Newspaper editor embroiled in the Hitler diaries scandal

Born: July 31, 1919;

Died: October 30, 2019.

FRANK Giles, who has died aged 100, served in many senior posts at Times Newspapers but is chiefly remembered for his turbulent last few years as editor of The Sunday Times from 1981-83.

His time coincided with one of the great journalistic scandals. In 1983 the German magazine Stern claimed they had the scoop of the era and had, in their vaults, the diaries of Adolf Hitler. The renowned historian Hugh Trevor-Roper (by then ennobled as Lord Dacre), who was an acknowledged authority on the Second World War (and was a director of The Times) authenticated the diaries. Such was Dacre’s enthusiasm, the Sunday Times bought the UK rights and Giles prepared for a major scoop.

The distinguished journalist Magnus Linklater, who was on the staff, has written recently that he spoke to Dacre on the day before publication and asked how certain he was. He replied, “100% certain, or rather, let us say 99%.” Linklater continued, “We all paid the price for that 99%, and this one sorry episode in his long and distinguished career would be the one which Frank was saddled with.”

Frank Thomas Robertson Giles was the son of Colonel FLN Giles who served in the Royal Engineers. He attended Wellington College and won a scholarship to read history at Brasenose College, Oxford. He had suffered from poor health from birth and was considered unfit for service during the Second World War. Instead he was appointed aide-de-camp to the governor of Bermuda.

In 1942 Giles returned to the UK and worked in the War Office then was transferred to the Foreign Office in 1945 serving both Sir Anthony Eden and Ernest Bevin. He joined The Times the following year as assistant correspondent in Rome then Paris before joining The Sunday Times as foreign editor in 1961 – a post he held until 1977.

As Foreign Editor he enjoyed the international aspect of the post and displayed diplomatic skills in assessing complex situations – notably during the Six Day War in 1967. He carried out important interviews with world leaders including the Chinese premier Zhou Enlai and President Reagan.

In 1967 Giles was made deputy editor of The Sunday Times and struck up an excellent relationship with the more flamboyant editor Harold Evans. The two worked well together as both were hardened journalists. For 14 years the paper retained its important place in British journalism that reflected their close working relationship. They shared a similar sense of humour – with Giles affectionately referring to Evans as The Young Master.

Rupert Murdoch bought Times Newspapers in 1981 and Evans was appointed editor of The Times and Giles, to his great pleasure and not inconsiderable surprise, of the Sunday Times.

It proved an unhappy few years. Internal strife within the management unsettled the staff and Giles found the business of day-to-day management and editing uneasy. He decided in 1983 to ‘stand down’ as editor and Murdoch offered him the title “editor emeritus”. Giles asked what it meant. Murdoch wryly replied: “It’s Latin, Frank. ‘E’ means you’re out and ‘meritus’ means you deserve to be.”

The relationship between Murdoch and Giles had, in fact, deteriorated over the years. The two men were of different stock – Giles patrician and believed editors should be left to edit and Murdoch demanded that as proprietor he had a right to be involved in the running of the paper.

There is little doubt that Giles will be forever associated with the fiasco of the Hitler diaries. He was, in fact, a respected journalist of much integrity, and only partially responsible. Murdoch was enthusiastic from the outset and it has remained unclear why, when Dacre was having crucial last-minute doubts, he informed the editor of the Times, Charles Douglas-Home, who mysteriously did not tell the editor of his sister paper.

It was rattling good story about the press and in 1986 Robert Harris wrote a detailed account of the hoax (Selling Hitler) and five years later ITV showed a drama-documentary based on the book.

Giles married, in 1946, Lady Katherine (Kitty) Sackville, daughter of the 9th Earl De La Warr, who died in 2010. He is survived by his children, Belinda and Henry. Another daughter, Sarah, predeceased him.