Former Sussex Express Editor who led newspaper into a new era

Lewes news
Lewes news
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A groundbreaking former Editor of the Sussex Express, Peter Cavan Cooper, died last week at the age of 72.

Peter was responsible for seeing through the dramatic change of the county paper, which was launched in 1837, from broadsheet to tabloid format in September 1977.

Peter Cooper

Peter Cooper

He leaves three children and five grandchildren. He was immensely proud of his family, who were all devoted to him. He was divorced but remained good friends with his former wife, Ann, a fellow journalist.

In a special edition at the time of the major Sussex Express change he wrote: “In celebrating the last 140 years of publication we look to the future and to a continuing policy of serving the people of East Sussex.

“Styles change and today we launch the new tabloid Express. But our aim remains the same as always: to inform, entertain and help our readers.

“We are a living newspaper, campaigning when necessary against bureaucracy and bullying, defending the underdog and always, first and foremost, recording the news that matters.”

Peter trained on the Mid Sussex Times at Haywards Heath where he met Ann, also a trainee journalist, and married at the age of 21.

After a brief news agency spell, he joined the Sussex Express, living in Hove and working as a reporter at the head office in Lewes then moving to Hailsham, one of the paper’s seven district offices at that time. He later moved with his family to Lewes where he became sub-editor.

In 1971 the family moved to Hastings and two years later Peter was appointed editor as owners Westminster Press centralised production of the Express and sister papers at the Cambridge Road offices.

His career in journalism also included years as production editor on the national Motor magazine.

Peter had a quick wit, lively personality and forthright views on most subjects! With an impressive general knowledge, he was incredibly well read with an eclectic taste in literature and he was passionately interested in theatre, film – especially of the 1950s – and politics. He was a Labour stalwart from teenage days when he chaired Haywards Heath Young Socialists.

He loved jazz, with Billie Holiday a great favourite, and also music from the 1930s, especially Al Bowlly.

He loved pub life and for many years in Hastings he was an avid quiz team member, winning an assortment of trophies.

His death is a particular sadness for me as he was editor when I first joined the Sussex Express in 1973. My happiest years in journalism were under his leadership.

Peter Austin, who was Peter Cooper’s deputy in the mid 1970s and who succeeded him as editor of the Express in 1981, said: “Peter was a journalist of great drive. He recognised that the Express needed to change from a very traditional ‘county’ newspaper to one that could appeal to a much wider audience. He successfully achieved this while maintaining the paper’s essential values and traditions.

“He was also a very entertaining and sociable man who much enjoyed a pint or two with colleagues after the paper had gone to press. I was very sorry to hear of his death.”

The funeral is on Thursday, May 8, at 11am at Hastings Crematorium.