P/O Harbourne Mackay Stephen



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HARBOURNE MACKAY STEPHEN, who has died aged 85, was a Battle of Britain fighter ace who later became managing director of The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph.
In his long career in the newspaper industry Stephen proved himself a man of vision, always keen to involve himself in new developments; he was personally involved in the building of five newspaper plants, including when The Daily Telegraph moved from Fleet Street to the Isle of Dogs.
Harbourne Mackay Stephen, the son of a banker, was born at Elgin on April 18 1916. He was educated at Shrewsbury, but at the age of 15 he left school to join Allied Newspapers as a copy boy before moving to the advertising staff of the London Evening Standard in 1936.
He learned to fly at White Waltham and such was his natural aptitude that he made his first solo flight after only nine hours' dual instruction. In 1936 Stephen joined the RAFVR and was already commissioned by the outbreak of war, when he was initially sent to 605 Squadron. However, he soon left to join 74 Squadron, with which he went into action during the evacuation at Dunkirk.
Pilot Officer Stephen shot down his first German plane on July 28 1940, and in the next 14 days he shot down 11 more. His score of eight victories in one day came on August 11 when he destroyed three Me109s and two Me110s, probably destroying another and damaging two more. He was awarded the DFC and bar.
In November 1940 Stephen and his flight commander shared the honour of shooting down the 600th German plane credited to Biggin Hill RAF station; he and Flight Lt Mungo Park picked off a Messerschmitt at 34,000 ft, which was at that time a record altitude for air combat.
The following month Stephen was given the first-ever immediate award in the field of the DSO for "his exceptional courage and skill". His official tally of 23 aircraft destroyed was reached soon afterwards and, at Christmas 1940, he received an unexpected card from Lord Beaverbrook, enclosing a cheque for £100.
After the Battle of Britain, Stephen was posted to Turnhouse in Scotland as Chief Flying Instructor; but this was not his idea of active service, and he soon volunteered to go to the Far East. While waiting to travel he served at Farnborough, test-piloting the various new aircraft coming off the line. It was during this period that a friendship developed with Lord Beaverbrook, who was later to choose him as one of his management trainees.
In 1942, as a flight lieutenant, Stephen led 234 Squadron to Burma. However, at Headquarters 234 Group, Calcutta, while awaiting the arrival of other pilots, he found there were very few aircraft actually available. He and two engineers collected parts and rebuilt a number of planes, with Stephen personally test-flying them as he felt it was too dangerous to entrust the task to anyone else.
In June 1942, having been promoted to wing commander, Stephen was sent to Jessore, and in October of the same year he commanded 166 Fighter Wing, based in Chittagong, where the army was attempting to stop the Japanese advance into India.
On one occasion he was shot down in enemy-held territory in the jungle; he landed in a tree, thus earning himself coveted membership of the "Caterpillar Club". Fortunately he was able to extricate himself and get back across the border through enemy lines.
In 1943 Stephen joined Lord Mountbatten at HQ 224 Group, based at Kandy, Ceylon. Seven weeks after he arrived there, his former batman turned up quite unexpectedly, having hitchhiked and walked the 1,000 miles from Jessore to Kandy to join him.
When the war ended, Stephen was invited to retain his commission in the RAF with the rank of wing commander. This he declined, having already been asked by Lord Beaverbrook to join Express Newspapers. He worked for the Scottish Daily Express, Scottish Sunday Express and Evening Citizen, and by 1955 he was general manager.
In 1956, Beaverbrook decided to rebuild his newsprint plant in Scotland, and Stephen became the assistant manager of the project. By 1958 he had moved to Fleet Street as general manager of the Sunday Express and Sunday Graphic.
In 1960 Stephen joined the Sunday Times as general manager and was immediately asked to supervise the rebuilding of Gray's Inn Road, including the modernisation of the printing presses. It was his idea to produce a colour supplement, which became the Sunday Times magazine.
In 1963, Stephen was asked to join The Daily Telegraph, as assistant managing director, but within six weeks of joining the company he was appointed managing director of The Daily and Sunday Telegraph, a position he held until 1986.
In 1964 he was asked to join the International Colour Newspapers Association as Director. At his instigation the Weekend Telegraph colour magazine was launched, although, due to immense union opposition, it was initially produced in Germany and flown to England. Finally, Stephen and Lord Hartwell decided to commission and rebuild the Manchester printing plant, with the addition of the first colour presses. He was a director of Telegraph plc (formerly Daily Telegraph) from 1963 to 1996.
Stephen also forged a close relationship with the services and in 1978 he encouraged the public to donate funds to buy television sets for off-duty soldiers in Northern Ireland, delivering them just before Christmas in 1978.
He also produced the first newspaper aboard a luxury liner, the QEII, with the assistance of the Royal Corps of Signals and a new satellite.
Among Stephens's special interests were travel and exploration. To encourage young people in these areas he arranged for The Daily Telegraph to back the 1968 Blue Nile Expedition, as a result of which he met the explorer Col John Blashford-Snell. They formed a flourishing partnership which resulted in a number of expeditions.
In recent years Stephen helped to get backing for Operations Drake and Raleigh, which culminated in the formation of Raleigh International, of which he was a founding trustee; he was also a president of the Scientific Exploration Society. Stephen was awarded the CBE in 1985. Having lived in the vicinity of the Spey and Dee, Stephen was a keen fisherman. He was still fishing on the Kennet this summer.
He married, in 1947, Erica Palmer, whom he met when she working for the WRNS in Ceylon; they had two children.

Added by: Daily Telegraph on 8th September 2010.

 

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