Obituary: Sir Jocelyn Stevens, executive and director

Sir Jocelyn Stevens. Picture: Getty
Sir Jocelyn Stevens. Picture: Getty
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BORN: 9 October, 1932. Died: 12 October, 2014, aged 82

The ebullient Sir Jocelyn Stevens was a powerful and controversial man who gained a reputation for hard-headed cost cutting of staff. At Beaverbrook Newspapers, the Royal College of Art (RCA) and English Heritage he was known for his impatience, demanding management style and disregard for his staff’s feelings. But Stevens saved London’s Evening Standard and fundamentally transformed both the RCA and English Heritage.

His pugnacious and ruthless personality did little to endear him to his workforce or colleagues. But many respected his judgment and financial acumen – as was evidenced when he asked a cook at Beaverbrook to prepare his farewell lunch. She burst into tears at the news he was leaving.

Stevens could be a man of much warmth and charm but many remember Private Eye’s colourful nickname: Piranha Teeth.

Jocelyn Edward Greville Stevens’s father was in the army and his mother was the daughter of the newspaper magnate Sir Edward Hulton. She died shortly after his birth, leading to some estrangement with his father. Stevens was brought up in some style and when his father remarried spent much of his youth in Scotland.

He attended Eton and was a keen boxer – reaching the final of the Public Schools’ Boxing Championship. He did his national service in the Rifle Brigade, winning the Sword of Honour at Eaton Hall. He read English at Trinity College, Cambridge but was sent down for not attending lectures.

At 21 Stevens inherited a considerable fortune from his mother and appeared in the gossip columns as a member of the Princess Margaret set – often escorting Princess Alexandra.

He began a career in journalism in 1957 and, with typical bravado, bought the rather staid monthly magazine The Queen – immediately dropping the definite article. He turned round the magazine’s fortunes and made it the publication of the Swinging Sixties – introducing such future stars as Anthony Armstrong-Jones, Mary Quant and Mark Boxer.

In 1968 Stevens joined Beaverbrook Newspapers to bring fresh life to the ailing Evening Standard. The proprietor, Sir Max Aitken, commented.

In 1972 he brought a certain pizzazz to the once all-conquering Daily Express. It was in that post that he gained a high profile in Scotland.

In March 1974 after much speculation, Stevens, to reduce Beaverbrook’s costs, closed down the Scottish Daily Express plant in Glasgow, transferring production to Manchester. He also sold the Glasgow Evening Citizen.

It is alleged that he persuaded Sir Hugh Fraser into paying way over the odds for the Citizen by concealing the fact that he was about to close down the printing works.

Overnight 1,850 workers were made redundant.

The print workers, with the backing of left-wing Labour MP Tony Benn, founded the Scottish Daily News, which came out in May 1975.

It created 500 jobs but closed within six months.

Stevens became managing director of Beaverbrook in 1974 and its deputy chairman when the company was taken over by Trafalgar House.

Stevens’s relationship with his new chairman, Victor Matthews, was not easy.

In 1984 Margaret Thatcher appointed Stevens Rector and Vice-Provost of the RCA. He dramatically reduced the staff and the 17 departments were cut to just four. But Stevens stabilised the RCA’s finances, attracted sponsorship and by the time he left in 1992 the international reputation of the RCA was much enhanced.

Michael Heseltine appointed Stevens chairman of English Heritage in 1992. Again he sacked many of the staff and sidelined others.

He may have been an unlikely man to preside over the nation’s heritage (“Terminator 3 arrives at English Heritage” was one headline) but he ensured major preservation schemes were introduced including, the restoration of The Albert Memorial opposite the Albert Hall, Charles Darwin’s house, the spectacular refurbishment of Eltham Palace and the conservation of Wigmore Castle in Herefordshire.

Stevens also championed Stonehenge and persuaded the Blair government to finance the transformation of the site – some of which was opened last year.

English Heritage paid tribute to him yesterday, saying: “He was truly a fearless, heritage hero.”

He retired in 2000, was knighted in 1996 and spent much of the last decade in London and Malaga. Stevens was a passionate angler and both his houses in Hampshire and in Angus housed huge libraries devoted to the history of fishing.

For 25 years he had lived with Vivian Duffield (the Charles Clore heiress) and the two gave extravagant parties – for his 50th in 1982 they flew the guests out to her chalet in Gstaad.

Their relationship ended in 2005 and he married Emma Cheape in 2008. She and two daughters by his first marriage to Jane Sheffield survive him.