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November 7, 2017updated 08 Nov 2017 9:10am

‘Tireless’ press freedom campaigner and former Sunday Express editor Robin Esser dies aged 84

By Freddy Mayhew

Former Sunday Express editor and Daily Mail executive managing editor Robin Esser has died aged 84.

Esser, a well-known figure on Fleet Street, spent 57 years working for national newspapers including 26 years at the Daily Mail.

He was described as a “fine, talented editor” and a “tireless campaigner on behalf of the press” by Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre.

Society of Editors president Ian MacGregor said “journalists nationwide” owned a “huge debt of gratitude” to Esser, himself a fellow and former president of the society.

“He dedicated his long career not just to producing brilliant newspapers but defending press freedom with tremendous passion and was at the forefront of the campaign to stop any chance of state control of the media,” said MacGregor.

Esser had been due to attend the society’s annual conference this weekend when he died yesterday.

From Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, Esser began his career editing student newspaper Cherwell at Oxford University, where he attended Wadham College.

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He made his way to Fleet Street after two years national service, where he worked in the military’s public relations team, starting his first job as a casual reporter on the Daily Express and Daily Sketch in 1957.

He went on to edit the Express’s Hickey column and later worked as the paper’s New York bureau chief, becoming the first British journalist to interview the three US astronauts who landed on the moon in 1969.

While at the Express, Esser recruited a young Paul Dacre to the paper.

In 1986 Esser took over from Sir John Junor as Sunday Express editor.

It was in this role that he helped break the story that the student who stood in defiance of Chinese tanks during the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 had been killed by the authorities.

Esser told Press Gazette in an interview in 2007 that he had wanted to be a journalist from the age of eight, adding: “I decided I wanted to edit my mother’s favourite newspaper, the Sunday Express. It took me 40 years, but I did it.”

As a press freedom campaigner, Esser issued a call for the newspaper and magazine industry to defy the Government-backed press regulation Royal Charter in 2013.

In his memoirs, published two years ago, he wrote: “My fervent hope is that newspapers, in all their forms, local regional and national, serious and unabashedly popular, will continue to entertain but above all be a thorn in the side of cheats, wrongdoers, those who abuse the young and the old, and the hypocrisy of those in power.”

Esser died at home after a short illness. He had six children, ten grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. He was left a widower after his first wife died in an accident in 1972 but later married again.

The funeral will be for family only. A memorial service will be held in the New Year.

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