Former Sun news editor who transformed the Leicester Mercury dies aged 84 - Press Gazette

Former Sun news editor who transformed the Leicester Mercury dies aged 84

Neville Stack, in my view the brightest newspaperman of his generation, has died aged 84.

We have known each other since childhood. He was amongst the cleverest people I have known – a good and loyal friend and the most lovable of men.

His son Jonathan emailed me with the sad news. “He was up with us for the weekend and was in really good form,” he said. “He had a long chat with my sister Portia on Skype in the morning and then said he was going to walk the dogs.

“I found him over the computer when I went in to check on him a little later; quite dead, but very peaceful.

 “Only a few weeks ago he did the paperwork about donating his body to medical science, and this morning he was transported off to Galway University hospital.”

He died as he lived – writing on a keyboard and endlessly giving of himself for the good of others.

He was a quiet person and it was difficult to reconcile the man with his dazzling record.

We first worked together on the Mirror, before he went on to edit the Stockport Advertiser, became a photo journalist on the Express, an investigator and news editor on the Sunday People, and later news editor of The Sun.

When Murdoch took over, the paper was no longer to his taste.

He left to launch a series of freesheets in Manchester and went on to edit the Leicester Mercury, where he bought the paper out single-handedly during a strike and took the paper from being the tenth biggest regional daily to the fifth with a circulation of 155,000.

When he retired after 13 years he was given an honorary degree by the University of Leicester.

He was the first Press Fellow at Wolfson College, Cambridge, between 1987-88.

It was a reward from his employers at the Leicester Mercury for a remarkable stint as editor of that paper from 1974 to 1987, during which time he transformed it.

Neville loved Wolfson. Asked what he liked most about it, he coined a phrase that has resonated ever since: “The ambient IQ."

During his Fellowship he organised a very successful symposium, attended by some of the major figures in the UK newspaper world, on ‘Editing in the Nineties’.

Bill Kirkman, director of the Press Fellowship Programme, says:

Neville approached being Press Fellow as he approached everything else – with huge and infectious enthusiasm.

He used the Wolfson opportunity to build a new phase in his career, and quickly became known internationally as a columnist, and also as an organiser of seminars for young journalists in different parts of the world.

I say organiser, but in effect Neville often worked as a one-man band, with boundless energy and commitment. He brought to the role great experience, not only in provincial papers (he had edited the Stockport Advertiser before moving to the Leicester Mercury) but also as a sub-editor on the Daily Express in the 1970s.

Neville was a great character, and a great asset to Wolfson.

He did some training courses for Caxton Publishing, which is the biggest free-sheet operation in South Africa, training editors from various media houses in the country including Naspers (Media24), owners of City Press newspaper.

He was subsequently engaged by Avusa (then Johncom) owners of South Africa’s biggest Sunday newspaper, The Sunday Times, where he trained middle-management editorial executives, as well as doing training at The Sowetan.

He syndicated a column to newspapers all over the Commonwealth and ran similar courses for the Straits Times in Singapore and in Trinidad.

Kathy Ann Waterman Latchoo, deputy director of Public Prosecutions of Trinidad and Tobago and a writer, editor, consultant in journalism and media law, remembers him fondly from her days as editor of the Daily Express in Trinidad:

‘I only work for people I like,’ Neville used to say.

He could pick and choose where he wanted to work as a newspaper consultant. And he chose the Express newspapers in Trinidad and Tobago. Twice, in the 1990s.

He had a clever and inspiring technique to foretell the future and beat the competition. ‘Futuring,’ he called it.

He loved mentoring younger journalists, seeing them grow confident and strong. We immediately fell hard for each other, in a purely professional way.

He saw potential, I saw a light. Neville was all about excellence and perseverance. He never gave up; he never let anyone he cared about give up. He was loyal to the core.

He encouraged me to accept the job of editor of the Daily Express in 1999 and talked me through every crisis. When I moved onto another field, he insisted I keep writing and coaching – which I did, using his techniques and worksheets which he merrily sent to me.

How could I not? He never intended his work to remain with him. Lennox Grant, editor in chief of the Express in the Nineties, called him wise and soldierly. I also call him a lifesaver.

Through him, I found a real joy again. Add value every day to readers’ lives – that was his mantra. He added more than he knew to so many lives.

Len Kalane, who attended one of Nev’s journalism training courses in South Africa, said:

He liked spending nights at my place instead of the hotel, striking a bond with my family and in the process with my daughter, Mmasechaba, and son, Kagiso, as well as my wife Barbara, who were devastated to hear news of his death. What a man! He knew no colour or race.

I fondly called him as Mkhulu. In Zulu language this is used when you show deference. Mkhulu is also used to refer to one as the wise-one, the elderly.

Neville had earlier protested at me calling him a Fleet Street veteran, saying this had old-age connotations – this said by Neville at the ripe age of 76, how ironic!

He used to counsel me a lot, send me tips (and books). I still have a lot of his journalism and new management teaching/mentoring material which he gave me permission to use as my own.

I have lately being involved with the launching of a magazine titled PiE, which was launched this past Tuesday night, the day I heard about his death. The day was meant to be one of my happiest, you can imagine. I used the platform at the event to announce his death to those who knew him.

 Ather Mirza, who is now director of press at the University of Leicester, said:

Neville Stack gave me my first job out of university in the early 80s.

I was the first reporter of South Asian origin the Mercury had taken on – at a time when it was unusual to do so – and he was careful that I was not pigeonholed into communities reporting.

Even before I started, he asked me to carry out a comparative analysis of reporting styles between local, tabloid and broadsheets, which reflected his considered and analytical approach to journalism.

He was a great editor and has inspired many journalists internationally who, like me, will remember him as a passionate and committed editor with a warm and, at times, paternalistic attitude.

Syndicated travel writer Ken Bennett who succeeded him on the News Desk of the Sunday People said:

He was one of the most kind and generous of men… Particularly to young sprog journalists like me who joined The Sunday People as Nev moved to take are over at the Daily Herald. He was truly a lovely man who gave me loads of help and encouragement.

The writer Colin Dunne says:

Nev has been a part of my life, and a massive influence, for almost 50 years.  I find it hard to think of a world without him. 

He was one of the very best journalists I ever met, and as a man he was  right up there with the funniest, cleverest, frequently sharpist and occasionally kindest. 

He was very fastidious with his friendship, which made it all the more valuable. I met him when he was news editor at the old broadsheet Sun.  Against the other papers he was always underfunded and understaffed and he had a wonderful story about you.

In Trinidad, his deputy was called Romeo. On a visit to a rum shop, Neville looked around and couldn't see his deputy. Inevitably, he cried out, “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” Whereupon a voice called out: “Romeo done gone to de gents, Mister Stack.” Neville replied: “If Shakespeare had known that, it could've changed the course of English literature.”  

He was a diamond of many facets. He nearly drowned me during his sailing period and frightened me to death. We sailed for so long in the Irish Sea it grew dark. “Are you sure you know where we are?” I asked him crossly.

“Course I do. I am just listening for the 6.30 train from Chester. If the sound comes from my left I turn about and head for land.” “What if the sound comes from the right?” “We are lost,” he said.

Fortunately it didn’t come from the right but I got soaking wet in the storm that followed and we had to break into the Penmaenmawr yacht club so I could dry myself on several bar towels.

Neville is survived by son Jonathan, daughter Portia, widow Molly, grandchildren Jack, Alice, Luke, Jacob, Ruth and to say nothing of (Chips) the dog .