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. He 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.
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 distinguished himself as one of South Africa’s top feature photographers. Other cameramen who worked on the Dispatch in the 1960s and 1970s 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, with 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 layout 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 lunchtime designing the page one for the next day with John Horlor, then managing director of Demaprint, the colour printing subsidiary. 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 from 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.
He 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, Woods, 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 Johannesburg.
In exile, he wrote six books on the South African issue and briefed 37 heads of government, urging strong pressure 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 Massachusetts 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 as directors in the 1960s. With Frank Streek as general manager, Woods became editorial director. George Farr was his alternate, Terry Briceland was 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, 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 his 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 emphasised 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 given the opportunity to study overseas
This was again a period of considerable change. Senior staff was given the opportunity to study overseas 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 US and Europe. Woods also widened his horizons with visits to Britain and the US.
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 the 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 10 days before publishing date. This required close co-operation between advertising, editorial and Demaprint, and strict adherence to deadlines. After the advertisements 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 advertisements 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 insistence 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 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.
Terry Briceland brings stability and direction at a difficult time
Marketing director Terry Briceland, who took over as managing 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 US, 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 vacuum 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.
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 RAH 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 R1.5-million 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 1980s, 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.