The founding editor of the Newham Recorder, Tom Duncan, died on Monday at the age of 86.
He edited the paper for almost 30 years, from its creation and first edition in 1968.
Duncan was made an honorary freeman of Newham in 2000 for his services to the community in the borough and was a priest for 25 years at All Saints Church, Poplar. Duncan’s time at the church saw him carry out hundreds of weddings, baptisms and funerals and he was much loved by worshippers.
Tom Duncan was ‘the principal man of the Newham Recorder’
Tributes were made to Duncan following his death at his home in Beckton.
East Ham MP Sir Stephen Timms said: “He was a towering figure and a very important voice in the community. Tom’s contribution to the Newham Needs campaign, which won better funding for the borough, was an important milestone.”
West Ham MP Lyn Brown said: “Tom was a gentle man and the consummate professional who wanted the best for the community. He was thoroughly decent and if only some of the press these days were more like Tom, the world would be a better place.”
Former Newham mayor Bryan Collier, who brought back the Awards of Freedom of the borough after a long absence, said: “He was a great man and well respected and everything he did was for the community. He always put Newham first.”
Hammers fan Duncan, who was also a qualified football referee, was the group editor and also edited the Ilford Recorder. He left the company in 2000, but his successor Colin Grainger, who worked for the paper for 41 years, invited Duncan back to write a weekly page feature of news and comment until 2009.
Grainger said: “Tom was a man of great honesty and integrity. It was my honour to have known him for 52 years. He preached the value of doing the job right. We shared many successes and awards. One both he and I are so proud of was the Kevin Jenkins OBE Toy Appeal campaign, run with charity Ambition, Aspire, Achieve. This, which is still going 46 years after we started it, provides gifts for children who need them the most and would otherwise go without.
“He will be remembered as a man of principle. And the principal man of the Newham Recorder; that’s a legacy.”
‘They don’t make them like Tom anymore’
Former Newham Recorder reporter Neil Duncanson, now chair of independent production company North One, said: “Over the course of a lifetime you meet thousands of people, but only a few have a genuine impact.
“Tom was one of those rare people. I was a madly enthusiastic, but frankly know-nothing kid fresh out of school. He saw something in me and I got hired as an apprentice reporter.
“As editor, his unwavering high standards, attention to detail and zealous pursuit of doing the job right gave me the grounding for the career I’ve enjoyed ever since. Without Tom, I doubt it would have happened. He made a big difference to me and to the lives of so many of my colleagues down the years. They don’t make them like Tom anymore. More’s the pity.”
Former Archant regional director Paul Gregory said: “Tom was a great man and someone who made an advertising manager out of me in my early days. His knowledge and caring helped me so much then and in later life.”
Newham’s first elected Mayor and ex-council leader Sir Robin Wales said: “Tom was a forthright man and dedicated professional. The paper and the council worked together to benefit the community. But Tom and the paper also took us to task. Many times we did not like it. But when we looked into the criticisms, they were usually warranted and we acted. He was a man of the community.”
Former Newham Recorder deputy editor John Finn said: “Tom was the best all-round editor I worked with. Brilliant layout man, great news sense and a gifted writer.”
Ex-Newham Recorder reporter Geoff Sutton said: “He was so important to everyone who worked with him. I wouldn’t have achieved anything without Tom.”
Former Ilford Recorder journalist Bill Stock said: “He was a great editor of Ilford. Firm but fair.”
Former reporter Hugh Muir wrote about Duncan in Press Gazette 18 years ago: “Tom produced one of the best local newspapers in the country. The East End of London was then, as now, fertile ground for crime, politics and social issues and the paper was revered by the borough’s traditional communities. Tom knew just how they thought. An east Londoner, an ardent West Ham United fan, those were his origins too.
“As I considered leaving the Recorder in 1987, I voiced doubts to a former colleague who was by then on the Daily Mail about my chances of surviving on the nationals. “You must be joking,” he said. “After Tom and the Recorder, this is a piece of cake.”
Tom also worked the Romford Recorder, Luton News, East London Advertiser, and for a number of national papers, including the Daily Sketch, before launching the Newham Recorder 55 years ago.
A date has yet to be set for Tom’s funeral but it is likely that a service will be held at All Saints Church, where he served the congregation with distinction, followed by a cremation at the City of London Cemetery in Manor Park.
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