Colin Grainger

Farewell to ‘towering figure’ Tom – a legend of the newspaper industry


THE founding Editor of the Newham Recorder, and my great friend and mentor, Tom Duncan, has passed away at the age of 86. He edited the paper for almost 30 years from its creation and first edition in 1968.

Tom was made an Honorary Freeman of Newham in 2000 for his services to the community in Newham and was a priest for 25 years at All Saints Church in Poplar. Tom’s time at the church saw him carry out hundreds of weddings, baptism and funerals and he was much-loved by the congregation.

Tributes were made to Tom following his death at his home in Beckton.

West Ham MP Lyn Brown said: “Tom was a gentle man and the consummate professional, who wanted the best for the community. He was thoroughly decent and if only some of the press these days were more like Tom, the world would be a better place.”

East Ham MP Sir Stephen Timms said: “He was a towering figure and a very important voice in the community. Tom’s contribution to the Newham Needs campaign which won better funding for the borough was an important milestone.”

Former Newham Mayor Bryan Collier, who brought back the awards of Freedom of the borough after a long absence said: “He was a great man and well respected and everything he did was for the community. He always put Newham first.”


  • Tom Duncan…’towering figure in the local community’

Hammers fan Tom, who was also a qualified football referee was also Group Editor and edited the Ilford Recorder for a time. He left the company in 2000. As his successor who went to work for the paper for 41 years, I invited Tom back to write a weekly page feature of news and comment until 2009.

Tom took me on straight from Plaistow Grammar School in 1972.

I rose through the ranks to become senior reporter, chief reporter, news editor, then assistant editor, Associate Editor and Editor of the paper, along with five other titles, under his mentoring, encouragement and support.


  • Colin, deputy editor John Finn, chief sub Chris Hodgs and Tom, meet  with former  Home Secretary Michael Howard at the Recorder’s East Ham office 

Tom was a man of great honesty and integrity. It was my honour to have known him all those years. He preached the values of doing the job right. We shared many successes and awards One both he and I are so proud of was the Kevin Jenkins OBE Toy Appeal campaign, run with the charity Ambition, Aspire, Achieve. This appeal is still going 46 years after we started it, providing gifts for children who need them the most and would otherwise go without. He will be remembered as a man of principle. And the principal man of the Newham Recorder. That’s a legacy.

During Tom’s time the paper won many awards. I still have the one for Campaigning Newspaper of the Year.

Former Newham Recorder reporter Neil Duncanson, now chair of independent production company North One – which he founded 33 years ago said: “Over the course of a lifetime you meet thousands of people, but only a few have a genuine impact.

“Tom was one of those rare people. I was a madly enthusiastic, but frankly know-nothing kid fresh out of school and he saw something in me and I got hired as an apprentice reporter.

“As Editor, his unwavering high standards, attention to detail and zealous pursuit of doing the job right gave me the grounding for the career I’ve enjoyed ever since. Without Tom I doubt it would have happened. He made a big difference to me and to the lives of so many of my colleagues down the years. They don’t make them like Tom anymore. More’s the pity.”


  • Neil Duncanson, Colin Grainger, Geoff Sutton, Hugh Muir and Tom Duncan

Former Archant Regional Director Paul Gregory said: “Tom was a great man and someone who made an advertising manager out of me in my early days. His knowledge helped me so much then and in later life.”

Former Newham Recorder Deputy Editor John Finn said: “Tom was the best all-round editor I worked with. Brilliant layout man, great news sense and a gifted writer.”

Former Newham Recorder reporter Geoff Sutton said: “He was so important to everyone who worked with him. I wouldn’t have achieved anything without Tom.”

Former Ilford Recorder journalist Bill Stock said: “He was a great editor of Ilford. Firm but fair.”


  • Tom


Former reporter Hugh Muir wrote about Tom in The Guardian 18 years ago:

“Tom produced one of the best local newspapers in the country. The East End of London was then, as now, fertile ground for crime, politics and social issues and the paper was revered by the borough’s traditional communities. Tom knew just how they thought. An east Londoner, an ardent West Ham United fan, those were his origins too.

“As I considered leaving the Recorder in 1987, I voiced doubts to a former colleague who was by then on the Daily Mail about my chances of surviving on the nationals. “You must be joking,” he said. “After Tom and the Recorder, this is a piece of cake.”

Tom also worked for a number of national papers,  the Romford Recorder , Luton News, and the East London Advertiser, before launching the Newham Recorder 55 years ago.

The funeral service for will be held at All
Saints Church in Poplar, where he was a priest, on Wednesday October 4 at 2.30pm.
A private cremation will be held the following day at the City of London Crematorium, Manor Park


  • Tom at my daughter Angela’s wedding


When I told Tom before his “leaving do” in 2000 that I was preparing a speech he joked that it might do me a bit of good to speak about him at this function because it would stand me in good stead for giving the address at his funeral!

But talking about the final departure of someone I have loved like a brother for over 50 years is desperately hard for me.

I was very pleased that Tom was re-employed by the company to tackle training issues and also to write a column for the Newham community in which he is admired and praised.

For many of us who put our heart and soul into bringing the Newham Recorder to the streets each week, it is great that there is praise from those in the community in which we worked for our efforts. Perhaps that’s what kepy us going throughout our very long days.


  • Colin and Tom at his Freedom celebration with former MP and Minister Tony Banks

His contribution to the community in Newham was immense.

The Recorder produced some top class journalists – many moved on to greater things and are genuinely proud of his Newham Recorder upbringing.

Hugh Muir,  told me his time on the paper was the foundation on which his career has been built.

He still has the contract he signed with us – and likes to joke he grabbed the last great apprenticeship in London.

There were many battles with hundreds of people over the years. I’d need a spare week to go through them.

And now for a few secrets. Our campaigns like Newham Needs grew into something amazing over two years and actually won extra cash from the Government for the people of Newham. But the campaign which was launched by an editorial asking people if they cared enough actually came out of a comment Tom wrote in that particular week because we didn’t have a front page lead!


  • Tom and Colin last year

There are so many precious memories.

Yes, Tom was a man of the cloth, and a man of dignity. But yes, it was he, who together with other senior Recorder reprobates, made so much noise in the bar of the Theatre Royal, Stratford, on one occasion, they actually stopped the performance, and asked us to stop our  singing.

I recall that the play was about ghosts. The theatre is actually haunted and we saw quite a few spirits that night.

Tom spent many years as a referee, and my first game for the office team was a memorable one. He booked me for arguing about a disallowed goal, superbly netted by me, that would have won us the match. No grudge was held, but it still hurts!


  • Tom in referee mode for a charity five-s-side tournament…enjoying a joke with the Recorder team

After his refereeing days were over, he tackled the ski slopes of the Beckon Alps with my son James and daughter Angela, then six and nine, and my wife Lesley and I.  Tom was Newham’s answer to Eddie the Eagle. That was his last skiing session.

He left the Alps bloodied and bruised. He wrote a piece for the paper calling himself Tit Tom.  Eddie the Eagle – eat your heart out.


  • Tom skiing at Beckton Alps

There has been much blood, sweat and tears in Tom’s reign as the paper grew from a sale of zero, to take on and then overtake the opposition.

We are also proud of a campaign to improve Basic skills of adults – both of which have earned deserved praise for reporter Susan Smith and the Recorder.

Tom was a unique man and even in the last 18 months when his health took a turn for the worst, the twinkle in his eye was often still there.


Now he is at peace. God bless you mate and thank you.



  • Pictures by Colin Grainger, Steve Poston and Andrew Baker

Comments are closed.