Freddy Johnston CBE Dies Aged 86

Former chairman of Johnston Press Freddy Johnston CBE has died aged 86.

Mr Johnston, who was president of the Newspaper Society (now the News Media Association) in 1989-90, became chairman at local news publisher F. Johnston & Company after his father died in 1973.  

Under Mr Johnston’s charge, the company made its first foray south of the border to buy the Derbyshire Times, the second-largest selling weekly newspaper in England at that time, in 1978.

Further acquisitions followed in Yorkshire, Sussex and the Midlands. In 1988, the publisher became Johnston Press and was floated on the London Stock Exchange.

It continued to make acquisitions north and south of the border and in Ireland. In 1996, Mr Johnston masterminded a transformational £111 million deal for EMAP Newspapers including the 300 year-old Stamford Mercury, Britain’s oldest title.

Through Mr Johnston’s leadership, the publisher grew from a handful of Scottish titles to one which commanded 200 daily and weekly newspapers the length and breadth of the country.

Mr Johnston retired as chairman in 2001 when Johnston Press owned 200 titles from Scotland to South Coast but he remained on the board.

In 2002, the publisher bought Regional Independent Media for £560 million and, in 2006, the company bought The Scotsman newspaper.

Prior to entering the newspaper business, Mr Johnston did National Service initially joining the Perthshire regiment, the Black Watch, before being sent for officer training with the Royal Scots Fusiliers. From there he was seconded to the 4th Battallion of the King’s African Rifles.

On his return to civilian life, he had a brief stint at The Falkirk Herald before going to read history at New College Oxford.

After graduating he took a journalist role with the Liverpool Post and Echo then joined Times Newspapers in London as assistant company secretary.

It was while there that he was to meet the woman who would be his partner for over 60 years. Ann Jones, originally from mid-Wales was working in London as a home economist, and the pair were introduced at a leaving party for one of Mr Johnston’s colleagues.

Mr Johnston’s son Michael said his father had always loved newspapers. He said: “He had been born into journalism: it was in his blood. At that time Scotland was made up of family-run newspapers and everyone knew each other.”

Mr Johnston was awarded a CBE for services to the industry.

Mr Johnston and his wife lived in Brighton for many years before they moved to Edinburgh in 1980. Later they moved to Ludlow in Shropshire and more recently Wimbledon.

After a period of ill health, Freddy died peacefully in hospital on May 1.