By former chief production editor of the News of the World James Alan Anslow
Groundbreaking national newspaper production journalist Mike Davey has died aged 72.
Throughout his 45-year career, and long before the internet revolution, he was always one of the first journalists to master and harness new technologies, rather than recoil from their perceived complexities.
Mike’s career followed a traditional trajectory for his generation, starting as a reporter on local newspapers in Surrey, quickly becoming a sub and then rising to deputy chief sub of the Aldershot News in Hampshire.
Two years on the Press Association consolidated his impressive skills and he was then appointed deputy chief sub of one of the new breed of web-offset, computer-printed evening newspapers then springing up in and around the London commuter belt: the Evening Echo at Basildon and Southend in Essex.
Mike moved to Fleet Street as a sub on the News of World in 1979, rising to deputy chief sub and becoming joint production and systems editor before retiring to Cornwall in 2006.
His genius was locating the strengths in new technologies, and showing the rest of us not to be afraid of them, but to use them to our advantage.
He taught me and many others how to make the most of now defunct hot-metal subbing and layout techniques and, when the News of the World moved to Wapping and computer setting in 1986, he embraced the possibilities of those black and green screens, ultimately becoming systems editor and sharing his knowledge generously.
It did not stop there. He helped lead the News of the World’s innovative editorial production department which took on the burgeoning area of desktop publishing and, later, remote satellite printing, leading the way for similar conversions by The Sun, Times and Sunday Times.
I judge his finest professional hour to be the night Diana, Princess of Wales died in 1997. The huge and tragic story started breaking after most of the senior journalists had gone home.
It was the editorial production team, and Mike’s brilliantly applied knowledge of page-pairing and distribution, that allowed multiple editions of Britain’s biggest-selling newspaper to reach the shops, with the latest information about the tragedy, throughout the next day. All at a time before social media was around to instantly relay the news.
Bearded Mike sometimes appeared gruff to those who did not know him, particularly rookies nervously seeking his advice on some subbing keyboard instruction or others. But, like the rest of us, they soon learned how helpful and supportive he could be.
He was proud of journalists and journalism and, although not overtly political, he disliked injustice. I stood with him on more than one NUJ picket line, and I remember locking arms with him as he propelled his powerful frame against the later disbanded Special Patrol Group during a dispute in Stratford, east London, in the 1970s.
His long-time colleague on the News of the World Dave “Nobby” Clark said: “Mike’s calm, confidence and total ability was an inspiration. And he was real gent too.”
Former editor of the News of the World editor Patsy Chapman said: “Mike was Mr Cool on press days, staying calm in the chaos and frustration, unlike some of his editors… like me.
“If there was a computer conk-out (he’d have known the proper term for that), a squashed headline, a stop-the-front page, back page, page 43 moment, the answer was to call Mike. He’d warn us that too many changes would make the paper late. Later we’d ask him: ‘Why was the paper late?’”
Mike taught me, and countless others, a great deal of what we know as production journalists. More than anything he taught us not to be afraid, and to embrace the new.
His final ten years were spent happily in retirement enjoying the company of his son, two daughters and seven grandchildren
Michael Charles Davey