The death of Peter Preston, former editor of The Guardian, deprives British journalism one of its most inspiring figures of the 20th century.Though he was a quietly spoken, unassuming figure, his journalistic achievements were immense.After graduating, Mr Preston joined the Liverpool Daily Post as a trainee before being hired by The Guardian in 1963 at the age of 25.He worked as a reporter, foreign correspondent, education correspondent and features editor before he became editor at the age of 37.Less successful had been Preston’s handling of a leaked document outlining the intended arrival at Greenham Common of American cruise missiles in 1983.He splashed on the story, but when a court battle led to the source documents being handed over, the Foreign Office clerk who leaked them, Sarah Tisdall, was jailed for six months.
A measure of the esteem and affection for the man many of us came to know as the ‘little old reader’ - because of his constant attention to detail - was evident from the tributes from colleagues and former colleagues this week.
He saved the liberal paper from near extinction amid the union militancy of the Seventies, and guided it towards financial stability.
As an editor, Preston was a great populariser within the context of a broadsheet paper, but never lost his appreciation of great reporting.
In spite of his general shyness and personal reticence in the company of politicians and prominent figures, he would be quite happy to inject a phrase or idea into the copy of one of his senior journalists, however grand.
Preston, who was editor between 19, was responsible for a comprehensive redesign of the paper in 1988, which helped drive the circulation to a record of more than 500,000 sales a day.