Given the choice of having ‘International Rally Driver’or ‘Regional Newspaper Great’on his passport, Richard Wooldridge would have probably picked the former.
Richard, who died recently aged 69, had begun his newspaper career as a trainee reporter at the Oxford Mail in the early Sixties. But later, he took some years off to pursue his passion for rally driving, racing against legends such as Roger Clark, Hannu Mikkola and Timo Makinen.
Reluctantly, he returned to journalism as deputy editor of the Surrey Herald before getting his first editorship at the Buckinghamshire Advertiser in the mid-70s.
He was in full throttle at this weekly paper in Chalfont St Peter when I first met him in 1978. It’s often said Richard Wooldridge didn’t suffer fools gladly. Fortunately I was an exception.
He had an immediate and huge impact on me both personally and professionally. He honed my journalistic skills, smoothed some of those rough Gorbals edges and even improved my choice of ties.
Richard and I went on to do missionary work (as he called it) for a couple of years in Hitchin and Stevenage at the North Herts Gazette before we both snagged daily paper chairs in Yorkshire, him in York, me in Bradford. And he continued to provide much needed professional advice and personal friendship to me for many years thereafter.
Somewhere between 1982 and 1991, he managed to wangle being both managing director and editor of the Yorkshire Evening Press, relishing the freedom the joint role gave him to do things his own inimitable way. The resulting campaigning paper was both an editorial and commercial success, winning peer plaudits and industry awards.
Ironically, my mentor and I both became editorial directors at around the same time – he at Westminster Press and me at TRN. A ‘small, exclusive club’he described it. And, as we reminisced one night over a glass or two of red (French, of course), he allowed that it ‘wasn’t bad for a couple of weekly wankers from Chalfont St Peter”!
Richard Wooldridge typified the regional press editor of the time: bold, brave, innovative. ‘Let’s bloody do it”, he’d say. And sod the consequences. It reflected the same attitude he’d taken as a rally driver when he’d literally cheated death on at least a couple of occasions.
Alas, because of the constraints of time and distance (he in France, me in Australia), I hadn’t seen him for a long while before he died. The last time was in New York. He was now top banana at the International Herald Tribune and he was his usual self, planning big changes, a familiar steely glint in those aviator glasses.
Tall, imposing and (occasionally) stern of visage, Richard could seem intimidating to some (I remember many a job interviewee in tears). But he was also an incredibly loyal and warm friend, and devoted family man. He retired a few years ago to his home in the Dordogne where he lived a rich and full life with wife Lynda and children Henrietta and Christopher (plus Lynda’s menagerie of assorted creatures).
And, of course, he still found time for his great passion: he was a regular at classic rallies all over Europe. It’s fair to say Richard Wooldridge was the best rally driver never to have won the Monte Carlo Rally.
Terry Quinn was editor of the Bedfordshire Times, editor of the Telegraph & Argus, Editorial Director of TRN and editor of the Scottish Daily Record. He says his best job ever was chief sub-editor of the Buckinghamshire Advertiser.