Former Guardian editor Preston dies at 79

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Peter Preston, pictured in 2012, was first diagnosed with melanoma 10 years ago, and it returned 20 months ago

The former editor of the Guardian, Peter Preston, has died aged 79.

Preston, who led the paper between 1975 and 1995 and later became an Observer columnist, died on Saturday after being diagnosed with a melanoma 10 years ago.

The Guardian's current editor Katharine Viner said he was a "brilliant editor" and a "supportive friend".

His son Ben, executive editor of the Sunday Times, said his father "died a good death" and "he was loved" until the end.

Preston first joined the Guardian in 1963, after training at the Liverpool Daily Post. His final column, published on New Year's Eve, focused on the challenges facing journalists "and their rough trade" in 2018.

He became the editor of the paper in 1975 and over the next two decades oversaw a number of exclusive stories about politicians' conduct.

Investigative journalism into defence procurement minister Jonathan Aitken led to allegations that he took bribes from Saudi arms dealers, which resulted in the Conservative MP's eventual imprisonment.

Preston, who was born in Leicestershire, turned his hand to fiction writing after leaving the editorship in 1995.

Piers Morgan, who began editing the News of the World while Preston was still editor of the Guardian, paid tribute to his peer.

He said it was "very sad news" and added he "respected his incisive opinions".

"[He was] a Fleet Street giant and lovely man who will be greatly missed by the newspaper industry."

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

New Statesman editor Jason Cowley said the 79-year-old was "an excellent and innovative editor who loved our trade".

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Alan Rusbridger, Preston's successor at the Guardian, highlighted how he "worked tirelessly for journalists abroad".

Preston, who worked as a foreign correspondent, wrote about the 65 journalists who were killed in 2017, in their home countries and abroad, in one of his final columns for the Observer.

In his column, he referred to Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was killed by a car bomb in November.

Referring to the 10 female journalists who were killed last year, he said: "Despite threats, they continued to investigate and expose cases of corruption."

'A gentle and effective editor'

By Amol Rajan, media editor

The 1970s, 80s and 90s were decades full of giants in the newspaper trade, but fewer were gentler, more effective or more consequential than Peter Preston.

Anybody who edits a newspaper for 20 years is likely to have rare qualities and feel, at the end of their life, that it has been rather well lived.

Preston overcame childhood polio that withered some of his limbs and killed his father. This, his path through local papers, and his frequent battles with aggressive adversaries, gave his journalism a moral force that few contemporaries could match.

He invented the modern Guardian, moving it to new offices, overseeing a superb redesign.

His mentoring of key personnel, including his deputy and successor Alan Rusbridger, can be felt in the paper and website today. He pioneered a second section devoted to features, and he gave the paper its internationalism; and he was an early adopter in matters digital.

Generous with advice for young journalists, Preston was a great romantic, believing with good reason that members of the trade were lucky creatures who nevertheless needed defending.

That is why he worked so hard to protect threatened reporters around the world.

His last column was a plea for readers to be treated with respect and will, like all the work of this kind, brave and special man, be an inspiration to students of journalism generations from now.