Sir David English - the industry pays a tribute: Sir David English, the editor of the Daily Mail from 1971 to 1992, died on 10 June, aged 67. Brian Watson, who has worked at FCB on the Daily Mail account since 1980, pays tribute

When I first met David English, he had yet to receive his knighthood.

When I first met David English, he had yet to receive his


I was taken to a meeting in the old Fleet Street headquarters of

Associated Newspapers and, as I was standing in the editor’s outer

office waiting to be told to go in, I remember the overwhelming smell of

printing ink and fresh newsprint. The so-called ’new technology’

had yet to burst forth and make its mark on the newspaper industry.

From behind the door came the raised voice of the man I was about to

meet. Soon the doors opened, several white-faced journalists made a

hasty exit and the door closed behind them. Now it was our turn to enter

the lion’s den.

As I walked into the huge office, I could almost hear my knees


The room was all polished wood - with a continuous blue sofa around

three of its walls - and in the centre of the room was the man himself.

He stood up from behind his huge desk, removed his glasses and, holding

them by one of their arms in between his teeth, greeted me with a

politeness and a smile that came as a pleasant surprise. Surreptitiously

wiping the sweat from my palm on to my trousers, I shook his hand.

What followed was only to last a few moments but it made a lasting

impact on me. We were there to discuss an urgent script and although Sir

David was busy putting the next day’s paper to bed, the whole meeting

was held up and the deadlines put to one side while Sir David took an

interest in me. For those few moments, he made me feel like the most

important person in the room and I soon felt at ease in the company of

this great Fleet Street editor. Most importantly of all, it was not

superficial: there was nothing superficial about Sir David, whose

smiling eyes spoke volumes. A master at translating body language, he

never ceased to use its vocabulary himself. What you saw was definitely

what you got.

From that day on I loved my meetings with Sir David. They were very

stimulating and I enjoyed watching the great man at work. Out would come

the old typewriter, out would go our words to be replaced by what was

usually pure genius. When a client takes your script apart it’s usually

frustrating, but when Sir David took your script apart it was bloody

exciting. The visual would usually come out completely unscathed but he

crafted the words. Words were his passion and no-one knew better than

him how to sell a newspaper.

So our words he edited - that was his job after all.

He once said of his team at FCB: ’I’m sure you work for me. I just treat

you as part of my team, just as though you were in an office along the

corridor.’ That was a brilliant compliment and very flattering to us


He respected and repaid loyalty. His ability to know what the public

wanted was staggering. Like the time he bought the Windsor love letters

for serialisation.

I told him I thought it was tacky. He told me I was wrong. I was wrong:

the circulation rose by a massive 22 per cent.

We weren’t always wrong, though. He tried to sell a serialisation on

Linus Pauling, a nuclear physicist, with the line: ’A cure for radiation

sickness by the man who invented it.’ We told him in no uncertain terms:

’You really can’t do that, it’s pure hot metal.’ There was a silence, he

looked up from the typewriter, looked me in the eyes and smiled, first

with his eyes and then with his whole face. He threw his head back with

a laugh and said: ’You’re absolutely right, it’s appalling.’

FCB’s relationship with the Mail goes back a long way. Robert Ballin,

the board account director, and I have worked with this client for 18

years. The foundations for this sort of commitment were laid by the

great man himself. I enjoyed his company, I enjoyed his wit and I

enjoyed his talent. I’m very, very proud to have known him and very

privileged to have worked so closely with him. I’ll truly miss this

giant of a man.

Brian Watson is the deputy creative director of FCB.