his hope that a better form of journalism might emerge after his death.

Alan Rusbridger succeeded Peter Preston (pictured top) as Guardian editor in 1995 before stepping down in 2015.

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