Former editor Tony Pyatt reflects on the ‘time of my life’ as he celebrates 100 years

Tony Pyatt, former Star Editor, celebraiting his 100th birthday at his home in Waldringfield.

Tony Pyatt, former Star Editor, celebraiting his 100th birthday at his home in Waldringfield. - Credit: Archant

From the abdication crisis to Ipswich Town’s famous FA Cup win, Tony Pyatt’s career in newspapers spanned some of the most interesting, dramatic and exciting years of the 20th Century.

Today Mr Pyatt has good reason to reflect on the past as he celebrates a momentous milestone of his own – his 100th birthday.

Like all journalists, he loves to chat, look back and discuss the big news stories he covered, and the changing times and personalities of the media world.

Mr Pyatt, a former editor of the EADT’s sister paper the Evening Star (now the Ipswich Star), is active not just in mind but also body, and enjoys keeping fit, attending Kesgrave Community Centre’s Active Adults session to improve health and wellbeing for older adults each week.

He said: “I really enjoy the sessions – they help keep me active. They are a nice group of people and they brought in a special cake to celebrate my birthday.”

Born in Kent, Mr Pyatt lived his early life in the south of the country before the family moved to East Anglia, where he attended Wisbech Grammar School, one of the oldest schools in the country. His mother died when he was just three years old and three years later his father, a commercial traveller, remarried.

In early 1933, he started work as an indentured apprentice on the Wisbech Standard – the beginning of a lifelong love affair with newspapers.

Most Read

Soon after he worked for the Surrey Weekly Press and the Surrey County Herald as a reporter.

Mr Pyatt said: “When I was working in Surrey it was at the time of the abdication crisis and I was involved in that as a reporter, which was very interesting.”

He joined the Territorial Army in 1939 and two weeks later with the outbreak of war was called up to the 48th Royal Tank Regiment, initially as a Trooper and rising to the rank of Lieutenant and tank commander.

His war service brought him to Suffolk – where he met his wife Audrey – and billets at Glevering Hall, near Wickham Market, and Orwell Park, where the tanks had to be waterproofed before being loaded onto ships at Felixstowe for the D-Day landings.

Mr Pyatt left for D-Day from the Port of London, as a signals officer in charge of communications for the regiment, landing with thousands of other British soldiers to secure the beachhead on Gold Beach.

He said: “We had some hairy battles in the landing area, Arromanches, Caen and Bayeux. I was with the regiment all the time as we moved through Europe and Germany to Berlin, where I spent my last six months in the Army before being demobbed.

“I was so thankful that I came through it all and I was never wounded.”

He was made a Chevalier of the Order of Légion d’Honneur for liberating France, and made an emotional return on the anniversary two years ago with his sons to see the D-Day area now.

After the horrors of the battlefield, Mr Pyatt returned home and to newspapers – securing a job on his first daily paper, the Express and Echo at Exeter, working as a reporter and then a sub-editor for about a year. The family then moved back to Suffolk, where EADT managing editor Ralph Wilson offered him a post as a sub-editor on the Evening Star, where he stayed seven years.

He said: “At that time we lived for a while in Felixstowe and then moved to Ipswich. In 1953, the terrible floods swept through Felixstowe – flooding the house where we had lived in Langer Road to a depth of six feet. The people living there died and I feel certain that had we still been living there it would have been us that would have drowned that night.”

His career next took him to the Midlands and two spells each on the Birmingham Post and at the Standard Triumph Motor Co, where he edited a monthly tabloid newspaper for its 10,000 employees.

While in Birmingham, he received a letter from Ralph Wilson asking him to become deputy editor of the Evening Star. He returned to Suffolk to take up the role in 1964, and a year later become editor of the paper, a position he held until his retirement in 1978.

Mr Pyatt said: “It was a very busy time and one of enormous change for the company and newspapers. In 1966 we expanded and moved our offices from Carr Street to Lower Brook Street where we installed the very latest high-speed printing press.

“I remember the Green ‘Un was the last paper we printed at Carr Street after 80 years in the building. We moved over the weekend and printed the EADT as usual on Monday morning – service to our readers was not interrupted at all.

“There were big changes taking place and we moved from hot metal to take on the new electronic computerised systems for making pages.”

During his time as editor he was responsible for taking the tabloid Star back to being a broadsheet, and then, just before retirement, changing it back again to a tabloid, as circulation rose under his stewardship in the 1970s to 50,000 copies a day.

Mr Pyatt recalled a number of major news stories during his editorship – including the Tattingstone suitcase murder, in which the newspaper had the difficult decision whether to feature a photo of the severed head of the victim to help attempts to identify the body, later found to be Bernard Oliver, 17.

The corpse had been cut into eight pieces and left in two suitcases.

He said: “We published the photo and along with help from national newspapers the victim was identified. The police though never got anyone for the murder and I don’t believe there were even any firm suspects. I think they thought there was a medical connection because of the way the body had been cut up.

“Another of my big memories was Ipswich Town winning the FA Cup in the year I retired. I was on the Town Hall balcony with Bobby Robson and the players and the crowds below us were amazing.”

Mr Pyatt’s wife Audrey died aged 77. The couple had two sons, Stephen, now 72, Andrew, 71, and two daughters, Elizabeth, 67, and Vivienne, 61.

He has three grandsons and 10 granddaughters and 10 great-grandchildren.

In his retirement, he has travelled worldwide, and also served in a voluntary capacity as regional secretary of the NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists), for which he also ran subbing courses and worked with trainee journalists at universities.