News le­gend who made us laugh

Al­ways a great edi­tor, Har­vey Tyson had a love for life and hu­mour

The Star Early Edition - - METRO - PETER SUL­LI­VAN

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

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