Daily     Drone

From The Times of Wednesday September 18 1996


Lloyd Turner, journalist, died of a heart attack on September 12, aged 57.

He was born on October 2, 1938.

LLOYD TURNER was the stuff of which Fleet Street legends were made. A full-blooded Australian, with a laugh that came from his boots and, in his early days at least, a capacity for drink enough to fill them.

He arrived in England on the Australian journalists’ rat run from Sydney to Manchester - the normal route in the 1960s - after a career in New South Wales on the Newcastle Morning Herald, where he began life as a trainee in 1956, working his way through crime, pictures and features before finishing up as assistant editor.

His first job in Britain was on that nursery of great talent, the Manchester Evening News, where he was industrial correspondent, an experience that was to prove useful during his turbulent time as father of the Daily Express National Union of Journalists chapel (office branch).

The years 1969 to 1974 saw enormous upheaval and industrial unrest in Fleet Street particularly among journalists who had been kept docile by foreign trips, big bylines, liberal expenses and elastic pub hours. By 1969 this was no longer enough and the journalists began to adopt tactics favoured by the print unions. There were some bruising confrontations with management and Lloyd Turner’s aggressive zeal inflicted some sharp wounds on managers who had already begun to lose their way after the death of Lord Beaverbrook.

Turner’s time as FOC saw new house agreements but the tough, aggressive exterior hid a rather unsure, less confident man who could be carried away with his own enthusiasm. This was the time of the hard-drinking Lloyd Turner. Together with his great and enduring friend, Peter Tory, he founded the 84 Club, based in a flat at Napier Court, Putney, a drinking establishment in which even an Arsenal footballer would have had trouble holding his place.

Scotch was the tipple and a great deal of it. On one memorable, if hazy, occasion the drink ran out at 4.30am so Turner knocked up a publican demanding bottles of Scotch claiming he had become the proud father of triplets. Such was his charm and conviction that the bleary-eyed, bemused landlord handed over the bottles without  a murmur and returned to bed. Such was Fleet Street in the days before flowcharts.

Turner’s rise to an editorship was through the traditional route: he was chief sub editor and night editor of the Daily Express before being appointed to the elderly spinster’s bimbo sister, the Daily Star. The Star had always lived in the shadow of the Sun and the Daily Mirror but it came nearest to emerging in Turner’s seven-year reign.

He almost managed to usurp the traditional role of the Mirror by capitalising on the mayhem created by Robert Maxwell when he took over the paper in 1984. He gave the Star heart and a new zest and, most importantly, new readers, largely at the expense of the Mirror. Controversy was there too: Turner was castigated for running pictures of a pregnant Princess of Wales sunbathing, which had been obtained by a reporter and photographer crawling through undergrowth for the best part of half a mile. The readers lapped it up.

His editorship ended after a silly mistake he had not seen, something all editors dread. The Star libelled Jeffrey Archer after the News of the World’s disclosure of his £2,000 payment to a prostitute. The paper decided to fight the case and went down for £500,000 but not before the nation had been treated to some splendidly juicy stuff, which ended with the judge referring to the then Mrs Mary Archer as “fragrant” - an epithet that stuck.

Turner started out on a new career as a farmer, rearing prize bulls together with his third wife, Jill, a former Daily Express reporter and night news editor. Happily married and now non-drinking, he had found a solid,lasting relationship that had eluded him in his earlier days. But in spite of his bulls - “my boys” as he described them - journalism remained his first love and he was desperate to return. He did so as an assistant editor on Today where once again he took on the role of management scourge this time not on pay but on “new technology”.

When Today closed he went back to his “boys” but in his 58th year his spirit remained restless. He was about to go back to newspapers, this time on the Daily Mail.

Outwardly brash and outspoken, Turner was in fact a self-doubting, self-examining man: not a bad combination for an editor. His furious sense of injustice for those who could not speak for themselves remained to the end whether it was in his journalism or his charity work for the NSPCC. His last months were spent advising the National Farmers’ Union on “mad cow” disease and the human connection. That must have given that big laugh a chance for overtime. For as an executive on Today he had helped the paper to expose the scandal in the first place, a scandal the NFU refused to admit existed.

He is survived by his third wife.

Historical note: The Times obit was obviously written before the subsequent Archer perjury case in which Lloyd, then dead, and the Star were largely vindicated. For those who remember...Lloyd, despite all the noise he made and the impression he may have given to the contrary, never actually held the title of night editor on the Express and was transferred to the Star while Ricky McNeill was still in post.