Editor Sunday Nation 1962-1964
IT was Saturday night and the interval had just been reached during the spectacular military tattoo being staged in Nairobi’s Mitchell Park.
Unexpectedly, the powerful arena lights were switched on again and, loud and clear over the Tannoy system, came the crisp tones of the commentator:
“Tonight,” he said, “East Africa Command is proud to introduce into our programme an unscheduled and history-making event. They are making not only military history but also newspaper history.
“They are carrying a special edition of the Sunday Nation, a souvenir of tonight’s tattoo. It is hot off the Nation’s printing presses and special arrangements have been made to sell copies to you during the remainder of the interval.
“It is the first-time helicopters have been used to carry out a bulk delivery of newspapers in Africa.”
Overhead, the noise of the helicopters filled the arena. The voices of the talk-down controller and pilots over on the Tannoy. In three minutes, they were down.
With their rotating blades hardly still, 30 men of the 2nd Battalion of the Scots Guards raced up, unloaded a bundle of each of the “Tattoo Specials”, and ran back into the huge crowd.
The first copy was handed to the GOC, East Africa Command; the second was stuck in the hands of the Editor of the rival Kenya newspaper attending as a guest of the GOC and seating next to him.
I am told the expression on his face at this audacious piece of editorial and circulation department enterprise was something to remember.
Within minutes every one of the 3,000 copies of the helicopter-delivered issue was sold. But we slipped up. We could have sold at least twice that many.
I hope I will be forgiven for recalling this particular story, rather than telling of some big, significant event. But I do so because it captures something of the “let’s go” attitude that typified the whole approach of the Nation group of newspapers in those early, exciting years.
The whole operation had been prompted by a “buzz” – ill-founded though it turned out to be – that the opposition Sunday newspaper was going to advance its Saturday night printing time so it could sell to the home-going crowds as they left the tattoo.
For various technical reasons, and because we had a greater distance to cover to get to the stadium, there was an outside chance the opposition might, for once, beat us to the punch.
And that we couldn’t have. Hence the approach to the Army to land our papers in the arena in the interval. For good measure, we turned it into a tattoo edition including a special message from the GOC.
Getting the Army’s co-operation was comparatively easy because of the immense goodwill the Sunday Nation had built up with the Armed Services.
One of the lesser known activities of the paper was to run a special edition every week for the Armed Services (Army and Air Force). It was called the Forces Nation and included four extra pages devoted to news and pictures all the activities and sport of the different units.
It was an instant success and almost over-night gave the Sunday Nation an extra circulation of 2,500 copies.
In Nation House we were blessed with some of the most advanced production equipment in the world. It provided an irresistible challenge to carry out the most outrageous and unorthodox experiments.
For instance, when we were making a drive to increase sales in Uganda, we were concerned that the edition of the Sunday Nation going there was not as up to date as it ought to be.
So, we tried out -- successfully – printing a Uganda edition of the Sunday Nation which was completely blank on the front and back pages, except for the proud, blue-coloured Sunday Nation title lines.
The edition was flown as normal to Entebbe and rushed to Kampala. And there, on our local press, we over-printed a completely up-dated front and back page, including the all-important UK football results and local sport.
Little wonder that Uganda readers were baffled how such an up-to-the minute newspaper could be printed in Nairobi, flown in by East African Airways, and be selling in the streets on Saturday night with the UK football results less than an hour their being broadcast by the BBC from London.
The fund of similar stories of what was done in the early pioneering days to establish the Sunday Nation as the unchallenged, top-selling newspaper in East Africa is limitless.
But perhaps I can be excused if I recall with pride an “outstanding issue” which reported the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which involved a seven-page edition change, by Fleet Street standards, comparatively slim resources.
The words “outstanding issue,” let me add, are not mine but come from a special message I received from the U.S. Ambassador in Kenya.
Finally, I will always remember the Sunday Nation as the newspaper which made me take pep pills to keep me working at top pressure.
It was one particularly tough weekend when all three East African territories went through their most serious political crises, not many months after they had all received their independence.
The army mutiny crisis built up all through Friday and the Sunday Nation editorial team started at 9 a.m. and worked non-stop until 10 p.m. the following day – without leaving the office, and without any sleep.
Instead of the usual two editions, our small editorial staff produced seven separate issues. The demand for the paper was so great, to meet the demand, we had to cut 24 centre pages, and produce a “Crisis Edition”.
The total figure produced that weekend makes even today’s extremely handsome (but of course established) circulation figure look slightly sick.
CRF: For many of us who knew Jack Beverley in the early 1960s, he remains a very respected and admired colleague. Indeed, he has achieved mightily from those distant days when he became a reporter at the age of 14 in wartime Scotland and began working in Fleet Street (once the home Britain’s finest newspapers) five years later.
· 1928: Born in Grangemouth, Scotland.
· 1942: Reporter Grangemouth Advertiser.
· 1943: Falkirk Herald
· 1944: Daily Mail, Glasgow … then on the combined fellow dailies: The Glasgow Herald, The Evening Times and The Bulletin.
· 1945: Sunday Pictorial and Daily Mirror, London, staff reporter in Birmingham for the Mirror.
· 1946-48: Army service. Refused commission so could back to Fleet Street more quickly.
· 1948: Daily Mirror London and Nottingham (East Midlands reporter).
· 1949: News Chronicle, London and Manchester (three times). Splash sub, diary editor, night news editor, assistant editor.
· 1959: Night editor, Daily Express.
· 1960: Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika. Editorial adviser to the Aga Khan, editor Sunday Nation and Daily Nation (with responsibility for Swahili newspaper (Taifa Leo) and other publications. Pioneered what was probably the first web-offset photo-composed daily outside the US.
· 1964: Night news editor, Daily Mail, London.
· 1967: Group managing editor, Westminster Press London. (13 dailies and 57 weeklies throughout England). Director of seven WP operations.
· 1978: Special projects manager, The Age Melbourne (including merger and control of two major Victorian suburban groups. Chief executive, Syme Media in Hong Kong. Major role in launching China’s first English language daily, the China Daily.
· 1985: Managing editor, The Western Mail. Director of four Holmes a Court companies. Subsequently group publisher and finally general manager regional publications, including responsibility for Bell Group Press and St George Books.
Served several years as director of Pacific Area Newspaper Publishers Association, with two years as president, 1986-1988.