Tributes paid to former Observer editor Keith Newbery

Keith Newbery at his home on the Isle of Wight  Picture by Malcolm Wells
Keith Newbery at his home on the Isle of Wight Picture by Malcolm Wells

TRIBUTES have been pouring in for former Observer editor Keith Newbery who 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.

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

Here is a selection of some of the tributes paid to him.

Peter Homer, former Observer news editor

“Years ago, some old local newspaper journalists were in the habit of writing their own obituaries, to be kept on file ready for when they were needed.

“What a pity Keith Newbery didn’t write one for himself! It would have been modest, and laced with his trademark acerbic wit, but still an accolade to a very accomplished writer with an old hack’s sharp eye for what made a good story.

“Keith was at his best writing leaders - pulling no punches, but always fair, and honest enough to say exactly what he thought.

“I used to write some of the Observer leaders myself, and Keith and I had a standing arrangement that he would leave them pretty much unaltered, except to brighten them up now and then by ‘adding a few insults,’ not infrequently directed at what he would call the la-la world of local government.

“Professionally, Keith Newbery was always a pleasure to work with - and a warm-hearted, generous man.”

Sue Gilson, former editor of the Observer Magazine

“Because I so respected him as my editor, and as a great journalist and writer, I always upped my game.

“That was one way he got the best from his team. The other was to be that rare sort of boss that so trusts his staff in their various roles that he would just let us get on with it. That was his management style. And it worked so well.

“From the moment he came bowling into into the newsroom with a cheery ‘morning’ for everyone and a sense of purpose in his stride on a Monday morning, you just knew the week was going to be okay. His presence seemed to bring with it both grativas and beneficence.

“As the Observer Magazine editor for five years I was lucky enough to be the one of the first to read his brilliant weekly column every week, which often made me laugh out loud and always made me think

“He made sublime writing look easy. He was a joy to read and a joy to know.”

Kevin Smith, chief reporter of the Bognor Regis Observer

“Keith Newbery was a giant. His journalistic skills matched his physical presence. He had the knowledge honed from a lifetime behind the keyboard.

“His journalists had the backing of a man who revelled in pricking pomposities and tackling those who believed they could not be tackled.

“His readers could delight in what was a golden era for the papers – and love or loathe his strongly­-stated views in his columns.

The Bognor Regis edition, in particular, gained immensely from his time in charge.

“It was recognised as the best free paper in the country for a spell in the mid­ 1990s.

“That was followed by what was believed to be the first conversion of a free paper into a paid ­for in the country. Typically, that was a success.

“And, all from an editor, who left his staff to do what they did best.”

Graeme Moir, former colleague

“I learnt so much from this man and I have a lot to thank him for career wise. Apart from that though he was a great guy to work for and the social events outside of work - like visits to Fratton Park or West Leigh Park to watch football, taking part in the tug-of-war contest at Selsey or the works Christmas parties - he was always great fun to be around.

“The awards he won for his work are testament to the fact he is a true legend of regional journalism in this country, particularly in the south where he was well known.

“I feel privileged and lucky to have worked with him when I did at the Chichester Observer - those were truly great times and fun times in local newspapers.”

Duncan Barkes, Observer columnist and former Spirit FM broadcaster

“We were united in our dislike of petty bureaucracy and shared a healthy disdain for our political elite.

“I still cherish the memory of an outraged fax we received from the Home Office following our constant mocking of the management at Ford Prison regarding their inability to stop prisoners absconding.

“Keith was a man of great conviction who was always true to himself. Such qualities are increasingly rare these days. My heart goes out to his family and the many colleagues he worked with over the years.”

Alicia Denny, former colleague

“He was a big man in many senses of the word: 6ft 4in tall, winner of national awards to match his renown within provincial newspapers, who knew his own mind and frequently expressed it, but, above all, Keith Newbery was big-hearted.

“His close-knit family, friends and the wider community of his beloved Isle of Wight will be joined by former colleagues in Portsmouth and West Sussex in mourning the journalist who enhanced their offices with his high standards of professionalism.

Barry Rutter, former colleague

“I’m sure former colleagues and readers alike have been queuing up to pay tribute to Keith and I can confirm he was a great journalist, a great guy and a great friend.

“The ironic thing is that, if he is looking down on us now, he’ll be heartily embarrassed by all the attention...”

Colleen Jordan, former colleague

“I worked alongside Newbs in the 90s and learned -and laughed - so much.

“He taught me a lot about believing in what I wrote and always said if people weren’t reacting you weren’t doing it right!!

“A one-off legendary man and writer... love and thoughts to his family who he loved dearly.”

Chris Owen, former colleague

“Newbs was a bear of a man – big in stature, big in status, but one who always made time for the ‘little’ people.

“‘If he spotted the minutest flicker of talent in a trainee reporter he would shower them with tips and encouragement.

“All you needed to survive in Newbs’ world was a quick mind and an even keener sense of humour. It’s unlikely we’ll see his kind again.”

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