Steve Edwards: A great advertising man who went on to be head of a range of UK media properties, was one of the smartest, shrewdest, most popular, hilarious people in the UK media. His sense of friendship was beyond belief.
We first met when he was a classified sales manager in Cardiff, where his boss was another great character, Tony Hill. To be in the company of one of them was hilarious enough, but both? I don’t know how my lungs survived the laughter. It was around then that at a Newspaper Society Conference, Steve introduced me by saying: “At a conference like this, the only two people who can’t get a shag are Jim Chisholm and Quentin Crisp”. To be sure if Crisp had turned up, he would have been assured a good time!
But we worked most closely around the launch of Scotland on Sunday, when the boss; Roger Ridley Thomas – a role model and mentor to so many leaders in the industry today – basically delegated the project to Steve. The launch was a great commercial success; sadly, it took time for the paper itself to realise its full potential.
After that, Steve’s career rocketed, if rockily at times. If one only knew him socially, one would never conceive that he could hold the prestigious posts he did. CEO of Autotrader, where he was shafted for his honesty. United Newspapers, where he drove the biggest BMW known to man. Northcliffe, then the regional arm of DMGT, was a walk in the park, but it was here that he encountered Primary Times, a parenting magazine. He realised this was a great opportunity. When he acquired the company the product was a sloppy mess of 14 local editions. Today it has 59 editions, is one of the top ten most read magazines in the UK, and the largest distribution free magazine in Europe.
What was most amazing about him, was how it all seemed so effortless. I joked with Marion, his assistant, who is taking over the running of the company, about how Steve never seemed to do any work, to which she replied, “That’s because he didn’t do any work. He just knows lots of people who do.” The gift of a great manager.
OK, he could be a right grumpy shitebag, but somehow his faux tantrums made him all the more adorable. I can’t think of many projects I enjoyed more than Scotland on Sunday. But it wasn’t simply the exhilaration of a launch. Much of the fun was thanks to Steve. I loved working with him. It was certainly never dull!
This gruffness made him an “acquired taste”, but the man inside was one of the kindest one could meet.
Early in my consulting career – c 1992 – Steve called me to say that he’d been scheduled to speak at an international event in Paris, but couldn’t make it. As is customary, he proposed an alternative – Me. At that time, I was focusing on the News Corp price wars. It turned out to be the launchpad for my international career. Through Steve I met the wonderful Patrice Schneider, the sadly late Deirdre O’Callaghan and the CEO of the World Association of Newspapers, Timothy Balding. Steve kick-started my international career, that over twenty odd years has taken me to over 50 countries. He helped so many people to succeed, never seeking any credit.
In recent years, my own health has not been good, physically or mentally, largely due to self-inflicted injuries. No-one, outside family, has been more supportive than Steve. He would phone regularly and typically have me in fits of laughter. When he phoned to tell me about his initial stomach problems, his description of being helped off the golf course, and ending up with a consultant, seriously ill, was hilarious. And, as was the case with so many of his great descriptions – all with accents and personalities that no normal person would meet – his material was unrepeatable. I’ve no idea how often I’ve thought, I must steal that gag, only to find it impossible to replicate.
Then 21 months ago, I got a call.
With Steve’s usual acerbic warmth, it ran roughly as follows: “You. You bastard. You’ve drunk yourself into the ground, been hospitalised, screwed up your body. And I’m the one whose got Liver Cancer! I’ve discovered I have a dark sense of tumour.”
One of his funniest lines, at one of his worst possible moments. Typically, brilliantly hilarious. And, of course a diversional tactic. Life’s lessons confirm that humour is a great antidote.
From then on, it was only a matter of time, and we would joke about which of us would go first. All I can say is that by comparison, his passing is so undeserved. A lovely, talented curmudgeon, with so much energy and ‘joie de vivre’…… stolen from us.
Not many people knew that Steve started out as an English and Drama teacher. His work and social lives played on his theatre and intricate vocabulary; full of characters, relationships – good and bad – and observation. At work, he was unnervingly shrewd. At play, every dialogue/monologue was his stage. But there was never a sub-plot. Steve was as transparent and honest as it gets, particularly for someone in the media business.
We spoke twice in the week before he passed away.
On the Wednesday, I called him to ask how things were doing. All sounded much as usual. The sense of tumour was no bigger or smaller. The sense of humour, razor sharp. On the Friday afternoon, my phone rang and it was Steve: His final words to me were roughly: “Oh, Jim! I meant to call someone else. Sorry mate. I’m busy. Fuck Off!”
I loved that hilarious, rumbustious, non PC, intuitively-brilliant, cantankerous, over-generous, theatrical, Welsh tosspot to bits, and his passing is one of the saddest things I’ve ever known.