London Press Watch

Jan. 16 2002 4:26 PM

London Press Watch

Town and country.

The departure of Max Hastings from the editor's chair of the Evening Standard, London's only evening newspaper, was announced today. His appointment six years ago, when he went there from editing the Daily Telegraph, caused general surprise, because Hastings is known to be passionate about the countryside and to feel strong antipathy towards all of London outside Brooks's club in St. James's. He is often conveyed from place to place in town in a Range Rover with a shotgun and a Labrador in the back, as if he is permanently dreaming of the rural killing fields. He likes human killing fields, too, having made his name as a war correspondent and a military historian. In 1982, he achieved celebrity by being the first Briton to enter the Falkland Islands capital of Port Stanley, ahead of the victorious British troops. Given all that, he has done a respectable job at the Standard,showing excellent judgment in his campaign against having Jeffrey Archer, the popular novelist and convicted perjurer, as London's first mayor. More questionable, in terms of city sentiment, was his passionate opposition to the abolition of fox-hunting.

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He may not have restored the Evening Standard to its former pre-eminence as the must-read London gossip sheet, nor has its circulation recovered from its earlier falls. But he brought a certain panache and eccentricity to the editor's position; and in his preference for the country over London, he was not that different from many Londoners. Even so, one might have expected his successor to be a convinced urbanite. Veronica Wadley, who takes over on Feb. 4 after three years as Deputy Editor of the Daily Mail, may feel more comfortable in London than he does, but she, too, has been seduced by rural pursuits. Her happiest times are spent riding horses at her country home in Wiltshire.