Posted: May 11th, 2011
PERCY, KING OF THE COLONIALS
Percy Roberts, who headed Mirror group for several years until his retirement in 1980, has died at the age of 82. He was the most prominent of Cecil King’s team of journalist-turned-management talents who were set to work in West Africa and the West Indies as the Mirror’s wealth from its tabloid exploded into a huge international empire – including many publications in the “colonies.” Inevitably the successes of the group earned them the usually-affectionate title of The African Mafia. Coincidentally, he died in Kenya a day before he was due to return from a regular holiday in a country he much enjoyed.
Percy was born in Bognor and his journalistic starting point was the Sussex Daily News at the age of 16. He experienced the 39/45 war in the Sussex Yeomanry in France and in the Middle East, ending up as a captain.
The Middle East experience lured him back to work as a sub editor on the Egyptian Mail in Cairo and as a reporter on the Middle East Mail in Palestine. He returned to Sussex in 1948 and moved on to sub edit at the Liverpool Daily Post next year. The colonial experience started in Nigeria late in 1949. It was there that a succession of editorial and managerial jobs turned him into the managing director he was to become for the rest of his working life until retirement as MGN chairman and Chief Executive. First stop was to create a West Indies group on the sunny isles of Barbados, Antigua, Grenada, Guyana and St Lucia in anticipation of the formation of a Caribbean political federation which was never achieved.
A change of climate welcomed Percy to Manchester, where he was the Mirror’s General Manager for four years from 1962. Then it was onto the main Mirror board in London and responsibility for Overseas Newspapers, West of England, a seat on the Scottish board – and heavy involvement in NPA affairs. As the Mirror grew into IPC so Percy added more titles to his list – until Reed International emerged in the front row and he joined their board.
Percy’s final ambition was to drag Fleet Street into the age of new technology. When his efforts failed to disturb the slumbers of the proprietor or the luddites in the unions he led the Mirror’s march into the New Age. His attempts to persuade were not wholly heeded and it was the heavy hands of Rupert Murdoch and Robert Maxwell who eventually rode violently over all opposition and destroyed so much in the process.
Percy retired to Ross on Wye with Paula, where they involved themselves in much local charitable work. He was a supporter of the Association of Mirror Pensioners right from the start.
by Tony Boram
By BILL ROWNTREE, former Mirror Group photographer
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