Now in the Newspaper Society’s list of the 10 biggest UK publishers, Tindle Newspapers is still helmed by Sir Ray Tindle, who began the group with £300 demob money given to soldiers at the end of the Second World War and was knighted in 1994 for his services to the newspaper industry.
He started with a weekly paper in Tooting, south London, with a circulation of 700. Through launches and acquisitions the group now has more than 220 titles, with an audited weekly circulation of more than 1.4 million and turnover above £50m.
Sir Ray says any success he may have achieved can be attributed to a dedicated staff led in recent years by Brian Doel and Wendy Craig and 30 superb general managers running their newspapers locally.
Sir Ray illustrates his ultra-local philosophy by recounting to the industry trade newspaper, Press Gazette, his rescue of the Tenby Observer in 1978 after reading in the Daily Telegraph that the paper, which had been renamed the West Wales Observer in an attempt to reach a wider market, had ceased publication.
After buying the paper from the liquidator, he revived the old name and told staff to throw out any story that was not from Tenby. “The West Wales Observer covered everything from Carmarthen to Haverford West, and it had failed. I told the staff I only wanted news of Tenby and I wanted to go back to the old title.” Sir Ray says the Tenby paper made well over £100,000 in 2007 and sales have more than doubled since he saved it.
There was another reason Sir Ray wanted to save the Tenby paper. He knew that in 1908 the paper’s editor had led a campaign which resulted in the passing of the Admission of the Press to Meetings Act. Today the Tenby Observer carries the proud slogan “pioneer of press freedom” under its masthead.
Sir Ray’s regard for newspaper history was reflected in his comments when Tindle Newspapers bought the London papers from Trinity in 2007. He was quoted as saying: “I am delighted with the purchase of newspapers dating back to 1833, 1859, 1865 and 1976.”
Press Gazette described it as rather like a lover of fine wine celebrating buying some famous vintages. “Not for him the corporate-speak of ‘creating synergies’ across the group or ‘adding shareholder value’, as some takeover deals are celebrated in press releases.
Ray Tindle, Brian Doel and Wendy Craig paid Trinity Mirror £18.75m for 27 weekly newspapers, including the South London Press, Yellow Advertiser series, Streatham Post, Mitcham Post, Bexley Mercury, Barnet Press, Enfield Advertiser and Enfield Gazette, in August 2007.
Despite the size of that deal, Sir Ray and his two executive directors, Brian and Wendy, say it is very much in keeping with the group’s ethos of concentrating on local and community weekly newspapers. “The South London Press may be the biggest paid-for weekly in London but it is still a community newspaper that serves its local community,” Group Managing Director Brian Doel says. “It is the same if you look at the Yellow Advertiser series. They are made up of 11 very local papers.”
But then, as a private company, Tindle is not beholden to the City or shareholders.
“It makes a huge difference,” Doel says. “When we get into times of recession the big groups that have shareholders have to look to dividends and profits. If the revenues aren’t there they have to cut costs, which could change the nature of their newspapers. Whereas Sir Ray, as the only shareholder of the company, is able to say he has seen it before and firmly believes we will come out of it.”
Sir Ray says he has lived through six recessions, including the current one. Doel adds: “I am sure we could have saved money across the group but we’ve kept each title very local with local editors and subs and reporters as much as possible. They know most about the community they serve.”
Press Gazette writer Jon Slattery commented: “The Tindle model may seem a nostalgic view of the local press through sepia-tinted glasses, a kind of Morris Minor world that existed before the internet. Yet you cannot help wondering how Tindle Newspapers has survived for 40 years when a modern media company like Emap has turned to dust and been sold off to give ‘shareholder value’.
“Perhaps a clue may be that the Tindle family coat of arms, which is carried by all his newspapers, has the motto Noli Cedere, which translates as Never Surrender. It is an attitude that has led Sir Ray to go from being a ‘general dogsbody’ on the Croydon Times in the post-war years to building up a company now in the Sunday Times Rich List.”
Tindle Newspapers became involved in local radio in 1972 when Sir Ray led a delegation to Westminster to make the case for local papers involvement in the new media. The following year he was part of a company chaired by Robert Stiby which invested in the then newly-formed Capital Radio. 25 years later Ray Tindle took this money out of Capital and purchased Island FM in Guernsey, Channel 103 FM and, later, Midlands 103 in Ireland as well as others. Wendy Craig is a director.