Less successful had been Preston’s handling of a leaked document outlining the intended arrival at Greenham Common of American cruise missiles in 1983.He splashed on the story, but when a court battle led to the source documents being handed over, the Foreign Office clerk who leaked them, Sarah Tisdall, was jailed for six months.
He saved the liberal paper from near extinction amid the union militancy of the Seventies, and guided it towards financial stability.
As an editor, Preston was a great populariser within the context of a broadsheet paper, but never lost his appreciation of great reporting.
As someone who worked alongside Preston for almost a quarter of a century, including his two decades as editor, I grew to be deeply impressed by his precocious work ethic and attention to detail.
As production editor, before becoming editor, he would be glued to his seat on the ‘back bench’ - the powerhouse of any newspaper – radically updating the paper between editions, improving headlines and making sure copy was accurate, easy to digest and - if appropriate - included the occasional joke. One of his most endearing (and sometimes intimidating habits) as editor was to quietly approach the desk of the writer producing the front-page ‘splash’ story, and peer over their shoulder to make sure the story was as described by the department head at the afternoon news conference.
For months he was kept alive in an iron lung, and it was almost two years before he returned to normal life.