Val McCalla was an angry man with a mission when I first met him in 1981. He turned up at the East End News, where I was editor, to find out why his teenage son David was bunking off school to take pictures for us.
He was fascinated by what he found in our chaotic Bethnal Green office, and soon his enthusiasm matched that of his son. He offered his services as a book-keeper to help with the accounts. Socially, Val was kind, courteous and rather timid. There was little of the radical about him.
When we decided to launch a Black Voices page, written and edited by local Afro-Caribbean and Asian contributors, he was opposed to the idea initially.
Yet once the page was up and running he insisted on taking charge and was its most vociferous defender when the content proved controversial. It was one of many examples of his chameleon-like approach to new situations. Caution could be swiftly overtaken by enthusiasm, especially when he saw market opportunities.
Val became increasingly exasperated with the refusal of the East End News Co-op management team to adopt a more commercial approach and attempted to mount a palace coup. When his slate failed to win control, he pulled out – taking several key staff with him – to set up The Voice.
It came as no surprise that the first issue was marked by controversy over coverage of an anti-apartheid demonstration against Barclay’s Bank, from whom Val had obtained a loan, followed by the swift departure of his partner and first editor, veteran broadcaster Alex Pascall.
The Voice went from strength to strength as East End News went into decline, a tribute to Val’s business acumen. He successfully identified new markets and won recognition for the black British community as both an electoral and economic force. He had no compunction about exploiting liberal guilt to win acres of recruitment ads, but in doing so forced local government especially to review its recruitment policies. Many of the titles now targeting Afro-Caribbeans and Asians born in the UK owe their inspiration to his efforts with The Voice, which quickly became required reading for anyone wanting to keep in touch with attitudes among disaffected young people.
As a publisher, he often over-stretched himself and never quite got the hang of the distinction between the role of proprietor and editor. He was proud of the launchpad he had created for so many young, black journalists, but he had been badly stung by those who criticised his management style and his empire building and was not prepared to defend his corner in public.
Val was shocked at the vehemence of those who found fault with his pioneering efforts and he did not enjoy the irony of being dubbed "the black Rupert Murdoch". For all his faults, he deserves to be remembered as the man who created openings in the media that had previously been denied to Britain’s black community. We have all benefited from that.
Mike Jempson, director, PressWise Trust