Writing for Harold Evans: “Just Drop It In the Right Basket”

Harry Evans and Tina Brown.

Barnard Law Collier adds his recollections of editor Harold Evans to the 10/20 post, “My Husband Signed the Contract for Your Book”:

So many things about Sir Harold Evans: His newspaper, magazine, and book editorships. His brilliant friends and authors. His despicable enemies. His awards. The verbosity he has cut from humptynine blathering stories.

What I recall vividly about Sir Harry as an editor—aside from being a bon vivant, raconteur, and dazzling intellect—was one of his offices in New York City. The room was neither fashionable nor elegant (unlike its resident) but it had about 100 square feet of table and desk space, which was topped with tureen-sized bamboo baskets, each labeled with the name of one of his many ongoing projects.

I carried a typescript for something and his assistant motioned for me to, “Just drop it in the right basket.”

It was an education reading all the labels.

“Every day he looks at what’s in the baskets, one at a time, does what’s necessary, and goes on to the next, and the next,” his assistant explained.

One other extraordinary person who used something of the same method was the Washington lawyer Edward Bennett Williams, whose yards-long working desk was piled with neat, individual stacks of case files which he dealt with methodically, much as Sir Harry did.

I’ve tried to emulate Sir Harry’s ways, as well as his cut-to-the-chase ideas about writing.

There were just two words you had to remember when you wrote for Sir Harry: Precision. Clarity.

In 2017, at the age of 88, he wrote a book entitled “Do I Make Myself Clear?”

The book’s lessons are many, but my favorite is his reference to George Orwell, who wrote that “emptying words of meaning is an essential step on the road to autocratic rule.”

Despite a lot of gossip because she was 25 years younger than he and about two inches taller, Sir Harry married the brilliant and beautiful Tina Brown, whose accomplishments as an editor include The New Yorker and Vanity Fair. They are still together 38 years later.

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