Keith Parker, who died at the weekend aged 69, turned the Wolverhampton Express & Star from a largely local newspaper into a news organisation with the resources and the will to challenge the national media.
He was also a gentleman and a friend to his staff with a great appetite for life and a wonderful sense of humour.
He became a legendary figure in the regional media and in 1993 he was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in recognition of his services to journalism. Keith Parker set the style for the Express & Star as it became Britain’s biggest-selling regional newspaper.
He called it ‘the total newspaper”, a national paper which just happened to be based in the Black Country. His guiding principle, continued to this day, was that anyone who bought the Express & Star need not buy any other newspaper.
He was diagnosed with cancer three years ago and appeared to have made a good recovery but the disease returned. As recently as last summer he was still seeking new challenges, taking over as chair of the judging panel of the Midlands Media Awards.
He leaves a widow, Bobbie. The couple married in 1962 and had one son, Nicholas.
Adrian Faber, editor of the Express & Star, said: “Keith was one of the leading newspapermen of his generation – a true professional and a doughty fighter for press freedom. He was a real friend and mentor – I shall miss him greatly.”
Douglas Graham, chairman of the Midland News Association, said: “Keith Parker was a valued and respected friend and colleague whose whole career was with the Express & Star and Shropshire Star and before that the Wellington Journal.
‘His long, distinguished and loyal service with the company coincided with its expansion in the 1960’s following the launch of the Shropshire Star. Keith was at the forefront of this both as editor and the managing director of both companies.
‘I shall recall him as an amusing business companion who had total commitment to the newspapers he worked for. He will be much missed. My condolences go to his widow and family.’
David Newell, Director of the Newspaper Society, said: ‘Keith Parker was, quite simply, one of the greatest editors of his generation and a superb ambassador for the whole of the regional and local newspaper industry. He was a man of modesty and was very down-to-earth. But he had a serious side and he was a great campaigner for Press freedom.’
Keith John Parker, the son of a Shrewsbury engineer, was born in Keighley, Yorkshire, in December 1940 and educated at schools in Middlesex and Shrewsbury, and Shrewsbury Technical College. He entered newspapers in 1957 as a 16-year-old trainee reporter on the Wellington Journal and Shrewsbury News. He joined the Express & Star in 1963 and the following year was in at the launch of the Shropshire Star as a reporter, rising to become editor in 1972 and a director in 1973.
In 1977 he was appointed editor of the Express & Star, a position he held for nearly 18 years. He produced the paper through two lengthy strikes in the 1980s.
He was always wary of the threat of media legislation, especially when it came disguised as sweet reasonableness.
As President of the Guild of British Newspaper Editors from 1988-89 he was horrified at a proposed law to give politicians and public a legal ‘right of reply’in newspapers. He said: ‘I hope the Press Council itself . . . will not endorse any view that it should be prepared to accept the introduction of restrictive legislation. A Press Council can surely not stand by and see further restrictions and controls on our ability to report, our right and freedom in a democracy to investigate and to expose. We have far too many legal obstacles as it is.”
After his term as editor, he became general manager of the Express & Star and then managing director of the Shropshire Star. He was then appointed MD of the Express & Star and became chairman of Midland News Association Broadcasting. He served a total of 48 years with the Midland News Association.