Keith Whetstone

Long after he retired as an editor, Keith Whetstone liked nothing better than talking newspapers.

He was not always complimentary about their modern standards, especially their lack of care over the English language that he guarded so assiduously, but he loved them nevertheless. And he loved the people who made them.

Many former colleagues, like me, will miss those conversations. Keith, former editor of the Cambridge Evening News, Coventry Evening Telegraph and Birmingham Post and Mail, died from prostate cancer on 1 September 2002, aged 72.

He was theatre critic and most trusted reporter when I first knew him as a raw trainee at Coventry. By then he had also been a reporter for the Western Morning News in

Plymouth (from 1953) and a sub on the Birmingham Post (from 1955 to 58).

Standing in for the chief reporter, he dispatched three of us school-leavers to introduce ourselves to the city’s great and good on our first day. The terror was never forgotten.

Not much later, Lord Iliffe, then the owner of all the papers Keith was to edit, chose him for Cambridge in 1964. It was a time he always said he enjoyed the most, turning galleys of type, then assembled into pages by comps, into a proper local newspaper. Life in town and among the gowns was a pleasure for a man who always enjoyed the society of others, especially those who challenged him intellectually.

Then in 1970 it was home to Coventry and the editorship of the Evening Telegraph. His task was to steady the ship at a time when evening newspapers were enjoying their highest sales. That was his strength: to sustain what was good and to work riskier notions out of the system. There, I became his deputy, learning from him the craft of editorship, not least in those ritual end-of-the-day ‘let’s talk newspapers’ sessions.

Keith knew everyone: the city’s newsmakers of course, but also his old school cronies, the local theatre set and, most of all, anyone who had ever played rugby and could hold a pint. In those days, dinners filled most winter evenings. When they didn’t, a convivial drink or two and good conversation with his many friends pleased him most while drawing on his trademark curled pipe.

In 1980, Keith was entrusted with the editorship of the Evening Mail, Birmingham, then the largest of the Iliffe papers. He was ideally suited to bringing integrity to an editorial operation that had gone through difficult times. He was later to be asked to edit the Birmingham Post in tandem with the Mail. Inevitably, the burden took its toll and he retired in 1986 on ill-health grounds aged 56.

Keith was always active within the industry. He was chairman of the Guild of Editors’ parliamentary and legal committee, winning battles in the Sixties for journalists everywhere, especially over access to local government decision-making, and was West Midlands chairman in 1972-73. He became national president in 1976. He was also a member of the Press Council from 1980-86 and, as an old Navy man, served on the old D-Notices Committee advising editors on defence issues.

Since his retirement, Keith and his wife Monica, to whom he was married almost 50 years, shared their time between homes in France and near Coventry, where their three sons and nine grandchildren live.

But he still found time for his beloved journalism, often travelling back from France to supervise NCTJ examinations in the West Midlands and marking candidates’ papers. For many years he organised the Samuel Storey Awards for writing editors. He was a life member of the Society of Editors.

His greatest honour came in 1983 when he was made an OBE for services to journalism. Keith was an outstanding man of his time, as his many friends will always remember.

Geoff Elliott,

former editor of the Coventry Evening Telegraph and The News, Portsmouth,

now head of journalism at the University of Central Lancashire

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