Fleet Street great Bill Bateson has died

Bill Bateson, the former sports editor of the News of the World and a deputy chairman of the Sports Journalists’ Association, has died at his home in Cornwall after a long illness. He was 73.
UPDATED with links to Colin Myler tribute and Times obituary

Bateson was awarded the SJA’s Doug Gardner Award in 1997, the Association’s highest accolade, for his services to the Association and sports journalism.

The award came soon after he’d left the News of the World, where he’d worked for 34 years and, as he once put it, “saw off 14 editors”. In his time masterminding the all-important sports pages of the world’s biggest selling Sunday newspaper, Bateson “took the paper from broadsheet to tabloid and from hot metal to Wapping”.

Bateson spent much of the last decade of his career as a consultant at the Sunday Telegraph, working closely with sports editors Colin Gibson and then Jon Ryan. Ryan described the news of Bateson’s passing as “sad news for sports journalists everywhere”.

Gibson, who hired Bateson to benefit from his experience after he left Wapping in 1995, tonight paid tribute to his old friend. “It’s very sad news. Bill must be one of the last great figures of Fleet Street,” said Gibson.

“He played a vital and vibrant part of what was a golden age for sport at the Sunday Telegraph. He had a great news sense and had great contacts. He brought a tabloid news sense and approach to our paper, with terrific results.

“I fondly remember the night when we seemed to scoop the board of prizes at the British Sports Journalism Awards, and ended a terrific night at Langan’s. It was all slightly bizarre – we were joined by Rutger Hauer, Gary Linker and George Graham – and Bill was in his absolute element,” said Gibson.

“Bill was the ultimate professional, who knew how to enjoy himself and to bring the best out of other people. He had an extraordinary love of life.”

Bateson had begun his journalism career in the 1950s at the North London Press, but soon busied himself freelancing at fight nights at the likes of Shoreditch and Leyton Baths for the Evening News and the Star, commissioned by Fleet Street greats Reg Gutteridge and Wally Bartleman.

Gibson’s working partnership with Bateson saw him take his eminence gris with him when he was appointed head of sport at The Australian, to prepare the paper for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Even on the other side of the world, Bateson left his mark: “The local pub that the newspaper office used was called ‘The William Shakespeare’,” Gibson said. “By the time we left, everyone had renamed it the ‘Bill Bateson’.”

Eventually, Bateson retired on his 70th birthday, and enjoyed a party attended by many of his Fleet Street friends, and Gary Lineker. “It showed what high esteem he was held in,” Gibson said.

After his retirement, Bateson and his wife, Glenys, moved to Falmouth, Cornwall in February 2008, with his home next to a links and a boat moored in the harbour, to help him pursue some leisurely fishing and golf. Yet he still maintained his cherished ticket for his beloved Arsenal, and he rarely missed a game at the Emirates, weekend or midweek, until this season, when weakened by his pancreatic cancer, such journeys became impossible.

Bateson is survived by his wife, daughter Sally, son Paul and his five grandchildren.

“Bill was instantly likeable, and always jovial, always helpful,” Steven Downes, the secretary of the SJA, said. “His pores oozed newsprint. He’ll be very much missed.

“The SJA sends its deepest condolences to Bill’s wife and family on their sad loss.”

Friends and colleagues of Bill Bateson are invited to post their memories of him in the comments section below.

Details of the funeral arrangements are posted here.

Click here to read The Times obituary, published on October 1

Click here for Guardian report, including tribute from News of the World editor Colin Myler

Click here for Press Gazette‘s report, published September 28

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