News, Culture & Society

Robin Esser, legend of Fleet Street, dies at 84 

Dedicated: Robin Esser

Veteran Fleet Street journalist and freedom of the Press campaigner Robin Esser died yesterday, aged 84.

A former editor of the Sunday Express and later executive managing editor of the Daily Mail, Mr Esser spent 57 years in national newspapers. He was a fellow and former president of the Society of Editors.

In his memoirs on the industry, Crusaders In Chains, he wrote: ‘If democracy is to survive in this country and politicians are to be held accountable to the taxpayers, the Press, all of it, must remain free.’

A grammar school boy from Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, he attended Wadham College, Oxford, where he edited the university newspaper Cherwell. At the time, its Cambridge University rival, Varsity, was edited by Michael Winner, later a film maker and food critic, and the two engaged in a circulation battle.

After university, Mr Esser did his two years’ national service and joined the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. In the build up to the Suez Crisis he was attached to the military’s public relations team, where he and (now Sir) Michael Parkinson became the two youngest serving captains in the Army at the time.

In Fleet Street, he was a reporter, gossip columnist, feature writer, and foreign correspondent before succeeding Sir John Junor as Sunday Express editor in 1986.

Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, said: ‘Robin was a fine, talented editor and a tireless campaigner on behalf of the Press.’

Ian MacGregor, president of the Society of Editors and editor emeritus at the Telegraph, said: ‘Journalists nationwide owe Robin Esser a huge debt of gratitude.

‘He dedicated his long career not just to producing brilliant newspapers but defending Press freedom with tremendous passion and was at the forefront of the campaign to stop any chance of state control of the media.’

The last paragraph of Mr Esser’s memoirs, published in 2015, read: ‘I suppose I will never retire completely – like an old soldier I will just fade away… My fervent hope is that newspapers, in all their forms, local regional and national, serious and unabashedly popular, will continue to entertain but above all be a thorn in the side of cheats, wrongdoers, those who abuse the young and the old, and the hypocrisy of those in power.’

Mr Esser was left a widower with four young children when his first wife, Shirley, died in an accident in 1972. He married Tui France in 1981 and had two more sons. He had ten grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. He died at home in West London, after a short illness. There will be a family-only funeral. A memorial service will be held in the new year. 

Sorry we are not currently accepting comments on this article.