Alfred Jenner, former group editor-in-chief and director of Eastern Counties Newspapers, who has died age 90, was a giant in the newspaper industry, both locally and nationally.
A consummate journalist, he combined talent, flair and a no-nonsense managerial approach – all contributing to a 44-year career which saw him rise from apprentice to chief.
Born in Lowestoft, he went to the City of Norwich School, where he was later a governor, before starting his career as an apprentice at the Norwich Mercury in 1935. Four years later he joined the Yarmouth Mercury but a proposed transfer to the EDP was interrupted by the war.
Married to his late wife Peggy at the start of war, his service in RAF Bomber Command was short, after he was shot down over Berlin in 1941, but the four-year incarceration proved formative for his later career.
Many of his fellow prisoners included experienced journalists with more than enough time to talk to an ambitious young reporter, and he was involved in the production of a newspaper for fellow prisoners, the handwritten Daily Recco.
After the war he joined the Eastern Evening News as a sub-editor and later became chief sub-editor. He became editor-in-chief of Eastern Counties Newspapers in April 1964. It was a time of change for the company and he masterminded the move of the Norwich print operation from Redwell Street to Prospect House in a single weekend, and the corporate merger of the East Anglian Daily Times into the group.
In 1968 he was elected president of the British Guild of Newspaper Editors, setting out views in his inaugural speech of the role of the press which would resonate in newsrooms today. ‘Make no mistake, there is a lot of injustice in this country today… and very often the local press is the only hope for the individual threatened by the bulldozer of change,’he said.
His achievements laid many of the foundations for the publishing group that became Archant.
A member of the Press Council, the forerunner of today’s Press Complaints Commission, he was adamant that it was readers who were best placed to keep newspapers in check rather than MPs curtailing the press with privacy laws,
EDP editor Peter Franzen said: ‘As a young journalist at the then Eastern Counties Newspapers, to me Alfred Jenner was an editorial god. His presence on the newsroom floor commanded immediate respect.
‘He was the consummate journalist and the standards and qualities that he set for all our Norfolk newspapers remind us of what we have to live up to. His death is the passing of an era for regional journalism, but his editorial legacy continues to guide us today.”
In his later years, he was involved in putting together editions of Chatterbox, the talking newspaper for the blind. He is survived by a son and daughter, six grandchildren and a great-granddaughter. Shaun Lowthorpe