Former Eastern Daily Press editor John Downing dies

A newspaperman to the core, John Downing was in the editor’s chair when the EDP became the country’s best-selling regional paper. He died

His six years as editor were eventful, and for three weeks in May 1980 the EDP was not published due to action by printers.

Downing, who died on Sunday aged 76 in Norwich, joined the Norfolk News Company – later Eastern Counties Newspapers and now Archant – on 25 March 1957 as a reporter based in Norwich.

It was a time when the EDP’s parent company was paying Norwich City’s wages bill and the paper’s back page was filled with advertisements.

He also worked at the King’s Lynn office but covered local government, especially the city and county councils. He became chief reporter at Norwich in 1968 and a year later became assistant news editor.

He was assistant editor of the Eastern Evening News in April 1975 and in March 1977 was promoted news editor. Then, in 1979, he was appointed editor of the EDP until October 1985 when he became managing editor. He retired in May 1991.

Under his tenure, the EDP became the country’s best selling regional daily.

Downing, who was an only son, was born in Nottingham and lived during the war in Derby. His last two years of school were spent in Exeter where his father taught English. Later he did National Service with the RAF.

He joined the Derbyshire Advertiser, where by chance his future wife, Jennie, was on the Derby Evening Telegraph but they never actually met. He then joined the Wolverhampton Express and Star at Cannock before moving to Norwich.

Jennie moved to Norwich at Christmas 1958 to join the staff as a feature writer on the Evening News. They married in September 1964.

Downing’s coverage of local government was responsible, indirectly, for their living in one of the oldest houses in the city – dating from the 1630s.

He had been sent by the then editor, Stanley Bagshaw, to report on Norwich City Council’s housing improvements in King Street, opposite Wensum Lodge. When he saw that the houses were being renovated, joking, he said: “Put my name down for one.”

“We lived there for another 16 years before we got the right to buy from the council,” said his widow.

In his 34-year career with ECN, he was a long-standing member of the East Anglia branch of the Guild of British Newspaper Editors and president in 1986.

Recently, they had enjoyed a holiday in South Africa and Mauritius but he became ill shortly after returning home. Admitted to the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital’s intensive care unit, he never fully recovered after surgery.

EDP editor Peter Franzen said: “John possessed a warm character that made him easy to talk to – a big asset for a journalist.

“As editor of the EDP he had a great contacts book and was at the helm during the newspaper’s golden years when it sold in excess of 90,000 copies daily.

“Even in retirement he maintained his interest in the news, and especially the EDP. In latter years when we met up, John and Jennie would relate their latest globe-trotting adventures, but they also wanted to know of any new developments at the EDP.

He leaves a widow, Jennie, and two children, Claire, and Mark, and three grandchildren. A funeral service will be held at Earlham Crematorium on Wednesday 8 April at 3pm.

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