Glyn Paflin writes:
HORACE "OSCAR" TURNILL, who died on 13 May, aged 84, was a
journalist and editor who made a lasting contribution to the
Church Times. His legacies include the paper's title
line/masthead in its current form.
When John Whale was to take over as editor of the Church
Times in 1989, he commissioned Oscar, one of his former
colleagues at The Sunday Times, to redesign it for the new
era in which the Church Times no longer had its own
composing-room, but used outside computerised typesetters.
Oscar, although he wrote from time to time (and had, for
example, reviewed Ian Fleming's children's book Chitty Chitty
Bang Bang for The Sunday Times), was primarily a
sub-editor and layout man. After being managing editor of The
Times Literary Supplement, he had redesigned The
Times for Harold Evans in the early 1970s, and was now
semi-retired. Evans described him as "a small, polite and pedantic
man", whom printers loved.
The brief that John gave him was to produce something very like
the new daily broadsheet The Independent, with an emphasis
on good pictures run large, and a classical approach to typefaces,
but all this in a tabloid format. The Times had not yet
become tabloid; so there was little precedent for this approach.
Another requirement was that the layouts on which the new
typesetters at some distance in Colchester were to base their
paste-ups - pencil designs drawn on paper grids to as accurate an
estimate as we could achieve - had to be straightforward enough to
be managed by journalists with no training in design.
Oscar did as he was asked, given technical restrictions: for
some reason, headline sizes could not go above 36 points, and John
wanted the body text to be larger for legibility - it became 9½
points - which put a premium on space. "Leading" (white, which had
been used to stretch stories to fit, and to make the paper
readable) was generally sacrificed.
The result was initially disappointing, to say the least. On the
newsprint that we had, Times New Roman was not shown to advantage,
and always seemed to come out feint. Stunning photos were seldom to
be had, and longer articles without regular crossheads looked
daunting. Those of us who were at the sharp end of complaining
letters and phone calls quietly cursed the redesign that had been
imposed on us.
It soon became clear, however, that we were all far too busy,
and that the editor should not be laying out so many pages himself.
Oscar was therefore asked to come into the office part-time, and
this made an enormous improvement. His elegant draughtsmanship was
a work of art in itself, as well as helpful to the typesetters, and
his advice was invaluable. I remember him exploding only once, when
I dared to run a headline in 36pt roman capitals across a photo
spread, and was told very sharply not to break the rules: these
were only to be used for section headings, which we had in those
Oscar was a reporter's sub, and adept at cutting copy in ways
that did no violence to the sense or balance. He could make a silk
purse out of a sow's ear. He bought cheap sources of images to
illustrate cookery and gardening columns; and even a delivery
company's pizza leaflet was used when we had nothing else, although
Oscar made his feelings known. When John was on holiday, the day
before George Carey was announced as the next Archbishop of
Canterbury, Oscar expended long effort on rescuing a dull
front-page photo of a church by superimposing cutout figures on it.
It must have been a sign: his trouble was wasted, as the next day
our chief reporter, Betty Saunders, jumped on a train to Colchester
with a mugshot of the Bishop of Bath & Wells in her handbag to
take its place.
Oscar also had a flamboyance we were yet to see. When John
retired after five years, he seemed to be about to leave, too; but
the new editor, Paul Handley, asked him to liven up the design for
more popular appeal. Type sizes grew like Topsy, white space was
back, and "Christmas Books" looked enticing again. A particular
pièce de résistance was a special design for the cover and
a "Review of the Century" supplement in the last issue of 1999. And
there was a special issue of General Synod election results, again
during the editor's holidays, when Oscar designed a handsome layout
for them which had to be ditched at the very last minute when far
more came in before we went to press than were expected.
When he finally decided to leave the Church Times, he
requested that he should be given no gathering in the pub or
elsewhere to mark his departure. We thought it a pity, since he was
an amusing and much respected figure in the office, who gave us
fascinating glimpses of a golden age in Fleet Street, when we could
elicit them (which was not often), and who, while quietly drafting
page layouts in a corner, could surprise us by revealing that he
knew far more about what was going on around him than we
A father and grandfather, whose wife, June, predeceased him, he
was also a family man in the sense of being a keen genealogist.