Tributes paid to former Romford Recorder editor Roy Mills
17:18 13 June 2014
Former Romford Recorder editor Roy Mills had one burning desire in life: to be a journalist.
It was a love affair that never faltered – even in his dying days.
The east London-born boy became a cub reporter straight from school, aged 15, setting in motion a career that spanned 47 years, broken only by national service in the 1950s and encompassing the national, trade and local press.
Born on February 15, 1934, to Jack and Irene Mills, he grew up in Redbridge, elder brother to his beloved sister Joyce, who died in her twenties from complications related to diabetes.
A passionate Conservative, Roy met future wife June Greig through a party club in 1956. They married after a two-year engagement and remained together for 55 years until his death, aged 80, on June 2.
He spent his early married life on various national newspapers in Fleet Street, but there was one story that effected a profound change in Roy’s outlook.
As a young news editor on Coal News, Roy had the unhappy task of coordinating coverage of the Aberfan disaster in Wales.
Scenes from the landslide tragedy, which killed 116 children and 28 adults, haunted him and he vowed that, when he and June had children, he would leave Fleet Street to spend time with his family.
When Richard – followed later by Mark and Jonathan – came along, this is what he did, taking on the editorship of the highly regarded Recorder – then a 200-page behemoth that had considerable clout in the region.
This job became a career, and the career became his passion: he stewarded the paper for 31 years, making him its longest-serving editor, and notched up record sales and readership figures that will probably never be surpassed.
“All his achievements, and there were many, were because of his deep love of journalism, Romford and his paper,” said former Recorder deputy editor Barry Kirk, who went on to edit the Barking and Dagenham Post. “His favourite saying was, ‘It may be a winkle barge, but it is my winkle barge’, exercising his humorous modesty as the paper became a major force in the East End of London.”
As a boss, Roy never took no for an answer and was a stickler for detail, causing a “maelstrom of frustration” for reporters, sent to check – and recheck – their facts.
“It was drilled into us all,” said Barry. “But experience soon taught that he was right. He used to say no one makes mistakes on purpose.”
Roy’s unrelenting nose for a good news story was equalled only by his fierce moods.
“He was a kind and generous man, but had a temper that could scorch those who didn’t live up to his ideals,” said former Recorder editor Mark Sweetingham, who worked under Roy as a reporter and subeditor and later took over from him in the mid-’90s. “But it was soon forgotten; he didn’t harbour any grudges.”
Roy may have been small and always immaculately turned out, but he was never one to shy away from confrontation,
Indeed, his columns were legendary: a heady mix of gallows humour, impassioned diatribe and an all-out disregard for political correctness that might make many a modern editor wince.
“His editor’s comment was typical of his impish sense of humour,” said Barry. “Almost every Friday, his door would be slammed shut as he answered phone calls from readers who did not always agree with his views. Short of taking refuge under our desks, the newsroom would quickly empty to cover ‘breaking stories’.”
If his comments in The Column That Gives It To You Straight got him in trouble, he was never too proud to admit he was wrong, famously “eating his hat” in a spat with market stallholders.
Roy was heavily involved in charity work throughout his life in conjunction with the newspaper, as a member of the Round Table, the Lions Club and the Rotary Club.
He was also an avid backer of Saint Francis Hospice, not only ensuring regular articles to help raise funds but “plaguing” his newsroom staff to empty their pockets.
Roy died after a long illness and is survived by his wife and sons as well as granddaughter Ellie – “the apple of his eye”.
“He was a gentleman in a profession not renowned for producing them,” said Mark, “and the world is a poorer place for his passing.”
Speaking on behalf of the family, son Jonathan said: “Dad showed unreserved love, passion, support, generosity and help. He was unstintingly honest, had strong morals and a work ethic to be in awe of.
“His passions were his family, the Recorder and sport, and woe betide anybody that crossed any of them!
“He was devoted to Mum and loved her more than anything I can describe, and I can’t remember many days when he didn’t tell all of us how much he loved us, and how proud he was of his family.
“Dad, we love you and will miss you.”
Roy’s funeral took place today at 10.40am at Southend Crematorium in Sutton Road, Southend-on-Sea, Essex.