Pearl Tytell: The pioneering journalist who defied age

Pearl Tytell, the Examiner of dubious documents, has died. In a long career which spanned nearly 80 years, this energetic and inventive woman impressed her publishers with her enthusiasm for every new challenge thrown…

Pearl Tytell, the Examiner of dubious documents, has died.

In a long career which spanned nearly 80 years, this energetic and inventive woman impressed her publishers with her enthusiasm for every new challenge thrown at her by the profession of journalism.

“She didn’t shy away from the unusual, or the untraditional,” recalled her former editor, William Lane.

Tytell was born in the Swiss town of Chur and earned a degree in economics at Geneva University. When she was not studying, she was working as a writer of articles for glossy magazines such as Le Nouvel Observateur and Rouge.

Inspired by this inspiration, she subsequently decided to write a book based on some of her French reporting, so bought a used dictionary and set to work in exhaustive research on some of the richest, most pugnacious and most intriguing subjects of letters and press releases and legal correspondence.

The book in question was published by Lane as an illustrated monthly newsletter, Escale. It had a content almost unrivalled by any newspaper article ever published. Tytell worked up fascinating stories from the historical background to the policies, schemes and issues of European leaders during the years of the Common Market, preceded by some of the most remarkable periods of economic and political turmoil.

“There were a lot of people to research, but she did it very well,” said Lane. “I had one difficulty, which was that a lot of her letters were bilingual and she couldn’t translate them when they came back to her. I had to ask my secretary to translate some of them to English – but then she learned to write in French, so she could carry on.”

Despite a formidable professional life, Tytell never stopped working – not just for Lane, but for her partner and close friend, Owen Williams, the founder of The Telegraph, one of the many newspapers she later edited.

As publisher of The Independent, she authored several books about the politics of the Scottish Border Assembly, the island of Orkney and the history of the newspaper which was launched by her husband Peter in 1965. When he was appointed editor of the Daily Mirror in the 1970s, Tytell took on the role of UK editor.

Over the next twenty years, she taught a course on journalism at Newcastle University and joined, alongside others including Neville Thurlbeck, Lord Neil, Elizabeth Taylor and Hugh Muir, as a member of the senior editors’ group that took the Observer on the road, interviewing to discover where other journalistic giants were in their lives and careers.

Following her husband’s death in 1990, Tytell became a regular contributor to the Sunday Times, beginning with their current Review supplement, which she edited from 1998 until last year.

Her dedication to her colleagues, friends and family spanned the decades and saw her awarded a CBE in 1999. She was also appointed an honorary member of the Wolfson Institute of Arts and Humanities at Cambridge University, where she lectured, and published several articles for the Observer and Observer Magazine.

Alongside friends at the American Press Institute, Tytell was the inspiration behind the 2014 publication of a controversial book about her life, The Woman Who Saw in Letters: a Private Life of Honor, Mystery and Adventure. She also proudly added the title laureate of the inaugural American Reporters’ Memorial Award for Journalism in English to her list of honours.

A keen and devoted reader of newspapers from the mass circulation papers to the austere, concise evidence of public administration, the Telegraph Editor Richard Whittam described her life and achievements as “unflinching, courageous and fearless. We all owe her a debt of gratitude and shall miss her greatly.”

In her last publication for the Mail on Sunday, Frances Wilson wrote of Pearl Tytell: “In a career long dedicated to the nation’s affairs, there can be few as fearless, independent-minded and versatile as Pearl Tytell. Her stories may be about the minutiae of public life. But they also convey the glamour and intrigue and raw energy of war.”

Pearl Tytell died in Barts Hospital, London. She was 104.

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