John Gerard, who has died aged 60, was among the last of a breed of journalist who learned their craft not in the university lecture room, but out on the road, taking names at fêtes and funerals.
The son of a Scots Guardsman, he had a fractured childhood and his education was disrupted both by the peripatetic army life, and by his parents’
divorce in an era when such separations were still taboo.
He found his forte when taken on as a cub reporter at the Surrey Advertiser, and by the age of 19 he was editing its stablemate, the Woking News and Mail.
He moved from there to Essex in 1970 to prepare for the launch of Colchester’s Evening Gazette, starting out as news editor and swiftly becoming the country’s youngest daily newspaper editor at 26. The paper was youthful and brash and picked up a hatful of awards.
By the time he and the Gazette parted company in 1979, Gerard’s health was already beginning to suffer from the journalist’s age-old weaknesses — too long hours, too much whisky and too many cigarettes.
He took a sabbatical to the US and returned to join Press Gazette, eventually inheriting the editor’s chair.
He took another short career break after leaving the magazine in 1984 before joining The Times foreign subs’
desk in 1985.
The following year he was proud to be in the vanguard of the Wapping revolution, one of the handful of people to be working in the plant preparing for the great transition before the printers’
walkout forced the move.
Ever glued to the wires for breaking news, he was delighted to be the man to break the news to Rupert Murdoch: "Your printers have gone on strike."
At The Times, Gerard carved himself a niche as foreign copytaster, where he was known for his vigour in following up every nuance of a story and for ferreting out the quirkiest stories that would lend themselves to an even quirkier headline as the bottom nib.
Two were recalled at his funeral: the Soviet espionage story that broke at Christmas inspired the head "Minsk spies" and the Bogart commemorative stamps which were topped "Here’s licking at you, kid".
Away from the office, Gerard showed unexpected talents as a self-taught musician/songwriter and author of comic verse. His few heroes included John Lennon.
His other great love was football.
Born in Manchester, he was an avid United fan and mocked those from the rest of the country — and indeed the world — who jumped on his team’s bandwagon in the glory days.
Gerard’s health deteriorated sharply in his later years and he was admitted to hospital as an emergency in January last year. His recovery was slow, but he remained determined to get back to work, even when it became apparent to those around him that there would be no return. He was taken back to hospital after a fall at home in January and died on 7 February.
Gerard was married and divorced three times. He is survived by his stepdaughter.
John Gerard edited UK Press Gazette from July 1982 to October 1984. On leaving in 1984, Gerard wrote: "It is both a pleasure and a privilege to have edited journalism’s newspaper.
"I have always taken the view that journalism is a community and that UKPG is that community’s newspaper."