Jeremy Hunt, production editor and managing editor of The Observer‘s first colour supplement in the 1960s and later managing editor of The Observer newspaper has died aged 89. Apprenticed into the print trade at the age of 15, he was a Fleet Street boy, a familiar of the Black and White milk bar, the St Bride Institute with its library and swimming pool and the Jack Hobbs sports shop, in which the great man stood aloof behind the counter.
His route into The Observer was determined by the aftermath of the Second World War, which led to unexpected directions in his life.
In 1945 his mother, who had been a full-time ambulance driver in London, now turned her thoughts to what to do with her 11-year-old son. Having already discarded the idea of a formal education she remembered the advice of her ambulance mechanic, Tommy, who said: “What you should do is get your son into the print. That’s where the money is. They’ve got it sewn up! ” And so, she did.
He was removed from Chichester High School to take up a place at the London County Council School of Photo Engraving and Lithography at Bolt Court, off Fleet Street. The syllabus at Bolt Court was part practical and part theoretical, the latter dealing with optics, light and colour, as well as the chemistry of wet-plate photography, the mysteries of lithography and the acids used in etching. There was also a bit of mathematics thrown in.
A part-time teacher at Bolt Court took an interest in Jeremy and told him not to go into a process house: “It’s a dead-end job. The future is in photolithography.” This was the branch of the printing trade most likely to do well now that the war was over. Aged 15, he joined Henry Hildesley Ltd off the Kingsland Road, Hackney, to learn the business of photolitho retouching, on trial for 6 months and then apprenticed with the indentures noting that with his parents’ consent he then promised to work for the company for a further five years. The two-page document he signed stipulated he should honestly and diligently serve the company, obeying lawful commands, not making away with its goods and keeping its secrets. In turn he was paid on a rising scale from 30 percent in the first year up to 60 percent of the journeyman’s basic rate in the final year. At 21 he was earning £20 a week.
The first formality of being introduced to the retouchers was to be given a name. Jeremy would by custom be shortened to Jerry, but that would not do because there was already a Gerry Warner. After a discussion it was decided that Tony would suit him. And so, Tony he became for the next 10 years in the trade.
The next formality was to join the trade union SLADE. Two members of the chapel, the Hildesley branch of SLADE, went along to the union offices in Doughty Street to propose and second his application. As an apprentice he paid sixpence a week to belong to this fiercely protectionist union of which the photolitho retouchers were an acknowledged elite.
His father had met a print business owner from Leeds, Freddie Partridge, at the time of Dunkirk and kept in touch with him after the war. Freddie’s brother, Walter Partridge, had an arrangement to advise The Observer on their printing contract with the Argus Press and introduced him to Rowley Atterbury whose Westerham Press was experimenting in photo typesetting. This contact led to his first job running Atterbury’s Biggin Hill plant.
He later left Westerham to join Partridge Printers who wanted a salesman in London and established an office at Dyers Buildings, in Tudor Street, where he entertained prospective print buyers and through Walter Partridge’s Observer connection met many of the newspaper’s editorial staff.
Partridge also knew The Observer‘s general manager Tristan Jones, a friend of David Astor, the then owner and editor of The Observer. Astor wanted to set up a magazine to rival The Sunday Times and went into partnership with Purnell’s printers in Wiltshire. They had just acquired a new Cerutti press and were keen to make it pay for itself. Jeremy was engaged as production editor to work on dummy copies of The Observer Magazine because of his expert knowledge of colour printing and reproduction.
The first issue was assembled in secret at Dyers Buildings and appeared on 6 September 1964. Unbeknown to The Observer, rival newspaper The Telegraph were also planning a magazine supplement which fortunately was going to be published on a Friday with their daily paper.
Accused by the management of frightening away conventional readers with stories and photos of mid-1960s swinging London, the Beatles, hippies, and Carnaby Street, the magazine team soon discovered a winning formula by running two-to-three series on a historical theme, such as Making of Britain: The Industrial Revolution and a series on Wellington. The success of these promotions added twenty to fifty thousand to The Observer‘s readership.
He was made managing editor of the magazine by Donald Trelford but was also responsible to act as ‘stone sub’ on the main paper for the second, third and even fourth editions. Because of his background in print he was an editorial member of staff trusted by the print unions to make editorial changes.
At his own request in 1971 he asked to be transferred to the Sunday paper where he was given editorial interests. He was responsible for a wide range of content including The Observer‘s sponsorship of two Everest expeditions, the single-handed trans-Atlantic race, the general election poll, Sebastian Snow’s long walk up the Americas, letters to the editor and even Christmas quizzes. However, it was the vetting of books offered for serialisation and buying the book rights that brought him most enjoyment, including Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at any speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile and especially when he obtained an exclusive contract with Piers Paul Read to publicise his book Alive: The True Story of the Andes Survivors, which was covered in the newspaper over an extended five issues.
By the mid 1980s Fleet Street newspapers were among the last in the UK to adopt computers for typesetting and offset printing with colour. The Observer were over a year behind the newly launched Independent which had followed newspaper mogul Rupert Murdoch in buying an American typesetting system called Atex.
In 1987 he was warned to stand by for a trip to the US to investigate a computerised typesetting system for The Observer. The verdict was to invest in an Atex alternative marketed by System Integrators Inc. which was installed after The Observer‘s move from St Andrew’s Hill to new offices in Battersea.
When The Observer was acquired by The Guardian in 1993, he saw it as an opportunity for retirement and to have time to enjoy his skill as a fine draughtsman and watercolourist. He is survived by his wife, son and daughter and five grandchildren.
Jeremy Andrew Vere Hunt 12th February 1930 – 18th August 2019