Keith Newbery: Obituary

Keith Newbery with his dog Chester    Picture by Malcolm Wells
Keith Newbery with his dog Chester Picture by Malcolm Wells

TRIBUTES continue to pour in for former Observer editor and award-winning journalist Keith Newbery who has died after a short illness.

Former colleagues and friends called Keith, 65, a ‘giant’ who was loved by so many, and praised his amazing journalistic talent.

He was well-respected and had a huge following among readers with his weekly columns syndicated to many other English regional newspapers. He became the Observer’s editor in 1992 and retired in 2007, although he continued to write his column until last year.

His no-holds-barred, trenchant observations on life struck a chord with many as he railed against injustice, pettiness and all things annoying.

At the age of ten, Keith told his mother he wanted to write ‘like Peter Wilson’, who was then the best-known sports columnist on the Daily Mirror.

At 16, he emerged from Sandown Grammar School on the Isle of Wight with O-levels in history and English.

His mother found a retired teacher to instil shorthand and typing skills, then spotted an advertisement for a junior reporter at the now-defunct Ryde-based Isle of Wight Times.

So began more than four decades as a reporter, columnist and editor, entirely in local newspapers for, despite winning national awards for his sports and entertainment writing, Keith realised people like himself could have much more influence on the communities in which they served than national newspapers.

Keith became a junior district reporter for the then Portsmouth Evening News in 1969 and covered events including the first Isle of Wight music festival.

A vacancy came up for his dream job on the sports desk at head office in 1971, but he returned to the island four years later as the founder editor of the Isle of Wight Weekly Post.

At the same time, he was writing sports columns, television columns, celebrity interviews and opinion pieces for a number of newspapers.

He was an associate editor of The News until becoming editor, later executive editor, of the Chichester Observer series in 1992, and later also took overall editorial responsibility for its sister titles the West Sussex Gazette, Petersfield Post Series, Bognor Guardian and the Chichester Journal before he retired.

Keith won the sports writer of the year title at the British Regional Press Awards a record four times. He also re-lived his career in his autobiographical book of memoirs and anecdotes, ‘Hacking It’: Tales of a Very Provincial Newspaper Journalist, which was published in 2003.

During his time at the Observer, the paper won two awards for circulation increases, and he oversaw the launch of the Observer Magazine.

He received an MBE for services to journalism in 2004 and also successfully campaigned for a knighthood for Selsey’s Patrick Moore who was a close confidant of Keith’s before he died in 2012.

Keith was incredibly popular among his colleagues at the Observer who affectionately knew him as Newbs and loved his enthusiasm for his work and his big, cheery personality.

A keen Portsmouth fan, Keith was also a big personality in the community, known for his regular radio hour on Spirit FM with Duncan Barkes and his participation in the tug-of-war competitions in Selsey.

He was a regular participant in the Chichester Festivities, interviewing live on stage over the years people as diverse as Michael Parkinson, Esther Rantzen, Ann Widdicombe, Mo Mowlam, George Carey and Eric Sykes – something he enjoyed greatly.

Many will also remember when he made history on the teatime quiz show The Chase in 2011 by failing to answer a single question correctly – the first contestant to have achieved this dubious distinction.

But he did not let this ‘failure’ get him down as he also shared an amusing tale with the audience – his story of how he once wrote the headline ‘shell found on beach’ when an unexploded bomb washed ashore.

Keith lived in Winford on the Isle of Wight with his wife, Denise. He also leaves two children, Mark and Samantha, and a granddaughter, Betsy.

Keith Newbery MBE.

Born September 4, 1948. Died August 1, 2014.

‘I walked on hot coals for Keith Newbery’

Tributes paid to former Observer editor Keith Newbery

Award-winning journalist and former Observer editor Keith Newbery dies