The History of the Daily Dispatch by Glyn Williams

In The Beginning…

The East London Dispatch and Shipping and Mercantile Gazette appeared on September 10, 1872, as a subsidiary of a King William’s Town newspaper, the  Kaffrarian Watchman. East London was then little more than a shipping and forwarding agency for the strategically situated capital of Kaffraria, King William’s  Town. It did not become a municipality until 1873 when the three villages of east and west East London and  Panmure were amalgamated. The first editor, Massey Hicks, aged 24, had promised publication on  September 10, and he kept to his deadline, despite at  least one major difficulty. He and his partner, a Mr  Rowles, had bought a wood-and-iron cottage in Smith  Street to house the press and newspaper office. The  builders were still busy when the printing equipment  arrived from King William’s Town by ox wagon along the  only road connecting the towns by way of Mount Coke.  Massey Hicks persuaded Mrs J. Dempster, who lived  next door on the corner of Smith Street, to allow them to  use her kitchen as a press room. “This was only one of  the many kindly acts performed by the Dempsters,”  wrote a correspondent who knew them. The house that  gave birth to the Daily Dispatch was demolished before  1909, while Mrs Dempster was still alive, but living in  Bulawayo. She was a frequent visitor to East London,  and in fact spent three months in East London in 1909  as she approached the end of her life. The newspaper was a four-page tabloid, it cost threepence, and sold out. The proprietors did not even keep a copy for their files, though there is one in the South African Library in Cape Town. How many copies were printed and how  Mrs Dempster managed to cook the family’s meals with  a press in her kitchen are not recorded. As was customary in that period, the front page carried only advertisements – news did not make the front page of  the Dispatch until November 1, 1955, when its lead  story was about troubles in the then French-ruled  Morocco. Most other reports on page one was of foreign  origin – a far cry from today, with the Dispatch adapting  to an emphasis on the regional in an electronic age.

Then some changes were made by new editors

In June 1874 the newspaper was bought by Thomas  William Goodwin, a printer from England, who became  its new editor. Alfred Webb also acted as editor around  this time, but was never formally appointed. Goodwin  continued to show enterprise and initiative, publishing  East London’s first almanac and presenting a copy to  every reader in December 1874. Page size was  increased to 33 by 52cm on January 12, 1875, and from  September that year all pages carried the date. The  third editor was Mr William Lance, an attorney, who  formed a partnership with Mr Goodwin on November 7,  1876. The burst of energy often shown by a new broom  resulted in a decision within 14 days to publish twice a  week. An office to receive advertisements and  subscriptions was opened on the east bank in  December. A decision to site the terminal of an East  London-Queenstown railway line at the east bank’s  “German village” was a blow both for the west bank and  for King William’s Town, which was to be served by a  station some distance away, at Blaney. The printing  works were moved to Caxton Street on May 10, 1877.  Not long afterwards, Thomas Goodwin broke away to  found his own newspaper, the East London Advertiser.  The Dispatch employed newsboys for street sales from  November 1877. A vicarious nod to its established place  in the community was made when an election  committee supporting Mr Sprigg and Mr Blaine  presented a copy of the March 26, 1879, issue free to  every resident of East London. That same year the  Frontier Advertiser was assimilated and the newspaper  became the East London Dispatch and Frontier  Advertiser.

1879 – A momentous year

1879 proved to be a momentous year with yet another  change of ownership and editor. Henry Hebbes took the  helm in September and there was a move to bigger  premises in Terminus Street on December 12.  Cryptically, the Dispatch recorded: “We bid good-bye to  the overwhelming afflications of Commercial Square  with the greatest cordiality.” The building housed the  first public clock in the town, which was still functioning  in 1902, when the building owned by harness makers J.  Sanderson was demolished with scant regard for its  historical significance. The first three editors had short  reigns but Henry Hebbes was in the chair from 1879 to  1898. The newspaper was owned from 1879 to 1894 by  W.A. Richards and then by one of East London’s most  successful mayors, David Rees, from 1894 to 1905.

Will Crosby, the Dispatch’s first professionally trained  editor

In 1898 Will Crosby became the first of the Dispatch’s  professionally trained editors. Crosby, who was to retire  as editor 14 years later, was a hardy character, a  pioneering and adventurous journalist. He was born at  Colchester, Essex, on April 23, 1855, and died in East  London on July 30, 1923, after a remarkable career.  After leaving school and working on local newspapers,  he worked for two years for the Yorkshire Observer in  Bradford, which was the birthplace and training ground  of a later Daily Dispatch editor, Vernon Barber. He was  only 20 years old when he arrived in Port Elizabeth to  join the Eastern Province Herald as a reporter, where he  said he received his first lesson in South African  journalism from George Impey.

2 Years later, Crosby was running the Queenstown  Representative

Two years later, at 22, he was running the Queenstown  Representative, with Francis J. Dormer. When the first  Anglo- Boer War started, Crosby and Dormer decided  one of them had to enlist. They tossed a coin – and  Dormer had to go. Crosby bought him out a few months  later. Crosby carried on under “disadvantageous  circumstances”. He was to admit that “things did not go  as well as one might expect” and he sold his interests in  the Representative in 1880, though “Queenstown was a  place I would always love.” He married and settled in  Tarkastad, where he started the Tarka Herald. In 1884  he disposed of the goodwill and left Tarkastad with his  printing plant for Aliwal North, where he founded the  Border News.

Crosby is bitten by the gold bug and starts another  printing business in Jo’burg

Will Crosby was one of thousands bitten by the gold bug  when the precious metal was discovered on the  Witswatersrand. “Aliwal North was a very fine place but  there was no money there,” he said. When the goldfields  were proclaimed in 1887 he bought a pair of horses and  left Aliwal North, again taking his printing press with him.  He bought a corner site at Ferreira’s Camp (which was  to become Johannesburg), and started another printing  business in a tent. One document stated that he bought  the site for fifty pounds but Crosby said when he retired  completely from business that he bought an erf in  Johannesburg on credit for 200 pounds. He started the  Rand’s first newspaper, The Diggers’ News and  Witswatersrand Advertiser, which he developed from a  tiny sheet on his old handpress into a thriving daily. He  sold it in 1888. Will Crosby’s abilities and character  made a swift impression on the Johannesburg business  fraternity. Shortly before Christmas 1887, 22 bowler- hatted men met at the Corner Dining Room to consider  establishing a mutual building society in Johannesburg.  Crosby called the meeting to order and he was voted in  as chairman. It marked the birth of the Johannesburg  Building Society. Crosby was offered the chairmanship  but declined.

Crosby is officially designated a pioneer of the  Witswatersrand

A document recording the early years of the society  stated that “family afflictions prompted Crosby to return  to the Cape in 1890.” But before he did so, Crosby, who  was said to be involved in mining ventures, continued on  his adventurous way. He moved to Pretoria, where he  managed the bilingual Volksraad newspaper for a short  time, Barberton, Komatipoort and Delagoa Bay, which  he and other young men appropriated somewhat  bizarrely in the name of England before heeding an  official telegram advising them to get out of  Mozambique. He was officially designated a pioneer of  the Witswatersrand, a rare honour. His next career  move was to Cradock in 1890 where he founded the  Midlai News, in association with the Butler brothers. He  stayed there until 1898 when he became editor of the  Daily Dispatch after an approach by David Rees, whom  he had met in Bulawayo. Rees was unhappy with the  progress of the Dispatch and felt it was time for change.  He considered Crosby an enterprising and experienced  joumalist.

 Crosby turns the Daily Dispatch into an afternoon  daily

It was Crosby who took another big step in the evolution  of the Daily Dispatch, turning it from a bi-weekly to an  aftemoon daily. The first issue of the East London Daily  Dispatch was published on January 5,1898. It was the  first penny daily newspaper published in the Eastern  Cape. A report published in 1906 stated: “The success  of the Daily Dispatch has been phenomenal and today it  can boast of a circulation larger and more widely  distributed than any colonial paper published outside  Cape Town.” Crosby considerably improved the  newspaper, making extensive use of South African and  world news sent by cable and telegraphic services. A  direct cable had been laid between Cape Town and  Britain in 1884, which cut the cost of overseas  communications, but little use had previously been  made of the service, apart from market reports. Most of  the European news published came by mail, which was  received about 23 days after posting in Britain. Vernon  Barber considered Crosby a vigorous editor not afraid to  speak his mind, with a friendly and kindly disposition  that was antidote to his outspoken views.  Typographically, he was of the conservative old school.  The Dispatch adhered to small headlines of the same  font, with a rash of similar words or phrases in adjoining  columns; for instance “latest war news.” Barber credits  Crosby with making the greatest improvements in the  lay-out, and in the service provided by the Daily  Dispatch in its first 50 years, but he was less  complimentary on his merits as a businessman. Barber  said he was warm-hearted and generous but too happy- go-lucky to manage an enter prise. Crosby had decided  to publish a morning as well as an afternoon edition of  the Daily Dispatch with war looming in South Africa in  November 1899, and this was continued throughout the  war, adding considerably to expenses. It could have led  to David Rees’ decision to sell the newspaper when the  war ended.

David Rees

Rees, who was born in Wales on February 17, 1857,  died in East London on December 26, 1926. He was an  extraordinary self-made man. Rees came to South  Africa at the age of 24. He was employed by the Cape  Government Railways in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth  before moving to East London at 28. Rees blossomed in  the East London of the 1880s. He resigned his job,  opened his own company as a cartage contractor to the  railways, and plunged into its business, social and  administrative life with an extraordinary energy. The  name of David Rees was everywhere. He became  president of cricket, football, cycling and rifle societies,  chair man of the harbour board, president of the  agricultural society. He was a member of the Beach  Hotel Company, and had property in the city, and in the  Cape and Transvaal. He was mayor continuously from  1890 – when he was only 34 – to 1896 and again in 1899.  Rees embarked on developing and revitalising the city  in a sustained bout of energy that emphasises not only  his vision but his ability to convince the Doubting  Thomases and to take them with him, even if it  sometimes required patience and persistence. He  advocated electric lighting for East London in 1888, but  he did not get his way until 1895 when he convinced the  council to borrow what was then the considerable sum  of 75 000 pounds to get moving on much needed  modernisation. Despite the usual moans and groans  from ratepayers about paying for a new Town Hall,  costing all of 12 000 pounds, David Rees again  managed to get his way. He laid the foundation stone in  February 1896. “No mayor did as much as he did,” says  historian Dr Keith Tankard, of Rhodes University in East  London. “He was fortunate that East London was  prospering during his time in office, but other mayors  had also been in office when the going was good but had  not capitalised on it as David Rees did.” During World  War 1 he and his wife devoted themselves to the  collection and administration of Distress Funds. He was  later awarded the honour of Commander of the Order of  the British Empire (CBE) for his services. He lived in  some style at Park House in Park Avenue, which was  then in a fashionable area of the city. He was said to be  fond of a good animal “and his coaches and horses are  the subject of much favourable comment” according to a  contemporary report. A biographical item in Men Of The  Times (Old Colonists of the Cape and Orange River  Colony) refers to him, somewhat obviously, as having  “much energy and a great capacity for work.” A sketch  shows a long, intelligent face, high forehead, a droopy  moustache and brooding eyes. His obituary published  on December 28, 1926, was accorded the usual single  column heading. The Daily Dispatch reported he had  been taken ill suddenly and suffered much pain with an  internal malady, which seems as if he could have  suffered a heart attack. The report referred briefly to his  importance: “Few men in East London have had so  much to do with the building up of the port and town.” He  was “vigorous”, it said. It acknowledged his past  association with the Daily Dispatch. “He took great  interest in the Dispatch and staff” even after he had  severed connections with the newspaper. When Rees  took over the Dispatch, it was laboriously set by hand  and printed on a double-feed Wharfedale flat press.  After a move to premises in Buffalo Street, H.O. Parsons  was sent to an industrial exhibition in Johannesburg  where Linotype machines were on display. In a decision  typical of the progressive outlook shown by Rees  throughout his life, the Dispatch bought four of the type-  setting machines that were to make hand setting as  obsolete as the Linotypes were to become with the  arrival of computers. They were excellent machines,  three of which were still being used to produce the  newspaper in 1950.

H.O. Parsons, a master craftsman and autocrat

H.O. Parsons, the composing room foreman who was  both master craftsman and autocrat, was to become a  bulwark of the Daily Dispatch for 44 years. He zealously  read every line of copy sent to him for setting with  conscientiousness that emphasised his loyalty,  dedication to task and concern for the welfare of the  newspaper. H.O. had learned his trade with Grocott and  Sherry, Grahamstown, and had worked on an early  Rand newspaper, the Morning Star. Parsons, who  served on the board of directors for nearly 20 years, had  been given extraordinary powers by Sir Charles Crewe  on what should be printed in the Daily Dispatch, but as  the years wore on he became inflexible and resistant to  change. Barber made no secret of his admiration of  Parsons’ many fine qualities but he also said that it took  some time to persuade Parsons that the Dispatch “was  behind the times” and was suffering as a result. Parsons  died suddenly in November 1937, not long after he had  been given additional responsibilities at the Dispatch.  H.O. was succeeded by his son, T.O. (Scrubby) who  joined the staff in 1912 when he was apprenticed to Jock  Symons, another long-serving employee, who had  been engaged to run the first rotary press. He also  became a director of the company, serving until his  death in 1960.

Sir Charles Preston Crewe and Will Crosby form a  partnership

Early in 1903 Sir Charles Preston Crewe, the Hon A.J.  Fuller and Will Crosby formed a partnership to take over  the business. Sir Charles bought Mr Fuller’s  shareholding shortly after wards and he and Crosby  continued to run the newspaper. Sir Charles was to  have a most significant influence on the Daily Dispatch  over the next three decades. He created the Charles  Crewe Trust and the R.O. Crewe Trust for charitable  purposes. They controlled 70 per cent of the  newspaper’s shareholding. All the other shareholders  were Daily Dispatch staff members. This financial  arrangement prevailed until 1978 when the Crewe  trustees felt it would be wiser to sell the shares and  diversify. The trust holdings were bought by the  directors, who also secured the minority shares. Sir  Charles, who was destined to become one of South  Africa’s most distinguished men, was born in London on  January 11, 1858. His father, Captain Frederick Crewe,  of the l7th Madras Infantry, was a member of an old  Cheshire family, the Crewes of Crewe Hall, and his  mother was descended from a Huguenot family which  had settled in Britain. Sir Charles arrived in South Africa  in March 1878, at the time of the Gaika-Galeka war. He  joined the Frontier Mounted Police, which subsequently  became the Cape Mounted Riflemen (CMR), was  engaged in campaigns on the Border, and fought in  every important engagement in the Basuto war. He was  present at the capture of Moirosi’s stronghold and was  mentioned in despatches. Sir Charles joined the old  Kaffrarian Bank at King William’s Town in 1881, and the  Cape Police two years later. In 1885 he went farming in  the Barkly East area and in 1887 he married Helen, the  eldest daughter of J.M Orpen, of Avoca, New England.  In 1896 Sir Charles entered politics. He helped to  organise the South Africa League and he contested the  Aliwal North seat at a general election in 1898, losing by  two votes, but he became a member of parliament for  East Griqualand before the end of the year. When the  Anglo-Boer War started, Sir Charles recruited and  organised various defence regiments and returned to  active service early in 1900. He raised the Border  Horse, which became part of a mobile column under his  command. He received several mentions in despatches  and was awarded the CB for his services. He settled in  East London when the war ended. He represented the  Aliwal North constituency from 1904. Sir Charles was  appointed joint whip of the Progressive Party, led by  Cecil Rhodes. A year after he had acquired controlling  interest of the Daily Dispatch, Sir Charles accepted an  invitation from the prime minister of the Cape, Dr Starr  Jameson, to become colonial secretary, along with the  port folios of defence, police and education. He later  took over from Arthur Fuller the additional portfolio of  agriculture. The Jameson government was defeated in  1908 but Sir Charles was returned as member for East  London, which he represented until he resigned in  1919, retiring from active politics. At the start of World  War I Sir Charles was appointed director of war  recruiting and he helped to raise the first South African  infantry brigade and other units for service overseas. He  was knighted in 1915. Sir Charles commanded a unit in  the German East African campaign with the rank of  brigadier- general. He was national chairman of the  1820 Settlers’ Association from 1920-32, and was then  unanimously elected honorary life chairman. Barber  said that one of the first improvements made by Sir  Charles when he bought the controlling interest was to  establish a process engraving department to make  blocks for the commercial side of the business. It was  only in the 1920s that it began to make pictures for  editorial. The respected craftsman, Harry Aldous, who  started with the Dispatch as an apprentice, and who  was in charge of the process department for more than  four decades, retired in June 1976 after 50 years loyal  service.

Fair treatment for all races

A historic document was found when changes were  being made to the old Daily Dispatch library in the  1960s. It was addressed to Sir Charles and came from  Cecil Rhodes, who said he would be happy to lend 500  pounds to help the Daily Dispatch buy some new  equipment, as long as the newspaper adhered to its  policy of fair treatment for all races – an early indication  of the liberal values that were to stiffen into active  opposition of apartheid policies. There was an echo of  this when Donald Woods was appointed editor in 1965.  In his letter of appointment from the chairman and  managing director, Mr I.D. Ross-Thompson, he was re  minded the Daily Dispatch had a long standing tradition  of adhering to the Rhodes policy of fair treatment for all.  Sir Charles’ farming years at Barkly East and his  knowledge of Border agriculture were undoubtedly  factors that helped to induce him to extend the  circulation of the Daily Dispatch from East London into  the country areas, laying the basis of today’s wide  regional coverage and support.

Crosby retires

It was another year of change at the Daily Dispatch in  1915. Crosby, who had been in failing health for some  time, retired just as the Dispatch took over the Daily  Representative in Queenstown, but he continued to  serve the community. Crosby chaired the East London  Hospital Board from 1918-23, served as a justice of the  peace, became life president of the South African Press  Union, was president of such organisations as the  Border Agricultural Union, Border Rugby Union, East  Anglian Society, East London Manufacturers’  Association, and was chairman and co-founder (with Mr  Ellender) of the East London Club. He was president of  the Buffalo Rugby Club in 1912 when its players won  every competition in all Ieagues. A bequest to Frere  Hospital resulted in a children’s ward being named in his  honour. Mr and Mrs Crosby had seven sons and a  daughter.

The Daily Dispatch moves to Caxton Street

Sir Charles turned the Daily Dispatch into a limited  liability company, and the incumbent editor, B.H. Dodd,  became one of the shareholders. There was another  move, this time to the present buildings in Caxton Street,  abutting Station Street, and originally a wool store,  which coincided with the acquisition of a modern and  fast rotary press. Another two Linotypes were bought,  and there was an increase in the size of the page to 24  inches by 19 inches. The make-up of the pages  remained prosaic, with single column headlines that  were often dull with repetitive words. They were not to  change until 1924, probably because of the influence of  a young man from Britain who had joined the staff,  Vernon Barber. The newspaper began to be  typographically liberated. Different type faces were  used in the single column headlines. Then came double  column headlines and introductions, and a greater use  began to be made of illustrations.

Dodd takes over from Crosby in 1912

Dodd, a former teacher who had found little stimulation  in school work, took over from Crosby in 1912. He joined  the staff in 1901 at the age of 30, and although Vernon  Barber assessed him a man of retiring disposition, there  was no argument about either his energy or writing  ability. In the years just after the end of the Anglo-Boer  War, he was often the only member of the editorial staff,  and he worked long, grinding hours doing whatever was  required of him, whether it was reporting, editing copy,  or writing a leader. He had gained an M.A. at Glasgow  University with honours in the classics and English  literature, could read and write Greek, was fluent in  Latin, and was a store-house of knowledge, which he  would reveal grudgingly. He was a scholar who  conversed with difficulty, was virtually unknown to his  fellow directors outside the office, and found it  embarrassing to confront members of his staff when  errors were made. “Bill” Dodd certainly had staying  power. He was to edit the Daily Dispatch for 26 years  until 1938, but he hardly had time to put up his feet  before he was persuaded to become editor of the Daily  Representative when many young men were joining the  services on the outbreak of war. He would stay at a  Queenstown hotel during the week, and return to his  home in King Street, Southernwood, East London, at  weekends. The house was later occupied by his  daughter, Alison, who became curator of the Ann Bryant  Gallery. He died in December 1951.

Dodd launches the first Chiel column

Dodd’s influence looms large over the Daily Dispatch.  He introduced the first Chiel column, which he  presented along with the Robbie Burns’ quotation “A  chiel’s amang you takin’ notes, and faith he’ll prent it,”  which adorned the popular column for many years. It  exemplified his literary knowledge. The original Chiel  was Francis Grose, who was born in Richmond, Surrey,  in 1731. He ran through a fortune left by his father and  became a soldier and writer. Grose was collecting  material for a book on the antiquities of Scotland when  he met Robbie Burns who wrote the humorous poem  that included the line “A chiel’s amang you . . . ” Chiel  compilers over the years have included Dodds, Munay  McPherson, Donald Woods, Dick Baker, George Farr,  Jac van Wyk and Robin Ross-Thompson. During  Dodd’s editorship, in July 1928, the company installed a  new Foster rotary press which arrived to some  excitement aboard the Clan Grant, but a wise  management decided to retain the old Hoe press as a  standby – in case something went wrong. The Foster  was to serve the company well until it was replaced in  June 1967. It had hardly bedded down when the world  suffered the most severe economic depression of the  20th century. These were tough times for the Daily  Dispatch, as they were for thousands of other  companies, and it called for measures unprecedented  in the newspaper’s history.

The Dispatch experiences its most difficult financial  crisis

With a severe fall-off in advertising and revenue, Sir  Charles felt he had no option in 1931 other than to call  for a temporary reduction of ten per cent in all salaries.  He said it would save two thousand pounds a year.  Although the cut was unpopular there was no indication  of serious dissent. Jobs were scarce and millions of  people all over the world were struggling to survive. Sir  Charles said in his appeal that he preferred to call for a  ten per cent sacrifice rather than make anyone  redundant. Other economies were also made. The  paging was reduced and less use was made of  expensive wire services. The judicious cut-back in  expenditure was a success in that it enabled the  company to get through probably its most difficult and  protracted financial crisis, albeit caused by external  circumstances.

B.A. Steer becomes the sole proprietor

Sir Charles had selected B.A. Steer, who was then in the  civil service, as his private secretary during World War  1 when he became director of recruiting. In 1917 Steer  was appointed business manager of the Daily Dispatch.  When Sir Charles drafted the company’s articles of  association in 1921, following the purchase and  incorporation of the Daily Representative, he named  Steer as life governing director to succeed him in the  event of his death. Sir Charles died on July 21, 1936 at  his home, Woodleigh, East London, and Steer became  the sole proprietor for 16 years. G.L. Steer, journalist  son of Bunny Steer, was commissioned by the directors  to write a biography of Sir Charles at a cost of five  hundred pounds. He completed it late in 1939. Lady  Crewe died in April 1938. Vernon Barber was a Steer  devotee. Barber said he placed implicit trust in his  executives and did not interfere with them unless there  had been a divergence from principle or policy. He had  vision and sound business sense, Barber said, and the  newspaper moved ahead under his control. The capital  of the company was doubled without the shareholders  being asked for any extra money.

I.D. Ross-Thompson takes over from Steer

The position of governing director fell away when Steer  died on July 16, 1952 and Mr I.D. Ross-Thompson, a  distant relative of Sir Charles’, who had worked with  Steer for 25 years, became chairman and managing  director of the company. He also became joint trustee  with the Standard Bank of the Crewe Estates, thus, in  effect, exercising the authority of governing director.  Ivan Denis Ross-Thompson had been born in India,  where his father, Colonel I.F Ross-Thompson,  commanded the 26th Punjab Regiment. He attended an  English public school favoured by parents in the  colonies, Haileybury, near Hertford, and joined the  Standard Bank in London. He transferred to the East  London branch in 1926 and two years later became a  share holder and director of the Daily Dispatch. He  joined The Kaffrarian Rifles during World War II, and  was transferred to the intelligence department in 1941.  He was with the cipher section throughout the  Abysinnian campaign, and later in Madagascar. Ross- Thompson retired in July 1984 after 56 years with the  company, which included a record 32 years as  chairman. He did not neglect community input, being  president of East London Rotary Club and East London  Golf Club, and served both the 1820 Memorial Settlers’  Association and the SA National Tuberculosis  Association.

Vernon Armitage Vernon Barber becomes editor in  1938

Vernon Armitage Vernon Barber, a Yorkshireman  frequently referred to as Jock, became editor in 1938.  When he retired at the end of 1963, he was just one year  short of beating the 26 years B.H. Dodd had held the  editorship. The influence of this tough, noisy and  gregarious news paperman was profound. On January  6, 1941, he presided over the installation of a new telex  system connected to the South African Press  Association in Johannesburg which was able to receive  news and sports reports from all over the world at 60  words a minute. Page lay-out was modernised and he  made the change to front page news on November 1,  1955. His quarter of century in the hot seat included the  war years 1939-45, with its staff shortages, the era of  apartheid from 1948 on, and the exit from the  Commonwealth. Journalists constantly complain of  space problems but Barber, along with other South  African editors, faced extreme difficulties. Paper  restrictions imposed from April 28, 1942, meant that the  Dispatch could publish no more than six pages on four  days of the week. Barber announced that from May 4 it  would not possible to publish sports items, or angling,  bowling or golf notes.

Barber faces the crisis of a complete power failure

Barber faced another crisis on November 21, 1953,  when East London had a complete power failure after  more than 12 inches of rain fell in 36 hours. On  November 22, for the first time in its history, the Daily  Dispatch appeared as a single sheet, issued to readers  with due apology. The page was assembled by hand  from individual letters cast in metal and printed on a  hand- operated press.

Management decided to make sure it would never happen again

Standby generators which were secured in case of  another breakdown in the main supply were to prove  their worth repeatedly, even if there has never since  been a power shutdown of such proportion.

1960 – Another era of considerable change and  modernisation for the Daily Dispatch

The 1960s proved to be another era of considerable  change and modernisation on the Daily Dispatch. On  May 21, 1961, a service was inaugurated for readers  who wanted to phone in their advertisements and at the  end of the year the Daily Dispatch started a daily page  specially for women. This was destined to end during  the feminist era of the late 1980s, just as an earlier  experiment with an edition for black readers was  abandoned in face of dislike for what was considered  separatism. There were a number of significant events  during the year that Barber retired. On April 1, 1963, the  selling price of the Daily Dispatch was increased from  two and a half cents to three cents. It was the first  increase since December 1949.

The newspaper’s first colour advertisement

Before the month was out – on April 24 – Daily Dispatch  staff succeeded in modifying the press to print the  newspaper’s first colour advertisement. The  advertisement, published on page three, was an  extraordinary achievement on the Foster press, which  had been installed in 1928 and was not designed to print  colour. Technical director Binks Arnold, who worked on  the modifications, still recalls it as a masterpiece of  innovation.

The Daily Dispatch acquires the building at the corner of Cambridge and Caxton Streets

On November 12, 1963, the Daily Dispatch acquired the  building designed by Sir Herbert Baker at the corner of  Cambridge and Caxton Streets formerly owned and  occupied by the Union Castle Company to house  accounts, advertisements and circulation staff. In  November 1964 Don Kenyon joined the Daily Dispatch  as cartoonist. This talented Xhosa-speaking  Transkeian, whose brother, Basil, captained a  Springbok rugby team, decided to retire as a magistrate  and to give full rein to his artistic talents. His cartoons  were to grace the newspaper for more than two  decades, they were to appear in a book on South  African cartoonists, and he was to be honoured with a  posthumous exhibition of his work at the East London  Museum. It was a measure of Don Kenyon’s talents, and  his qualities of integrity, that he still remains the unique  Daily Dispatch long-time cartoonist. Many others tried  to fill his shoes, either as Daily Dispatch staff or as  freelances, but he proved a difficult, perhaps impossible  act to follow. Murray McPherson became the new editor  at the age of 57 but he had to retire with eye and heart  problems after a year in office. He was a gentle and  scholarly person which is some of the attributes of the  ideal editor, but plainly his health was not good enough  to withstand the rigours of the job. The appointment of  Gordon Qumza to the editorial staff in 1963 could be  seen as a portent of change in South Africa. Qumza,  who was a key member of the reporting staff for many  years until he retired, was awarded a grant by the US  Government International Education Exchange to tour  America for four months. Gordon Qumza played rugby  for Transvaal for three years as flyhalf and centre and  had been a national selector on the African Rugby  Board of SA. The growing need for better  communications culminated in June 1964 with the  installation of an automatic telephone service.

Donald Woods becomes editor in 1965

Then came an editor who was destined to become internationally known, and certainly the most famous in  the Daily Dispatch’s 122 years. Donald Woods became editor in February 1965, at the age of 31. Woods was  born on December 15, 1933, of Irish stock at Elliotdale,  Transkei, where his father owned a trading station. He  was educated at De La Salle College, Christian  Brothers, Kimberley, and the University of Cape Town,  where he studied law for five years before becoming a  journalist. He started on the Daily Dispatch and then  spent two years working on newspapers in London,  Wales and Canada before returning to the Daily  Dispatch in June 1960. Before he became editor he had rapid all-round experience as reporter, sub-editor,  political correspondent, parliamentary correspondent,  columnist/leader writer, assistant editor and deputy  editor.

Daily Dispatch’s circulation grew from 18 0000 to 33 000  by 1977

Donald Woods recruited staff from overseas as well as  from various parts of South Africa and during his  editorship, the newspaper grew from 18 000 circulation  to 33 000 by 1977. It became one of the most profitable  in the country, after the Sunday Times and The Star.

Photographer Don Watson makes his mark

Photographer Don Watson, who joined the staff in the  1960s, made his mark with some excellent work before  deciding to join a national magazine in Cape Town. He  has since distinguished himself as one of South Africa’s  top feature photographers. Other cameramen who  worked on the Dispatch in the 1960s and 70s included  John Woodroof and Les Bush, both of whom were to  become award-winning nationally known  photographers. The Daily Dispatch became the first  newspaper in South Africa to have a proper leader page  with a mix of leader or editorial, Chiel, and feature  articles. Woods made his decision after discussions  with Glyn Williams, chief sub-editor of the Western Mail,  Cardiff, Wales, who had been visiting East London. The  Daily Dispatch leader page was similar to those of other  South African daily newspapers – a mix of  entertainment-type ads and fill-in edit material – editorial  taking whatever space was left over. Woods worked to  persuade a management ever mindful of advertising  revenue to take the advertisements elsewhere and give  him a full page every day. The first such leader page was  published on March 2, 1966. It was a not insignificant  step forward for the Daily Dispatch, which gained  immeasurably in prestige, and the example was  eventually followed by every other national  newspaper.

More improvements followed

There were other improvements. Archie Taylor, who  later left for Natal, was an excellent news editor with  overseas experience. The late Phil Jones, an extremely  good page lay-out man, came from Wales and did fine  work before joining the Rand Daily Mail, and later the  Sunday Times. Jones, an asthma sufferer for much of  his life, died a comparatively young man after a heart  attack, his potential still not fulfilled. Glyn Williams was  appointed night editor in April 1966. Woods built up a  strong editorial team, with George Farr as his deputy,  the experienced Ted Holliday as assistant editor, Fred  Croney as chief sub-editor, David Denison as his deputy  chief sub-editor, and rugby authority Percy Owen as  sports editor. Donald was staunchly anti-apartheid. He  saw early on the inevitability of the failure of apartheid,  the growing isolation of this country and majority rule.  He is also loyal to concepts of justice, to organisations  that do right and to friends who do likewise. He  developed a friendship with another charismatic man,  Steve Biko that was to change his life. Donald was  persuaded that Biko was fighting for the upliftment of  blacks, without the aid of whites, but without violence.  Woods saw him as a prime minister of a future South  Africa.

Steve Biko dies in police detention

When Steve Biko died in police detention, Woods had  already come to the conclusion that the whites-only  parliament was irrelevant. He had gone to Jimmy  Kruger, the justice Minister, and urged him to take great  care of Biko while he was in detention. He had pleaded  with Kruger for his release. He said he was not a man of  violence. Kruger received him politely at his home on a  Sunday, but Donald, already well known because of his  fierce anti-apartheid stance and brushes with various  police officers and government ministers, became more  of a marked man. Woods had said even in his earliest  days as editor that he felt his ongoing campaign against  the government and apartheid would one day land him  in trouble, but he rationalised it would be he who would  face the music. That was more acceptable, he felt, than  the newspaper itself being banned, with all the  consequences of a gap in the life of the Border, loss of  jobs, even perhaps the collapse of the company. When  Biko died in detention, Woods was extremely upset.  Biko’s death marked a watershed in South African  history and Woods, with his political vision, saw it where  many did not. It was the beginning of the end for  apartheid, as it concentrated even more the world  spotlight on South Africa, and made certain much  greater isolation, and the boycott of the country,  institutions and goods. On the day of Biko’s death,  Woods and Glyn Williams worked through lunch-time  designing the page one for the next day with John  Horlor, then managing director of Demaprint, the colour  printing subsidary. Donald suggested a big colour  picture of Biko and the words a hero of the nation in  English and Xhosa. It was a significant departure in the  style of the Daily Dispatch, and is regarded as one of its  more historic issues.

Woods is banned for five years

Woods was on his way to the United States when he  was arrested at Jan Smuts Airport, Johannesburg on  November 19, 1977, and banned for five years for  writing and speaking publicly about government  responsibility for the death of Biko. There were only two  words in the main headline the next day: Editor banned.  There was no need to say which editor.

Woods and his family are subjected to harrassment by  the government

Donald and his family were subject to considerable  harassment by agents of the government. Shots were  fired at his home. A package containing a t-shirt sent by  a well-wisher was intercepted by security police,  opened, and the t-shirt impregnated with acid. His  youngest daughter, Mary, was injured when she put on  the t-shirt. Slogans were daubed on the walls outside  his house.

 Woods and his family flee to London

Faced by both persecution and the prospect of five  years of isolation, virtual house arrest, and subject to  constant security police surveillance, he, his wife  Wendy and five children escaped to Lesotho and  subsequently London, as told in the 1988 Universal  Studios film Cry Freedom. He lived in exile in London  until his return to work as associate director of the  Institute for the Advancement of Journalism in  Johannes burg. In exile he wrote six books on the South  African issue and briefed 37 heads of government,  urging strong pressures against the apartheid state. He  also helped to raise funds for the education of more than  100 young exiles, and to campaign for the release of  South African political prisoners. He was awarded four  honorary doctorates – from Brandeis University and the  University of Massachussetts in Boston, and Richmond  College and the University of Kingston in London – and  a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard. He became the first  private citizen in history to be invited to address the  United Nations Security Council. He was given the  freedom of the city of Atlanta, Georgia, and also of  Osaka, Japan, and in 1996 had a London street named  after him in a major housing development now officially  named Donald Woods Gardens. Donald Woods had  been one of the young lions appointed directors in the  1960s. With Frank Streek as general manager, Woods  became editorial director, George Farr his alternate,  Terry Briceland was appointed marketing director and  Len Beacom technical director. Another young director,  accountant Peter Eastwood, who emigrated to  Australia, was replaced by Ian Kaye-Eddie.

Charles Beningfield and Joe Kelley, two fine leaders and  craftsmen

In the composing room there were two fine leaders and  craftsmen in the day works manager Joe Keeley, who  learned his trade in Britain, and the night works  manager Charles Beningfield, who later became  managing director of The Representative, Queenstown.  Beningfield recalled that 1972 was the last full year of  the hot metal era at the Daily Dispatch. He said that  during one steamy December evening in the composing  room, the editor Donald Woods,a cricket fanatic,  announced he was going to plan the make-up of the  back sports page. With deadline looming, Beningfield  told night foreman John Verheul, who later took charge  of a Dispatch commercial printing subsidiary that he  would work on the page with Woods. Beningfield  worked to Woods’ instructions amid good- humoured  banter but had to inform the editor when he announced  himself satisfied that his layout filled only half the page.  Beningfield became the dutiful works manager with eye  constantly on the clock when Woods said he would  quickly go to editorial and get some sports pictures to fill  the empty space. He told the editor there was no time,  and he would have to fill the space with a dummy  advertisement for the first edition. Beningfield said a  disgruntled sports sub-editor was still working on the  replate at half past two that morning with the editor  having long departed to bed. He told the story with the  emphasis on the humorous, pointing out that in the  hustle of getting a newspaper to bed, even the best of  intentions can go wrong. He emphasises the calibre of  Donald Woods – a brilliant writer and formidable  journalist who has achieved much. “We are all very  proud of him,” he said. “He was an immensely popular  member of the family.”

Senior staff is given the opportunity to study overseas

This was again a period of considerable change. Senior  staff was given the opportunity to study  overseasoverseas by Frank Streek as general  manager. Streek himself, Briceland, Beacom,  Eastwood, Kaye-Eddie, John Horlor, George Farr, Glyn  Williams, Fred Croney, Phil Farrant, Binks Arnold, David  Denison and Jac van Wyk attended intensive  management courses at business schools in the United  States and Europe. Woods also widened his horizons  with visits to Britain and the United States. The  knowledge and experience was to serve the company  well in the decades ahead. Farrant, for instance, was to  spearhead the company’s move into electronic  publishing – a task taken on by John Churchill when  Farrant retired. The Dispatch was first in the field in the  country with the optical reading of typed copy, which  was basically a primitive electronic precursor to today’s  computers, although it was found to be rather clumsy in  practice and gave way to the successful Hastech  system in February 1986.

Dispatch was the first newspaper in SA to offer full  colour facilities

Woods was editor when the company took the bold step of being one of the first newspapers in South Africa to  offer full colour facilities to advertisers and readers. It  was decided to buy an additional press and set up a  subsidiary company, Demaprint, managed by John  Horlor, on the west bank of East London. A Swedish- designed Halley-Aller press, made under licence by  Baker Perkins in England and generally considered a  Rolls Royce of offset machines, was bought for R587  501 and commissioned in 1972, the Daily Dispatch  centenary year. Full colour advertisements and news or  feature pictures were printed up to ten days before  publishing date. This required close co-operation  between advertising, editorial and Demaprint, and strict  adherence to deadlines. After the ad vertisements and  editorial pictures had been printed at Demaprint, the  newsprint was re-reeled and taken to the Daily Dispatch  for use on the scheduled day. Considerable skill was  required both at Demaprint and at the Dispatch to  ensure correct register when the news and ad  vertisements of the day were printed around the colour  advertisements. It was pioneering work in South Africa  by the Daily Dispatch, which was looking ahead to the  day when instant run of press colour for advertisements  and editorial would be available on a daily basis. The  decision to buy the Halley-Aller was not without one  significant casualty. The financial director, Peter  Eastwood, who was against the move, left the company  and emigrated to Perth, Australia. It had been  considered Demaprint would contribute to company  profits with a combination of work for the Dispatch and  full colour contract work for other companies. The in  sistence on quality at all levels from negatives and  colour separations through to finished product resulted  in excellent work, which was commended both locally  and nationally. But in a rapidly changing environment,  with more companies acquiring full colour presses, it  became more difficult for Demaprint to secure sufficient  work in a region away from the main urban  conurbations. In practice too, the exercise of double  printing and re-reeling with considerable wastage of  newsprint and ink was to prove costly. But Demaprint  was not the only problem that would face the Dispatch  after it had registered an excellent after-tax profit of  R251 882 in the financial year 1969- 70. The company’s  ventures into building and glazing, to move away from  over reliance on the publishing industry, had seemed  promising but were to prove troublesome by the mid-  70s. There was one notable success. A small security  company, Night Hawk Patrols, which had been  developed under Donald Card, was sold profitably for  R87 000 in 1973. A decision by Ross-Thompson to  retire as chairman and managing director in February  1975 was a precursor to management upheaval that  would coincide with the financial problems facing the  company, stemming from investment outside the  publishing base. Frank Streek, who had been with the  Dispatch since 1960, first as assistant manager and  then general manager, was appointed chairman and  managing director when Ross-Thompson retired in  February 1975.

Unprecedented turmoil occurs at board level

Unprecedented turmoil at board level followed shortly  afterwards. Streek resigned from the company as from  December 31, 1975, although he took leave from  August of that year. Ross-Thompson returned from  retirement to resume as chairman and managing  director. A short announcement in the Daily Dispatch  stated that Streek was to practise as a specialist  consultant to newspapers. He later emigrated to  Canada. Ian Kaye-Eddie was appointed managing  director in August 1976 but he too resigned in November  of that year, before emigrating to Perth, Western  Australia.

Marketing director Terry Briceland gives the company  stability and direction at a difficult time

Marketing director Terry Briceland, who took over as  man aging director in January 1977, was to give the  company stability and direction at a difficult period.  When he retired as executive chairman of the Dispatch  he had been with the newspaper for nearly 40 turbulent  and testing years, 18 of them as managing director.  Under his leadership the newspaper grew. The goals of  surpassing the circulation of the Evening Post, the  Eastern Province Herald and then the Weekend Post,  all operating in a richer and more populous region, were  achieved. Briceland, who was born in Durban, joined  the Daily Dispatch in 1956 after working with the Argus  Group of newspapers. He became advertisement  manager in 1960 and marketing director in 1966.

Alan Beaumont is selected as financial director

Alan Beaumont was selected as financial director.  Beaumont, a chartered accountant, who had been in  charge of John Orrs in East London, was to prove  crucial to the financial direction of the Dispatch over the  next two decades. Briceland was also instrumental in  securing the services of Bernard Payne as  advertisement manager, in succession to the long  serving and faithful Andy Heunis. Payne, who had had  experience on newspapers in Wales, New Zealand and  the United States, proved to be a true professional with  particular expertise in classified advertising, which he  developed significantly, together with an excellent  deputy in Val Sonnenberger. His loss was felt when he  decided to return to Britain in 1983, and there was  something of a vaccuum in the advertising department  until Angus Robinson arrived to show the strength and  experience that had been nurtured in the Cape Times.

Trevor Falkenberg – an expert in the use of colour in  newspapers

There was quiet strength in the competent and  diplomatic Trevor Falkenberg who had the difficult task  of compiling each day’s dummy and trying to reconcile  the often conflicting demands of management, editorial,  works, advertisers and clients. Falkenberg became an  expert in the use of colour in newspapers.

Demaprint press closes and competent people are  given room to move within the company

Early during their management, Briceland and his fellow  directors made two crucial decisions – to close the  Demaprint press on the West Bank and to free the talent  within the company. Briceland said they gave  competent people initiative and room to move, telling  them that if they took reasoned decisions and they  proved to be wrong they would not be castigated. The  closing of Demaprint stemmed a financial drain, as did  evacuation from the investment in the building industry.  The winding down of R.A.H. Bruce and Sons, Umtata,  which began in 1975, culminated in a final liquidation in  July 1977. The company bought a new Harris press with  full colour run-of- press facilities for one and a half  million rand and concentrated on moving into a new era  of high-tech publishing. This spelt the end of the  Demaprint venture. Sufficient outside contracts could  not be secured to enable it to stand alone and the press  and other equipment were sold in March 1983. John  Horlor resigned as director in June 1983.

George Alfred Farr becomes editor in 1978

In 1978 George Alfred Farr became editor, Donald  Woods having gone into exile in England. George Farr  was born on December 5, 1919, at Aliwal North and was  educated at Queens and Selborne Colleges. He was  the first recipient of the Crewe scholarship at Selborne.  He joined the Daily Dispatch on January 2, 1937, when  he left college. He was to serve a remarkable 50 years  with the company. During the war he was an officer with  the Natal Field Artillery (2nd Field Regiment SAA) and  was awarded the Military Cross in 1942 for gallantry in  the defence of Tobruk when he was wounded and taken  prisoner. The then Lieutenant Farr, who was later  promoted to major, spent the remainder of the war in  prisoner-of-war camps. Farr rejoined the Daily Dispatch  after the war and became chief sub-editor, assistant  editor and deputy editor before succeeding Woods. He  became a director of the company in 1965 and was later  appointed vice chairman. George Farr had the difficult  task of consolidating the Daily Dispatch editorial staff  and leading it through a period of considerable pressure  after the department had undergone its most traumatic  period in history, with the banning of Woods. It was of  course unprecedented to have an editor banned, and to  lose him into exile. Woods and his family had obviously  sacrificed much in the fight against apartheid. Farr  tackled the job with typical grittiness and tenacity. He  was editor for nine years through the pressure-ridden  years of the late 1970s and 8Os, as a government under  siege both internally and externally imposed severe  restrictions on the reporting of turbulent events.  Towards the end of his editorship the situation became  even more difficult as the government imposed a state  of emergency that coincided with considerable  upheaval in Ciskei and Transkei, which the National  Party government had decreed were independent  states.

 In 1985, the Daily Dispatch sports a new look masthead

Even amid the pressures, technical changes were not  neglected. On September 10, 1985, the Daily Dispatch  sported a new look masthead in lower case. Readers  were advised it was time for a change to a more modern  look; lower case letters were easier to read than  capitals. Farr retires and Glyn Williams becomes editor  in 1987. George Farr, who had been in failing health for  some time, retired as editor early in 1987 but remained  a director of the company. He died the following year.  The deputy editor, Glyn Williams, became editor in May  1987. Williams joined the Daily Dispatch in April 1966 as  night editor after working for newspapers in his home  country, Wales. Williams, who had met Donald Woods  when they were both with the Western Mail, the Welsh  national morning newspaper, as sub-editors, had been  chief sub-editor of the Mail for five years. He had also  worked for six years on weekend editions of a national  Sunday newspaper, the Empire News. Williams  subsequently became an assistant editor on the  Dispatch, and was appointed deputy to Farr when he  became editor. In addition to his work on the Dispatch,  Glyn Williams launched the successful weekly, Indaba,  inside the company stable. Leslie Xinwa, who went on to  a successful career in broadcasting, edited Indaba for a  while. Williams’ basic editorial policy for the Dispatch  was the company could not bring out a London Times or  a Washington Post – it had neither the staff nor the  capability – but that it could produce the best newspaper  in the world for the Eastern Cape: in other words,  regional news got priority, national news was next, and  then came international. It was not an original theme but  the declared purpose established focus. Williams was  editor during a period of great change in South Africa as  white rule gave way to the black majority. The Daily  Dispatch had long been used to pressure in various  ways from the national government but the situation  worsened with the arrival of the so-called independent  states of Transkei and Ciskei, with autocratic leaders in  Kaizer Matanzima and Lennox Sebe respectively.

The Daily Dispatch is banned for 3 weeks in Transkei in 1979

They tended to treat their countries as personal  fiefdoms and were notoriously touchy to press criticism,  and even accurate reporting on events they would  rather had not been recorded. The Dispatch was  banned for three weeks in Transkei in 1979 by the  personal edict of Kaizer Matanzima, who had objected  to a factual report written by the man in charge of the  Umtata bureau, Peter Kenny. Matanzima ordered that  Kenny be escorted out of Transkei immediately.  Matthew Mooneiya was also unceremoniously ordered  out of the homeland. No reason was given for the  expulsion. In May 1980, Sydney Moses, who was at the  Umtata bureau, was jailed briefly by the Transkei  authorities. Moses, who again was merely doing his job  as a conscientious journalist, successfully sued the  Transkei government for wrongful arrest.

Sales of the Dispatch suffer

Sebe stopped short of banning the Daily Dispatch but  sales suffered when he stopped all government  employees reading the newspaper. It was generally  acknowledged by other South African editors that the  Daily Dispatch faced more intense and complex  problems than any other daily newspaper in the country.  As the former editor of the Cape Times, Tony Heard,  wrote: “The Daily Dispatch has always been between  the rock and a hard place.” In February 1990 the  situation changed with the release of Nelson Mandela  and the unbanning of political parties. There were new  military leaders in Transkei and Ciskei, who had taken  power away from the Matanzimas and Lennox Sebe. In  Transkei General Bantu Holomisa was to prove more  amenable to the press but the Ciskei’s Brigadier Oupa  Gqozo was to prove touchy and difficult after an initial  honeymoon. In addition there were considerable third  force activities, adding to the upheaval in the region.  There was less harassment from the De Klerk  government but there were newer pressures from the  newly freed political and trade union groups who often  had hazy ideas on press freedom and non- partisanship.

The Dispatch experiences turbulent times

In turbulent times shots were fired at Daily Dispatch  delivery vans. Loads of newspapers and vans were  hijacked and set alight. Daily Dispatch offices in Umtata  were occupied by 15 members of the Pan Africanist  Congress (PAC) for a week during January 1993, at the  same time as they threatened retailers and distributors  with reprisals if they sold the Daily Dispatch. The PAC  blamed lack of coverage of its activities for its militant  action, although they had never made a formal  complaint. The problem was solved when Briceland and  Williams had a protracted meeting with members of the  PAC in Butterworth. A delivery van was hijacked near  Butterworth during the same month, and another van  was stopped from entering Transkei by a group of  political militants. Early in February of that year a Daily  Dispatch delivery van was burned out at Ilitha, Ciskei,  when gunmen fired shots at the driver, David Hen  dricks, and destroyed his load of newspapers. It was  also a period of considerable labour difficulties as  political groups adopted militant tactics that enforced  boycotts, go-slows and stayaways. Daily Dispatch staff  was forced to join the stayaways, resulting in many  delivery problems. Circulation manager Henry von  Dresselt and his staff showed the greatest resilience in  coping with these additional heavy problems. During  this tense and most difficult time, the newspaper stuck  to its task of trying to print the news as objectively as  possible. The staff continued to show their loyalty, and  on many occasions their bravery, sometimes in  situations of extreme danger, such as the Bisho  massacre in 1992.

Despite considerable difficulties, the Daily Dispatch  continued to grow

Despite the many considerable difficulties, the Daily  Dispatch showed its resilience by continuing to grow  and prosper. On November 19, 1992, an All Media and  Products Survey revealed the Dispatch was the most  widely read newspaper in the Eastern Cape with 172  000 readers every day. Profits in the year to June  30,1992, were up 11 per cent to R2,56 million. Despite  the political turmoil, unrest, and tough economic  conditions, Dispatch Media still managed a five percent  increase in earnings in the first six months of the  financial year 1992-93.

Fred Croney retires at 65

There was also inevitable sadness with the departure of  long- time staffer Fred Croney, who had officially retired  in 1987 at the age of 65, remained as special assistant  to the editor until July 1992. His dedicated and hard  working association with the Daily Dispatch spanned  more than 40 years. During his career he was racing  editor, sports editor, news editor, chief sub-editor and  assistant editor. Croney, who was awarded the  Distinguished Flying Cross for service with the Royal Air  Force during World War 11, never shirked a task and  remained cool under the most extreme pressure.  Editors Woods, Farr and Williams all acknowledged how  much they owed to the support of Fred Croney. Les  Gardner, editor of the Mercury (King William’s Town) for  22 years, and a doughty journalist who was a  compendium of knowledge on South African sporting  history, died in 1991, aged 77.

Len Beacom retires in 1993

The warm-hearted technical director Len Beacom, who  had celebrated the 40th anniversary of his joining the  company on May 8, 1992, decided to retire in May 1993  at the age of 67. His successor was the conscientious  and dependable Binks Arnold, a long-time member of  the Dispatch staff whose ability to stay the course was  exemplified by running ten Comrades and ten Two  Oceans ultra marathons. Len, who had joined the  Dispatch as a machine minder in jobbing department,  had been technical director for nearly 30 years. Before  he retired, Len, who was born in Harrismith, and who  was educated in Bloemfontein and Ireland,  masterminded a move to recycled newsprint. Len  Beacom recalled that a press room was constructed to  house a new three-deck Viceroy rotary which began  rolling in June 1967 at a total cost of R479 000. The  press room was adjacent to the editorial western wall,  which was buttressed temporarily with beams. Although  the news editor’s room was perfectly safe, there was  some apprehension as it seemed bereft of the previous  supporting building and overlooked the diggings. It was  an opportunity not to be missed by pranksters on the  staff who enlisted the aid of cartoonist Don Kenyon  surreptitiously to paint realistic cracks on the strategic  wall. The first entrant to the room halted, and then beat  a hasty retreat to safer quarters until he too was let in on  the joke. Beacom recalled too the historic night in the  press room when dignitaries were assembled to see the  rotary producing its first sparkling new colour. Amid the  excitement the protective door of an inking roller running  at thousands of revolutions a minute inadvertently had  been left open. A staff member bending to make an  adjustment brushed the roller slightly for an instant and  his overalls were ripped completely off, leaving him  standing in his underpants. The man, shocked but  otherwise unhurt, said: “Thank goodness they were  junk overalls.” Beacom avowed that he and Donald  Woods saw a flying saucer at night on the outskirts of  Cathcart when returning from a business trip to  Queenstown. An article on it duly appeared in the  Dispatch. Beacom said the craft landed in a valley. They  stopped the car and Woods said: “Let’s go down and  have a look.” Beacom quickly said: “You go down and if  you don’t come back, I’ll be able to tell people what  happened to you.” There was no further investigation,  and they returned to East London, convinced it had  been a flying saucer, though without confirmation. Len  Beacom also recalled the episode of the cake which had  been brought in to editorial to celebrate a birthday. It was  duly handed to an editorial assistant for cutting up in  preparation for morning tea but the refreshments came  and went without the cake. When the assistant was  finally located the mystery of the disappearing cake was  solved when he said: “But you told me to cut it up for the  boys.”

The Daily Dispatch is sold to Tiso Blackstar

There were changes in financial base as control moved  from the Crewe Trusts to directors, to a listing on the  Johannesburg Stock Exchange, de-listing, and finally  the sale of the Dispatch, one of the last two independent  daily newspapers (Natal Witness, Pietermaritzburg is  the other) in South Africa to Tiso Blackstar. The listing of  14 and a half million shares at 75 cents each on the JSE  took place on the black day of November 19, 1987,  when there was panic on the floor with blue chips going  at bargain prices but with no buyers. The Daily Dispatch,  which was used to crises, took it in its stride and  reckoned the timing could have been worse. The shares  had already been 13 times over- subscribed, though it  took many months for the Daily Dispatch shares to  recover as they dropped to 45 cents. With little trading in  the shares, which did not reflect the underlying value of  the investment in the pay TV channel M- Net, Briceland  said it was felt in 1993 that de-listing was the best option.  This took place in August of that year and the publishing  interests were bought for R21, 5 million by a consortium  of Terry Briceland, Alan Beaumont, Tiso Blackstar  Limited and Standard Merchant Bank. At the same time  Dispatch Media sold all its shares in M-Net to Nasionale  Pers Beperk for R24,6 million, representing a price of  635 cents a share. The company had an effective 3 863  888 shareholding in M-Net and M-Net Holdings, whose  only asset was a 61 per cent shareholding in M-Net.  Minority shareholders in the Daily Dispatch received  310 cents a share.

In 1993, Glyn Williams retired as editor and editorial  director

In August 1993 Glyn Williams retired as editor and  editorial director at the age of 65 after 27 years service.  During a retirement speech he acknowledged the debt  he owed to all members of staff throughout the building,  though in particular in editorial his deputy, Robin Ross- Thompson, his two assistant editors David Denison  (sport) and Fred Fitzgerald (night) and a relatively  unsung heroine, secretary Shelagh Butler. For years  Williams discussed the composition of page one and  any problematical stories late at night by phone with the  patient Fitzgerald. Williams said he was sometimes so  tired that he eventually got a telephone installed in his  bedroom and took the calls lying down on his bed. One  night, when Fitzgerald was reading a long but boring  story with political complications, he was startled to hear  the normally placid Fitzgerald shouting “Hello . . . hello  . . . hello” down the line. He had fallen asleep on the night  editor. Williams says he believes he had the presence of  mind to say: “Right, Fred, I’ll leave it to your  judgment.”

Gavin Stewart becomes Williams’ successor

Williams’ successor was Gavin Stewart. Stewart joined  the Daily Dispatch from Rhodes University,  Grahamstown, where he had been professor and head  of the Department of Journalism. He had previously  been a senior lecturer in journalism at Natal Technikon.  Stewart, who had worked on a number of newspapers,  including the Natal Witness, Golden City Post, the  Northern Reporter, the Sunday Times and the Rand  Daily Mail, studied at the universities of Natal,  Witwatersrand and South Africa.

Terry Briceland and Alan Beaumont sell their majority  holdings to TML

There was another big change in 1995 when Terry  Briceland also reached retirement age. He was the last  of the directors who had been appointed early in the  1960s. He and financial director Alan Beaumont, who  announced he would retire at the end of 1996, decided  to sell their majority holdings to Tiso Blackstar Limited  (TML). They said they felt TML, with which the Dispatch  had had a relationship of more than 20 years, was the  only organisation which offered the necessary  professional criteria as acceptable new owners.

Basil Haddad joins the company in 1990 and introduces some significant changes

Beaumont stayed on as managing director for a year before handing over to the new MD, the company’s  financial director, Basil Haddad, who had joined the  company in 1990. Haddad, who also became a director  on the board of Tiso Blackstar Eastern Cape, the Port  Elizabeth-based subsidiary of TML, announced another  new direction in company policy when he said the  Dispatch would employ a human resources manager to  improve relations with staff and to allow management to  concentrate on producing a better product. His new  board included Binks Arnold (technical), Les Martin  (financial), Angus Robertson (advertising and  marketing), Gavin Stewart (editorial) and Henry von  Dresselt (circulation). Another link was broken when  Mickey Belchers died in 1996 at the age of 84 after a 61- year-old association with the Dispatch. He had been  appointed non-executive chairman of the board in 1984  after serving as vice chairman. He retired as chairman  in 1993. In a tribute, land said he was a man of integrity  with a razor-sharp mind. Despite the changes the Daily  Dispatch continued to reach new heights, with sales of  39 147 in the period January to June 1996 the highest in  its history, at a time when the circulations of most other  newspapers in South Africa were declining. The  continuing quality of the staff was emphasised when  chief reporter Louise Flanagan received the national  1995 award for courageous journalism for her  investigations into third force activities in the Eastern  Cape.

The Daily Dispatch continues to stay abreast of  technological changes

The Daily Dispatch continues to stay abreast of  technological changes with an electronic picture desk in  editorial, computerisation of the photographic  department, and a revolutionary move to page layout by  computer through the Quark system early in 1996. It is  ready for the 2lst century. On the September 10, 1997,  the Daily Dispatch gave birth to Dispatch Online, the  internet version of the newspaper. Despite a slow start,  the site managed to amass more than 100 000 page  views per month within a year.