Sir Ray Tindle obituary – The Guardian

Sir Ray Tindle, who has died aged 95, was the buoyantly enthusiastic rescuer of more than 200 local newspapers in the UK and a philanthropist of imagination and charm. He harnessed his lifelong energy to a model of ultra-local news, trim private ownership and an absolute ban on borrowing money – in the process defying Jeremiahs in the industry for more than 60 years.
He loved the job, from his first encounter with its novelty and bustle as a schoolboy evacuee to his death while still company president of his own Tindle Group, although with the executive succession passed to his son, Owen in 2017. Unusually for a press baron, as he may be literally but misleadingly described, he was much liked.
Tindle realised his principal ambition by saving so many sources of news but never gave up on another which he described only four years ago to the industry’s own newspaper, Press Gazette. “If I could have my way I’d have a new newspaper for every street,” he said. “That’s not impossible. If you give a page to every street and change the position of the page each week, you could have a front page for every street. I think we’re nearly there – we’ve come close.”
The model went back to his first publication, cranked out on a duplicator on a troopship taking the Devonshire Regiment to the far east in 1944. He learned how many people had stories to tell and how much they wanted reminders of their home county. Demobbed in 1947 with the rank of captain, he wrote 200 job applications before landing what he called a “dogsbody” job at the Croydon Times, and spent 13 years there learning the trade through and through.
He kept hold of his demob money for all that time, and in 1960 paid £250 to buy the Tooting and Balham Gazette, which had a venerable past but was on its knees. His formula raised sales from 700 to 3,500 in a year, then he swapped it for three stuttering titles in west London, which he also turned around.
His favourite of the long line of subsequent successes was the Tenby Observer in south west Wales, whose central role in the passing of the 1908 Local Authorities (Admission of Press to Meetings) Act he knew from school. Learning of its bankruptcy two days before closure, he rang the receiver, had an offer accepted, drove to Tenby and asked the staff if they would have another shot on his terms.
“A cat must not have kittens in Tenby unless it’s covered by the Observer,” he instructed. To his delight, their front page two days later included the headline “Two clothes brushes stolen from Tenby caravan.” Sales rose accordingly and the paper is now in its 170th year.
Such journalism seldom wins awards but Tindle believed absolutely in its importance to the democracy for which he had fought. His papers’ shared motto was Winston Churchill’s “We will never surrender”, which he had heard broadcast live, but he could as well have used Oliver Cromwell’s description of his preference for an ordinary soldier “that knows what he fights for, and loves what he knows”. Detailed and reliable community news was the stuff of that.
Tindle was born in Streatham, south London, where his father, John, an engineer, took him to watch the annual London to Brighton veteran car run, which he was later to help preserve with 30 years of sponsorship.
Vintage cars became a passion, and he drove his 1904 Speedwell Dogcart in the run for more than half a century. His mother, Maud (nee Bilney), rescued him when their house roof fell in during a wartime air raid and he was evacuated from London to Paignton in Devon, where he went to Torquay boys’ grammar school. More significantly for his future career, he was introduced to journalism by his host family’s neighbour, who was advertisement director of the Torbay Herald and Express.
After service in the far east he married his childhood sweetheart, Beryl Ellis, in 1949. She became in his words his “rock”, and matched his zest for community work in Farnham, Surrey, where they settled down. She also worked as a teacher of adults with learning difficulties and on retirement ran a secondhand shop that supported a different charity every time it raised £1,000, only calling it a day at the age of 94.
Tindle’s work “family” was almost as close, with two lieutenants at his side in a fashion similar to Alan Sugar’s on The Apprentice: Wendy Craig, who joined as his PA in 1985, specialised in finance, and Brian Doel, former head of training at the Mirror’s west country operation, oversaw editorial. Group editors were largely left alone unless sales or advertising dipped for too long. Then they were invited to Farnham for coffee.
The group aimed for proportionate profits, rather than gold dust, and Tindle enjoyed teasing critics of his tight control as sole shareholder by asking what was wrong with one man, one vote. But there were issues, notably when his strong services loyalty led him to ask editors not to report anti-war events at the start of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The ban was lifted within weeks and Tindle’s open style and willingness to argue helped.
It had been the same when he worked through a compositors’ strike at the Croydon Times in 1950, telling the printers’ leader Frank Stagg: “We’re only here because otherwise the paper will close and we’ll all lose our jobs.” Stagg replied: “I know that. I gather you’re on my linotype machine and I wanted to tell you that the lower-case ‘t’ gets stuck.”
Tindle’s formula was almost always applied to weekly papers but he knew the wider media, diversified carefully into radio and online, and also drew the Guardian’s attention to Autotrader magazine, which became an important Guardian Media Group asset. For 18 years he was on the board of the Guardian, whose former editor Peter Preston described him as a man of “gentle habits and roseate presence”.
Tindle, who was knighted in 1994, played a full part in the media industry and its professional bodies and was quietly proud of 10 enterprise centres he set up to give rent-free start-up space to businesses during the 1980s recession. He knew about perseverance; his voicebox was removed to stem throat cancer in the mid-90s and he learned to speak again without it.
He is survived by his wife and son, and a granddaughter, Maisy.
Raymond Stanley Tindle, newspaper publisher, born 8 October 1926; died 16 April 2022

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