Michael Owen, who has died at the age of 59, was for almost 20 years the arts editor of The London Evening Standard, a job to which he brought passion, expert knowledge and more than a little mischief.
In his heyday, he was the interviewer of choice for the cream of both British arts personalities, and for visiting stars from abroad, who knew that in his Friday People pages they would get a fair and sympathetic hearing.
Unlike most show business journalists, Owen was more interested in their work than in their private lives.
But if his column often featured the famous – Diana Rigg, Maggie Smith, Placido Domingo, Judi Dench, Franco Zeffirelli, Kiri te Kanawa and Andrew Lloyd Webber were among those he regularly profiled over the years – he also had a sharp eye for fresh talent.
Owen was the first to spot the young actress Nichola McAuliffe, after Arnold Wesker wrote a one-woman show for her, and on another occasion he devoted the whole of his doublepage spread to the first London International Festival of Theatre. It was a project organised by two young and inexperienced university graduates who few took seriously at the time. Owen spotted their potential, and LIFT went on to become a landmark in London’s cultural life over the next 20 years.
As well as writing the Friday arts pages, which he inherited from his mentor, Sydney Edwards, after the latter’s sudden death in 1979, Owen was also responsible for organising The Evening Standard Drama Awards.
Under his guidance they came to rival the Tony Awards in New York for prestige and glamour. His famously comprehensive contacts book, invariably kept locked in the bottom drawer of his desk. ensured that the roll call of stars attending the event was unmatched.
However, Michael was subject to terrible bouts of depression in his final years and took his own life in a Sheffield hotel.
Charles Spencer Daily Telegraph theatre critic