Mourners, including many friends and colleagues from Fleet Street, packed East Brakespear crematorium, Middlesex, last week for the funeral of Bill Phillips, one of the most respected journalists in national newspapers who has died suddenly, aged 60.
Phillips was of the old school: he started as a copy boy on Lord Beaverbrook’s Scottish Daily Express in Glasgow, won promotion to the home and then features sub-editors’ desk before moving to The Guardian in 1969, shortly after the paper moved its headquarters from Manchester to London.
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Apart from a short spell in Australia, Phillips served The Guardian for 34 years, initially in the home sub-editors, then excelling in the foreign department, before moving to the City subs’ desk. When The Guardian was fighting for survival in the late Sixties and early Seventies, Phillips was a key member of the much-smaller-than-now editorial staff which battled against the odds each night to produce the paper in hot metal. He was a legend on the stone, earning the admiration of journalist and printer colleagues for his cool-headed, deft work.
Phillips was a widely read man of high integrity. He was born in a small, rural village outside Glasgow, and made few concessions to living in the South (and to Phillips that meant anywhere south of the Solway Firth). He maintained his mellifluous Scottish accent, used to good effect when negotiating as one of Fleet Street’s most successful fathers of the National Union of Journalists’ chapel. The four-day working week was among Phillips’ achievements in that office – undertaken for others, not himself. He later served as chairman of The Guardian NUJ chapel.
Phillips was a nice man who encouraged and nurtured many young journalists. There was always laughter in his company and his friends remember with great affection those nights when, over a glass of beer, the first edition put safely to bed, Phillips would entertain with a fund of stories and anecdotes. His untimely death is all the more poignant given that he was only a few weeks away from taking early retirement.
Phillips, a committed family man, leaves a widow, Puni, and two sons, Alexander and Robert. The Guardian office is already a much duller place without his benign presence.