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Press: Tough Times

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Evans is out in London

The announcement a year ago cheered Britain: Rupert Murdoch, the brash, bossy Australian who had bought the staid, venerable (197-year-old) Times of London, was appointing an imaginative and sternly independent editor. Murdoch hailed Harold Evans, for 14 years the chief of the separate Sunday Times, as Britain’s “greatest editor” and the ideal man to reverse the daily paper’s long, steep financial slide.

In short order Evans sharpened the paper’s writing, splashed bold photographs on its gray pages, and instituted a cleaner, livelier layout. Circulation rose 6.7% to 297,787 for the second half of 1981, compared with the same period in 1980, and Evans was named “editor of the year” by his peers. No matter. Last week, as doomsayers had predicted right along, Murdoch forced Evans out.

Technically, Evans resigned; under the terms of purchase, Murdoch cannot sack the top editor without approval of a majority of the paper’s national directors. But Murdoch’s intent became plain during a four-day farce after the owner announced that Evans had resigned (for an undisclosed buy-out reported to be about $450,000), while Evans kept insisting he was still editor.

Murdoch aides blamed Evans for dividing the staff and failing to keep to his budget, a figure the editor’s camp claims Evans could never even obtain, despite repeated attempts. Evans is said to be bound to silence by his severance agreement, but friends maintain that the real issue was politics. Under Evans the Times was sympathetic to the new centrist Social Democratic Party, while Murdoch reportedly wanted the paper behind Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Evans’ somewhat impulsive style and his insistence on rapid change had nettled some veterans on the staff. Said one who preferred getting such predictable photographs as the Queen cutting a ceremonial ribbon: “Thank God we won’t have to go about like blue-bottomed flies chasing pictures any more.”

As successor to the often mercurial Evans, a product of the working class, Murdoch chose an irreproachably Tory blueblood: Times Deputy Editor Charles Douglas-Home, 44, a nephew of former Conservative Prime Minister Lord Home. Douglas-Home was schooled at Eton and served in the Royal Scots Greys regiment.

Douglas-Home had become disenchanted with Evans. Yet, in a newsroom speech last week he lauded Evans’ “conspicuous contribution” and insisted there should be no division between the paper’s old guard and the new.

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