(FILES) In this file photo taken on November 15, 2007 British author of the American Century Harold Evans speaks during the K. C. Mammen Mappillai Memorial Lecture in New Delhi. – Harold Evans, the former Sunday Times editor has died at the age of 92 his wife Tina Brown said on September 24, 2020. (Photo by RAVEENDRAN / AFP)

Campaigners, journalists and politicians on Thursday paid tribute to the crusading British newspaper editor Harold Evans, after his death in New York aged 92.

Former Sunday Times editor Evans is best remembered for his hard-hitting expose of the birth defects caused by the drug thalidomide in what remains a high watermark for the profession.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, himself a former journalist and columnist, called him “a true pioneer of investigative journalism”, as others praised his fearless approach.

The head of the Society of Editors, Ian Murray, called him a “giant” and “a true champion of a free press and holding the powerful to account.”

Andrew Neil, one of his successors at the Sunday Times, said Evans was “the greatest editor of his generation”.

At the time of his death, from congestive heart failure, the charismatic Evans was editor-at-large for the international news agency Reuters.

Evans took on the makers of thalidomide and exposed the lack of proper testing procedures and campaigned to force the company to increase compensation for those affected.

Glen Harrison, the deputy chairman of the campaign group Thalidomide UK, called him “an outstanding human being for our cause… We wouldn’t know where we would be without him.”

Campaigner Guy Tweedy said: “If it wasn’t for him fighting against the Establishment, and having the courage to expose this horrendous scandal, we would never have got any justice at all.”

Evans himself was modest about the achievement, recalling in an interview with the Independent in 2014: “All I tried to do — all I hoped to do — was to shed a little light.

“And if that light grew weeds, we’ve have to try and pull them up.”

– ‘Basic passion’ –

Under Evans’ tenure from 1967 to 1981, the Sunday Times also revealed that British intelligence agent Kim Philby was a double agent working for the Soviet Union.

He also published the diaries of a former government minister, Richard Crossman, despite risking prosecution under the Official Secrets Act.

Despite his later public profile, Evans had humble roots, growing up in a working-class family near Manchester, northwest England, as the son of a railwayman.

He began his career on local newspapers, notably the regional publication the Manchester Evening News, going on to win his first editor’s post at the Northern Echo, at the age of 32.

Even half a century after he left, his legacy was still felt, said one of his successors at the northeast England daily, Peter Barron.

“He understood the importance of getting out and listening to people,” he said.

Evans called journalism his “basic passion” and summed up his own philosophy to the profession by saying “attempting to get at truth means rejecting stereotypes and cliches.”

Evans left the Sunday Times in 1981 to become editor of sister paper The Times when media mogul Rupert Murdoch took over.

But his time there was short-lived, and he only led the paper for a year after falling out with the owner in a row about editorial independence.

He also once said he was sacked because of his consistent attacks on Margaret Thatcher, the then-prime minister.

Evans and his second wife Tina Brown then moved to the United States, where he taught at Duke University and became editor-in-chief of The Atlantic Monthly Press.

He was also appointed president and publisher of Random House, editing authors including Maya Angelou.

His several best-selling books included “The American Century” in 1998 and “They Made America” in 2004, the same year he received a knighthood for services to journalism.

Tina Brown was also a respected media boss, rejuvenating Vanity Fair in the 1980s and The New Yorker in the 1990s, with the couple earning a reputation as mainstays of the New York politics and party scenes.

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