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October 13, 2021updated 30 Sep 2022 10:40am

‘One of the last great editors of print journalism’: Former Plymouth Herald and Cornish Guardian editor Alan Cooper dies aged 78

By Stuart Fraser

Tributes have been paid to a Fleet Street journalist who went on to edit two of the biggest titles in the British regional press in a 45-year career garlanded with awards.

Colleagues and friends have described Alan Cooper as “the best editor I ever worked for”.

Alan, who was 78, had been undergoing a lengthy series of treatments for cancer.

His first job in journalism was on his home paper, the Somerset County Gazette based in Taunton, as a trainee reporter in 1960. From there he moved to the Kent Messenger, where he rose to sports editor, and then the launch of the Evening Post in Kent.

His years on Fleet Street titles began when he joined the Daily Express as a sub-editor based in Manchester. He then joined the London Evening News in 1973 and became chief sub under Lou Kirby, dealing with stories including IRA attacks on the capital.

In 1979, Alan moved to Plymouth as deputy editor of the West Country Sunday Independent, then operated by the Mirror Group as its national training scheme and selling more than 80,000 copies a week. He became deputy editor of the Plymouth Evening Herald in 1984, and took the editor’s chair four years later.

He oversaw a golden era for the paper in which circulation was around 58,000 a day, making it among the UK’s biggest-selling regional titles. In 1992, the Herald was named Britain’s Community Newspaper of the Year for its “Wake Up Plymouth” campaign to promote the city economy and win work for Devonport Dockyard.

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He was appointed editor of the Cornish Guardian in 1996 and again, oversaw a period of remarkable success including weekly sales of more than 40,000, which placed it in the top ten performing weekly newspapers in the country, and major nominations and awards including best weekly paper at the EDF Energy Awards.

Alan had a lifetime love of sport. An enthusiastic village cricketer, he played for his local club near his home in Noss Mayo, South Devon, and captained the Herald’s team in Plymouth leagues. He was a supporter of Somerset County Cricket Club, and played many sports, notably tennis.

He served as a local parish councillor, maintained a close interest in politics and current affairs – and remained an avid reader of the printed press. He was a much-loved family man, husband to wife Tina, also a journalist, father to Anna and a grandad as well.

The best editor I ever worked for’

Many of his colleagues were friends who worked with him for decades. Stuart Fraser, who worked with Alan for more than 30 years, said: “Alan was one of the last great editors of print journalism, a passionate advocate for the importance of trusted local journalism who fought all his career for the communities his papers covered.

“In everything he did he put the readers first. He was a deeply compassionate man, always concerned to be sensitive to people’s needs.

“He always seemed happiest with deadline approaching fast, the pressure on and coverage to organise. Dozens of smashed telephones over the years bore witness to the passion and commitment he had for his job.”

Tony Carney, the veteran Plymouth photojournalist who worked with Alan as picture editor, said: “It was a privilege to work for Alan – an editor held in the highest regard not only by all who worked for him but also by all who knew him.

“The Evening Herald under his leadership grew to become one of the best evening papers in the country. Alan could redesign a front page using paper grids before you could boot up an Apple Mac and was never afraid to change a front page when a good late story came in. He will be sadly missed by all who knew him….the best editor I ever worked for.”

One of Alan’s talents was to nurture young journalists. The defence specialist and author Iain Ballantyne was one. He said: “Alan Cooper was a patient and extremely understanding boss of eager young reporters and gave me a start in evening newspapers, which has been the foundation of my career as an editor and author. For that I am forever grateful.

“It was the Herald’s crowning glory in that era – and the ultimate tribute to his superb stewardship as editor – when, in 1992, we won a national award against some pretty heavy-hitting newspaper rivals.”

Photographer Guy Channing said: “Alan saw me through my training, helped personally with the central project, and wrote a covering note. It gave me enormous confidence going forward, paving the way for many years of enjoyable employment. It was pivotal and as always his advice was delivered like the gentleman he was.”

Jacquie Bird joined the Herald as a trainee and then moved to ITV West Country. She said: “I am truly grateful for all the chances he gave me and the trust he put in me.

“I’m now so sad that the promise he made me when I left, I’ll not be able to make him keep. I still have the letter he wrote me because he knew I was nervous about leaving the Herald, saying there would always be a job for me with him if I wanted it. What a lovely man he was.”

Kevin Marriott first met Alan Cooper in 1987 and worked with him until Alan’s retirement in 2005: “He turned out to be the best editor I ever worked for and between us we built a fantastic sports department which provided the happiest days, years, of my career.

“Alan was an old school journalist, thank God. He knew what newspapers were all about, he didn’t suffer fools gladly, and if you worked hard for him, he would back you all the way.

“He had the Herald absolutely flying by the mid 1990s, with daily circulation figures hovering around 58,000, and a very happy editorial team.

“He saw the industry’s best days and contributed richly to them. And the bottom line was that he was a nice bloke. I will miss him so much.”

Picture: Tony Carney

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