by former Press Club Chairman Dennis Griffiths
Much has been written of Sir Jocelyn Stevens in the obituaries since his death last week. All spoke of his managerial style: his quick temper, the firing of people – but he was far more than that. He had a mercurial personality and was the great innovator.
I knew Jocelyn Stevens for more than forty years – possibly longer than any other Fleet Street denizen. We both joined Beaverbrook Newspapers on Monday, November 4, 1968 – he as personal assistant to Sir Max Aitken, the chairman; and myself as deputy production manager, Evening Standard. Jocelyn’s first role was to organize the Daily Express London – Sydney Road Race, before being appointed managing director of the Standard on January 1, 1969.
In the words of editor Charles Wintour: ‘He was outgoing, energetic, highly social, a life-enhancer, full of jokes, capable of inspiring people – and occasionally driving them to despair and sometimes to departure – totally devoted to the Group. Sometimes unpredictable, he was immense fun to work with.’
Jocelyn was at his best on July 21, 1969, when Neil Armstrong became the first man to step onto the moon. Six weeks earlier, Jocelyn had called his executive – all male – into his office, saying that the Americans had spent millions of dollars to put a man on the moon. To commemorate the occasion, he announced that the Standard was going to produce Monday’s edition on Saturday, including full colour, 24 hours before the planned landing – saying that the Americans had succeeded.
In the utmost secrecy, colour pictures of the blast-off were received from NASA, and a facsimile of Armstrong on the moon was produced for the front page. With the pages locked up on the Saturday night, printing commenced early on Sunday morning. By lunch-time all the colour reels had been inserted and run-off; and happy management and press crews adjourned to the Grapes, a nearby public-house, in tentative celebrations. With the papers under strict guard, there came the wait of a further eight hours until the successful landing.
At that time there was a 9.30 a.m. embargo between the Standard and the Evening News, but with such a great publishing day in prospect the Standard went on sale at 7 a.m., Monday, July 22, and was an immediate hit with commuters, many of whom thought that the front-page facsimile was a picture direct from the moon. Production of the paper was frenetic and with colour reels fast running out further supplies were despatched from Samuel Stephens, the colour printers in South London.
By eight o’clock that evening, when Armstrong’s crew had successfully blasted off the moon on their journey back to earth, the Standard had printed more than 1,200,000 copies in eleven editions – 100 per cent above normal. And a champagne party in Charles Wintour’s office was a fitting end to one of the greatest days in newspaper publishing. [This is the only known instance of a national newspaper being produced before the event took place].
Many years later, Jocelyn told me that on the Sunday afternoon, he had received a phone call from Sir Max Aitken, saying ‘that if they did not land and one copy had got out he was fired’.
Jocelyn replied: ‘Chairman, I will already have resigned.’
Dennis Griffiths is a former London Press Club chairman and was production director of the Evening Standard, and author of the definitive history of the Evening Standard: “Plant Here The Standard”