Don Smith, former editor of the St Albans Review and the Herts Advertiser, has died at the age of 70.
was a cub reporter on the Finchley Press from 1951 to 1953 and after
completing National Service as an RAF radar operator he found work as a
window dresser for a shoe shop. It was not long before he was wearing
out his soles for the Hampstead & Highgate Express, the flagship of
Home Counties Newspapers, rising to deputy editor under Gerald Isaaman.
1972 and 1973, he spent brief spells on the Bucks Advertiser in
Aylesbury and the Evening Echo in Hemel Hempstead. His first editorship
came in 1973 when he learnt that a new free newspaper, the St Albans
Review, was being launched a few hundred yards from his home by Roy
Scott and Alan Drake, both ex-HCN advertising executives.
unique brand of campaigning community journalism helped to give the
fledgling newspaper credibility as his small but enthusiastic editorial
team produced something almost unknown at that time: a free newspaper
packed with real news. Dry-as-dust subjects such as planning, education
and health were solidly researched and colourfully written in a lively,
first-person style modelled on the Village Voice, the New York paper
Smith so admired. It was largely thanks to him that the citizens of St
Albans were alerted to a monstrous shopping development that was about
to engulf its historic centre.
But there was also space for
culture and fun. Jude’s Jottings was a must-read gossip column, and
Don’s wife Sylvia was a key contributor with her sensitive art reviews.
Neighbour Nicolas Soames contributed a weekly feature on the local
classical music scene.
No reporter on his team would get away with fudging, laziness, guesswork or anything short of total dedication.
the office, he broadened the horizons of all who knew him, introducing
young reporters to Wagner, Messiaen and Stockhausen. After a frantic
week’s work, he might surprise staff by taking them (and a large troupe
of family and friends) on a dawn treeclimbing expedition or whisking
them off to the Electric Cinema in Notting Hill for a late-night
screening of L’AnnÃ©e DerniÃ¨re Ã Marienbad.
Despite his success at
the Review, he was tempted back to the Home Counties and became editor
of the Herts Advertiser. During his three years there his friend and
confidant Robert Runcie, the Bishop of St Albans, revealed that he was
about to be elevated to the See of Canterbury. Don would describe this
as his one and only world scoop.
Sadly, his term at the HA was to
be short-lived. After three years he was sidelined to become HCN’s
group features writer, concentrating latterly on business features
until suffering a breakdown in 1992. Effectively retired from then
onwards, he devoted much of his time to local history, giving guided
tours of the mill house and gardens in Hitchin, where he had lived
More recently, he suffered from depression and
anxiety and spent time in a mental health unit. Then, on 1 July, he
ended his life by stepping in front of a train.
He leaves his wife, Sylvia, four children and eight grandchildren.
Andrew Seib and Paul Humphreys