Radio Times journalist Peter Barnard died at home in Salcombe, Devon, on 5 September, aged 57, after a short, brave battle with cancer.
An editorial joiner and cabinet-maker who was equally comfortable crafting others’ words into usable copy or creating his own in a crisp, rich and distinctive style, Peter Barnard was from a now dwindling elite of journalists who rose from newsroom messenger to hold senior posts on some of the world’s most famous newspapers and magazines.
A shambling, gangly man with a wry grin, West Country burr and a deceptively laid-back manner, he was never better than on those great newspaper nights of the Eighties and Nineties – Zeebrugge, the Brighton bombing, resignations, elections and Budgets. Stooped, yet still towering over the editor and backbench, with sleeves rolled up, he glued together the activity. Generations of editors called for Peter when they needed a tough job done – a rescue, a redesign or a relaunch that needed steel and flair.
He was a jumble of contradictions: hardboiled yet soft-centred; fiercely independent politically, but quick to speak out against social injustice; loyal but restless; a team player and a loner; garrulous and gregarious yet introspective in his passion for reading and BBC Radio 4 – "something worth dying for".
A stalwart on The Times from 1985, he served three editors in three spells during the Eighties and Nineties in a variety of roles including deputy managing editor (news), executive editor (features) and then assistant editor, and finally as the paper’s daily radio reviewer. He had previously worked for the Financial Times in the Seventies and the Straits Times. He was sent to Washington in 1982 to set up that paper’s US bureau and then recalled to Singapore as deputy editor.
He was drafted in by the Radio Times in 1988 as executive editor to help shore up the BBC’s creaking cash-cow in readiness for the onslaught of competition in the TV and radio listings market and presided over the dramatic transformation of the journal into a modern magazine and the retention of its place as the UK’s most profitable title. His love affair with the magazine and radio saw him "jump at the chance" to rejoin Radio Times as radio editor in spring 2001, a job he retained until his death. Born on 20 December 1944, Peter joined his local paper, the Western Morning News, straight from Plympton Grammar School, as a picture desk messenger. He quickly graduated to reporter at the Bristol and West News Agency, where he met his wife, Gill, who worked for BBC Bristol. He arrived in the Fleet Street of the Swinging Sixties in 1967, aged 23, to be a sports writer on the old broadsheet Sun – an opportunity to indulge two other lifelong passions, rock music and the Arsenal.
Among the stories he liked to tell about those days was that he helped Fleetwood Mac to compose their classic, Oh Well. During a creative impasse, he reached across the table at the Marquee club for a paper napkin and penned a missing couplet. He is survived by his widow and three daughters.