Harold Evans, the editor of the Sunday Times who broke news on British scandals before becoming an authority on the U.S. with his books “The American Century” and “They Made America,” has died. He was 92.
The son of a railway driver from northern England, Evans led the newspaper for 14 years and made it a force on London’s Fleet Street with his investigative reporters. Known as the Insight team, they highlighted the damage caused by the deformity-causing drug Thalidomide, triggering a campaign that led to more compensation for its child victims and a change in British laws inhibiting the reporting on civil cases.
Evans’s Sunday Times also exposed British intelligence agent Kim Philby as a Soviet spy in 1967, and published extracts of Labour Party minister Richard Crossman’s diaries in 1975, revealing the inner workings of government while risking prosecution for violating the Official Secrets Act.
“There were to be many times when I found that what was presented as a truth did not square with what I discovered as a reporter or, as an editor, learned from good shoe-leather reporters,” Evans wrote in his 2009 book “My Paper Chase.”
In the 1980s and 1990s, Evans took up senior positions at U.S. publications, becoming editorial director at U.S. News & World Report, editor-in-chief at the Atlantic Monthly and founding editor of Conde Nast Traveler, a monthly magazine. He was also appointed president and publisher at Random House, where he published authors such as Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal while reviving the company’s Modern Library of classics.
His 1998 book “The American Century,” a political history of the U.S. in the 20th century, was followed by “They Made America” in 2004, about the lives of the nation’s innovators and inventors. The sequel led to a four-part television mini-series and was cited by Fortune as one of the best books in the 75 years of the magazine’s publication.
“‘They Made America’ is so good that Evans deserves a place in it for the energy and innovation he has brought to the business of celebrating history and ideas,” author Walter Isaacson said in a review.
In 2001, U.K. journalists voted Evans the all-time greatest British newspaper editor. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2004.
He was named editor-at-large at Thomson Reuters Corp. in 2011, where he wrote columns and interviewed leading newsmakers.
Harold Matthew Evans was born on June 28, 1928, in Newton Heath, Manchester, according to his website. His parents were Frederick Evans, a railway worker, and Mary Hannah Haselum, better known as Polly, who ran a grocery store. One of four sons, Evans attended Brookdale High School, according to his 2009 book. He left school at 15 and learned to write shorthand after attending a business college.
At 16, Evans worked as a reporter for the weekly newspaper in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire, before doing national service in the Royal Air Force. He attended Durham University, where he graduated with honors in politics and economics in 1952.
Evans won the Commonwealth Fund’s Harkness Fellowship in 1956 to study in the U.S. and became an assistant editor at the Manchester Evening News in 1958. Three years later, he took a job as managing editor at the regional daily the Northern Echo, where he oversaw a story that led to a national screening program for cervical cancer.
“The cervical cancer story particularly means a lot to me, because it was the beginning of my real career,” Evans said in a 2011 interview with the online business journal Knowledge at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “Cervical cancer tests would probably not have come for five years, so maybe 15,000 or 20,000 people were saved.”
In 1965, Evans wrote a thesis on the Suez crisis for his Master of Arts degree at Durham.
He was editor of the Sunday Times from 1967 to 1981, when Rupert Murdoch bought Times Newspapers Ltd. The Australian-born media tycoon appointed Evans as editor of the London-based Times, the group’s flagship daily newspaper, a position he held for only a year. Evans left over policy differences relating to editorial independence. He then wrote a book, “Good Times, Bad Times,” about his tenure there.
“I don’t think of myself as a crusader, but I recognize that once you get into a story and you have found a defect, like nightdresses are going to burn children to death, you can’t just put that story in the paper,” Evans said in the Wharton School interview. “You have to do something about it.”
Evans and his first wife, Enid Parker, had three children: Ruth, Katherine and Michael. They divorced in 1978 after 25 years of marriage. In 1981, he married his second wife, journalist Tina Brown. They had two children: George and Isabel. A U.S. citizen since 1993, Evans lived in New York.