Robin Esser, journalist

Robin Esser, who has died at 84, was a newspaper man of the old order, a grammar school boy from Dewsbury who worked his way to Oxford and then to the top table of British journalism.

Robin Esser

In a career spanning six decades, he served as editor of the Sunday Express and executive managing editor of the Daily Mail, and gave early career breaks to the likes of the Mail’s current editor-in-chief Paul Dacre and the diarist Nigel Dempster.

A noted diarist himself, Esser was editor of the Express’s William Hickey column at a time when it and the paper were pre-eminent in Fleet Street.

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He had taken to journalism early: while at Wheelwright School in Dewsbury, he distributed and ran a newspaper for his neighbours, and at Wadham College, Oxford, where he read modern history, he founded the student newspaper, Cherwell.

Esser’s first “proper job”, following national service in the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, was as an Army press officer at the time of the Suez crisis, following which he took a job on the old Daily Sketch.

At the beginning of the Sixties, on the Hickey column, he had access to some of the world’s most rich and powerful individuals. In one oft-told story, he rang Aristotle Onassis on his yacht at Monte Carlo and was invited to meet Maria Callas.

Esser later spent time as the Express’s features editor, and was eventually appointed editor of the paper’s northern edition, a considerable operation in its own right, based in a building on Great Ancoats Street, Manchester, that was a smaller replica of the distinctive HQ on Fleet Street known to everyone in the business as the Black Lubyanka.

In 1977 he returned to the capital, first as consultant editor on the London Evening News, and after it closed, as Sir John Junor’s successor as editor of the declining Sunday Express.

In his later years, he became prominent in the fight the prevent the seizure by police of information acquired confidentially by journalists. From 2002 he chaired the parliamentary and legal committee of the Society of Editors, and served as its president in 2010.

He is survived by his second wife, Tui France, their two sons, and by the two sons and two daughters of his first marriage, to the late Shirley Clough.