Sam Syers: 'His passion was in seeking the truth'

Colin Paul ‘Sam’Syers, who was chief sub-editor at the Hampstead & Highgate Express for nearly quarter of a century, has died at the age of 67 after a long illness.

Syers, the youngest of three brothers, was born in Edgware and spent all his life in north-west London’s suburbia.

But his keen intellect and fierce political convictions took his mind well beyond those confines from an early age. While still at Kingsbury grammar school he joined CND and, inspired by a speech from Jimmy Reid, later became a member of the Young Communist League.

After leaving school he joined the Greater London Council, working in the street-naming department, but an interest in journalism and his political convictions soon led him to abandon County Hall for the su-beditors’ table at the Morning Star.

He became an advocate of Allen Hutt’s theories of typography, an affiliation which he maintained faithfully for more than 30 years. In 1967 he met a young Greek Cypriot at a social after a CND march they had both attended, and six months later he and Themi were married.

He joined the Hampstead & Highgate Express – known to its readership and the media world at large as the Ham & High – in 1971 as a subeditor, soon being appointed chief sub. In that role he oversaw a series of redesigns of the paper during the turbulent transition from hot metal to computer-driven layout and production.

His insistence on clean modular design that guided readers easily through what was then a bulky weekly newspaper was carried through to a myriad of details, from text typefaces to section flow.

Sam revelled in the Ham & High’s extensive political and arts coverage, delivered to a readership that boasted an awe-inspiring number of actors, musicians, politicians, academics and media executives.

Although he insisted that he had no skills as a reporter, his jazz reviews revealed a keen interest in a wide range of musicians, from Ornette Coleman to Astor Piazzola, and a witty prose style.

Gerald Isaaman, then editor of the Ham & High, said: ‘Sam Syers was a journalist of great production and radical writing skills who had no ambition to rise, as he easily could have, beyond the confines of the Ham & High during my 25 years as editor.

‘He was a major part of a like-minded team of journalists. Together we achieved a circulation peak of 25,000 in an area just five miles by five miles and profitability of £980,000 on a turnover of £3 million – and that’s almost 30 years ago.

‘Well read and committed, his interests spanned politics, technical innovation and jazz. But his passion was in seeking the truth, which is what good journalism is all about.”

Sam became deputy editor before having to take early retirement at the age of 54, his smoking habit leaving him with emphysema which ultimately led to his death on 4 October, his and Themi’s 44th wedding anniversary.

He is survived by his widow, son Andrew, daughters Anastasia and Joanna, and grandchildren Amy and Joshua.

A memorial gathering is planned. Those interested should email phil.sommerich@gmail.com.

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