A legendary editor from the heyday of UK local newspapers, Mike Lowe, has died at the age of 68 after a short illness.
In 2005 Lowe left the Bristol Evening Post after nine years as editor just as UK regional newspapers began their long economic decline.
Born in Manchester, he began his career at a Hull-based news agency before working as a sports writer in Lincoln, at the Hull Daily Mail and then at The Sentinel in Stoke-on-Trent.
He edited the daily titles the Gloucester Citizen and Derby Telegraph before the Bristol Post.
His career had a successful second act as editor of Cotswold Life Magazine for Archant until 2020 (and as a group editor). He once likened the move from newspapers to magazines to the part in the Wizard of Oz when the film moves from black and white to colour.
Mike was a regional newspaperman from the era when editors would wave imitation firearms around and throw typewriters out of windows when they wanted to make a point. He was remembered by colleagues for his skill, creativity and quick wit.
When Prince Charles announced his upcoming wedding to Camilla, Lowe’s Bristol Evening Post marked the news with the cheeky front page: “Tetbury man to wed.”
I can also reveal, for the first time, that Mike was the anonymous author of the much-loved Press Gazette column The Grey Cardigan, which ran from around 2005 to 2012.
Former Press Gazette editor Ian Reeves recalls meeting Lowe for lunch on Fleet Street because he was looking for an anonymous inside take on life in a regional newspaper newsroom.
He’d been impressed with Lowe’s grumpy and acerbic Barry Beezelbub column for the Post and they discussed the idea over lunch at the Cheshire Cheese on Fleet Street.
“He said I know exactly who this character is”, recalls Reeves. “This guy was a backbench sub who had been around forever, started in the postroom – worked his way up, been a reporter – moved to the backbenches – stayed there and got stuck.
“A brilliant wordsmith who knew everything about the paper inside out – dismissed as a sad old figure with custard stains down his grey cardigan. It was fully formed in his head as soon as he started talking about it. It was a big hit almost immediately.”
The column was tolerated by Piers Morgan and Matthew Freud during their brief ownership of Press Gazette in 2005 and 2006, but not quite in step with their vision for the title. When Press Gazette ltd went into liquidation Lowe was one of many Press Gazette contributors who went unpaid (a source of consternation for Reeves, who left the title at this time). The fact that Piers Morgan “still owes me two grand” would become a topic that was returned to in many later columns.
Over the years The Grey Cardigan chronicled life on the Evening Beast, a mythical daily not unlike the various titles Lowe worked for.
The un-politically correct cast of characters in the column included:
- Mungo, a peripatetic Glaswegian sub who kept a house brick in his desk drawer “just in case”
- Tommy Cockles, the photographer with a mail order Thai bride
- Eminence Grease, the beancounting MD
- And editors including The Boy Wonder and Crystal Tits.
This column extract from 2008 gives a flavour:
“They’ve killed off our editions, closed our district offices, sacked dozens of journalists, made us print overnight on an industrial estate 100 miles away, and are actively discussing having Evening Beast pages subbed and laid-out in Bangalore. So where can the bean-counters turn next in their search for savings?
“I know,’ says one of them, brushing the dandruff and Scotch Egg crumbs from his shiny suit. ‘Telephones cost a lot of money. Do they really need them? All they do is talk on them all day.’
“And so it comes to pass that our telephones, our very lifeblood, are ripped out and replaced by some kind of computer-based IP system which digitally crunches up your questions to the old dear celebrating her 100th birthday and flies them around the world before unzipping them again at the nursing home down the road. In theory.
“(Don’t, whatever you do, search ‘unzipping’ and ‘nursing home’. The cops will be kicking the door in before you’ve had time to delete your history.)”
Writing for Press Gazette, Daryl Wilcox recalled meeting Mike in the mid-1980s when he was editor of the Gloucester Citizen (and Wilcox was temporary editorial assistant).
“When I was just 20 and first ventured into the world of newspapers, my vision of the newspaper editor was in every way a caricature. A larger-than life man with a northern accent, hair so short it was not obvious if it was
cut like that or the result of balding, trousers held in place by braces and, of course, a brash manner.
“Finding myself on the staff of the Gloucester Citizen, I came face to face with my vision. When Mike Lowe strode through the corridors of the St John’s Lane offices he may as well have been wearing an ‘I’m the boss’ t-shirt. And I’ll never forget those bright red braces.
“When I arrived in his office, Mike was in full newspaper editor mode. Leaning back in his chair behind a big desk, he said firmly: ‘I want you to get my lunch.’ He paused, but before I could speak, he added: ‘A quarter
pounder with cheese, large fries and 40 Dunhill.'”
Former editor of the Nottingham Post Mike Sassi was among those to pay tribute on Twitter: “Mike was a great, great editor. His leadership was exceptional. His sense of humour was even better. It was an absolute privilege to have worked with him.”
Editor of Holdthefrontpage Paul Linford said: “Mike was indisputably one of the greatest regional newspapermen of the last 30-40 years.”