6th September 1987

The Times editor dies in a Jersey nursing home

Sir William Haley was born in Jersey on 24 May 1901, educated at Victoria College, and died in the island in 1987, although much of his life was spent on the mainland. After time at sea as a radio operator, he landed an initially unpaid role at the Jersey Morning News but did so well that he was eventually taken onto the paid staff.

A born innovator

It wasn’t at a journalist that he landed at The Times, but a telephonist, where he instituted a scheme whereby all international calls were routed via Brussels. He moved to the Belgian city to oversee the system and there he both met the woman who he was to marry, and started writing stories for the Manchester Evening News, of which he eventually became managing director.

Four years later, at the height of the Second World War, he was appointed as the BBC’s editor in chief. His work in that role was much appreciated by clandestine listeners in occupied Europe and, after the war, he received several honours. France awarded him the Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, the Netherlands made him Grand Officer of the Order of Orange Nassau and, in the UK, he was made a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George.

Head of the BBC

He had been editor in chief for only six months when he landed the top job – director general of the BBC – and was reputed to have ruled the broadcasting operation with an iron fist. Eventually, he was lured back to the world of newspapers and, from 1952 until 1966, he edited The Times, during which he bravely put actual news on the front page of the paper. Previously, like its rivals, The Times had given over the whole of its front page to advertising.

An impressive editor

Reporting its former editor’s death, The Times of 7 September 1987 explained how “to his staff he was known as a formidable and lightning reader. He had the ability to read rapidly through first editions and managed to pick up mistakes, circle them and hand them on to the relevant department before members of that department were aware that they had got into the paper.”

Despite this, the Illustrated London News of 7 October 1967 described him as a man who was “so shy as to be almost unsociable, does not smoke, and has been known to toy with a single drink for an hour”. He was editor-in-chief of Encyclopaedia Britannica for 18 months.


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