News legend who made us laugh
Always a great editor, Harvey Tyson had a love for life and humour
THERE was a hierarchy in Parliament’s press gallery in my day.
Seat No 1 belonged to the oldest newspaper, The Natal Witness. As that small paper’s political correspondent, I was irritated one day to find some foreign body sitting there, just as the no confidence debate was about to begin.
“Excuse me, that’s my seat!” I said, impolitely, under deadline pressure.
A tall man with a prominent chin, blue eyes and a moustache turned to me, immediately apologised and asked if I minded if he took one of the other seats which were currently all unoccupied.
“Sit where you like, just not in my seat,” I said grumpily.
That’s how I met Harvey Tyson, the then editor of The Star, a person up in the gods for we ordinary reporters.
Colleagues were horrified that I had tried to kick Harvey out of the gallery. He was already a legend. It was 1978, I was 28, he was 50 at the time. I was at the bottom, he was at the top.
A few years later, in 1981, he made me The Star’s political correspondent, became my mentor, friend, fellow cyclist and one of the richest sources of fun I have ever known.
It is a great joy of my life to have worked with him, fought with him, cycled with him in France, England, Ireland, Portugal, Spain. To have enjoyed his exhausting curiosity, enthusiasm, laughter, fun, seriousness and, above all, integrity.
He died aged 90 in the middle of writing another book. No surprise there.
Harvey’s lust for life is legendary. He could down whisky yet was no alcoholic, could outlast the youngest reporter in an all-nighter, exuded enthusiasm from every pore and reeked of sheer exuberance.
As Richard Steyn (another Star editor) told Kevin Ritchie (another Star editor), Harvey took his job seriously but never himself.
Born on September 27 in 1928, educated at Kingswood College, then Rhodes University for a year, he joined The Star in 1947 – before I was born. He worked on nine newspapers, from the Diamond Field Advertiser to the Pretoria News, papers in England and Scotland, and really took control of The Star from 1970 to 1990.
They were great years for the paper, which frequently ran to 250 pages an edition. TV was in its infancy in South Africa, the internet still unborn. In those halcyon days editors had absolute authority, reporting only to the board, and even there under the protection of the chairperson. Harvey needed that protection because he was forever over budget, insisting news had to be reported regardless of cost.
It is not easy to run a big newspaper. The mixture of sport, business, local and international news, crime and politics is costly. Of it all, it was politics Harvey loved. It was in his blood. Verily a political animal.
He hated apartheid and its inhumanity. He fought every attempt at curbing freedom of speech, his greatest passion. In 1987, on The Star’s 100th birthday, he convened a “Conflict and the Press” conference which 17 countries attended.
The apartheid government sent Communications Minister Stoffel van der Merwe to address the conference. He tried to explain apartheid was misunderstood, was actually a generous, humane solution to our intractable race problems.
Distinguished Washington Post owner Katherine Graham spoke after him, memorably saying that in her culture it was traditional to say something about the previous speaker’s speech “but as I would find it difficult to be polite let me rather say nothing.”
Harvey did much that is important in his life. I can’t do that justice; let others write of it.
Far more important to me was that Harvey, like Maria in
Music, made us laugh.
Being in his company was being in a good space, whether on a golf course or in a serious political discussion, or with a policeman wanting to arrest a reporter or even stop the presses, Harvey would make you laugh.
He could get terribly serious, fume about injustice, was a stickler for accuracy and for giving all sides to a story.
Oddly enough, he was rather sensitive and easily hurt by chance remarks from friends. Yet a fighter, contemptuous of bullying by politicians.
But somewhere, you would laugh. He would find crazy things funny: a sign in an Irish pub saying “Free Drinks Tomorrow” or his best friend Rex Gibson taking the mickey out of him.
We cycled down the Thames. In the Cotswolds, our guide pointed out a sign carved into a huge bit of granite, proclaiming “This is the Source of the Thames” but, she confided, it was actually somewhere else.
“You see,” said the inimitable Rex, “even when carved in stone, it is not always true.” Harvey giggled for a week.
Harvey loved life, women, a good whisky, golf, newspapers, politics, sport, friendship, good writing, good reporting, oh he just loved everything. Books have been written about his life – by himself.
Those of us privileged to know him loved him, me more than most. He and Rex had a bet that the first one to die would owe the other a case of whisky. Both were determined to be the winner. Sadly, Harvey has won his bet.
Pay Rex, Harvey. The Sound of
A HANDSHAKE for newspaper editor Michael Green from Robert Mugabe. The photograph was taken in Harare in 1982 when the Zimbabwean leader was generally regarded as a bright hope for the future. On the right is Harvey Tyson, former editor of The Star.
HARVEY Tyson – a stickler for accuracy. African News Agency (ANA) Archives |
HARVEY Tyson, centre. On his right is Ron Anderson (wearing glasses), The Star’s former long-serving news editor, who died in May this year. | African News Agency (ANA) Archives