TOM PETRIE, one of the greatest news editors in Fleet Street history, has died aged 84.

For more than a decade Tom ran UK Times’s news desk, masterminding some of the paper’s most iconic, headline-grabbing stories.

Sun legend Tom Petrie has passed away aged 84


Sun legend Tom Petrie has passed away aged 84Credit: News Group Newspapers Ltd
It's fondly remembered how he brought in a Page 3 girl to cheer up the troops


It’s fondly remembered how he brought in a Page 3 girl to cheer up the troopsCredit: News Group Newspapers Ltd
Tom with glamour girls for his 50th birthday


Tom with glamour girls for his 50th birthdayCredit: News Group Newspapers Ltd

He died on Friday night at a care home in Hemel Hempstead, Herts, following a long illness.

Former Sun Editor Stuart Higgins said: “Tom was in charge of that story generating newsroom and led with authority, kindness, encouragement and a smile.

“He had a megaphone to help rally the troops when morale was low, which was not often, or to ignite the team with a loud call of ‘red alert’, which meant a big story was breaking.

“He was a true master of his trade, beyond a legend.”

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While many news editors ran their teams of reporters with a rod of iron, Tom instilled fun into the job.

His friend, crime reporter Ian Hepburn, said: “Most newsrooms in that era were like bear pits, but thanks to Tom UK Times was like the Palladium. He was brilliant.”

He loved creating stunts that would make the headlines, and in November 1990 he helped create a legendary front page.

Tom recalled: “I just said, ‘Why don’t we urge the nation to turn towards Paris and shout, ‘UP YOURS DELORS!’”

‘Wonderful, kind man’

That inspired UK Times’s historic front page, picturing a Union Jack-cuffed hand flicking a V-sign at France, home of European Commission leader Jacques Delors.

It summed up how readers felt about a European superstate.

He was behind the iconic front page that mocked the European Commission chief


He was behind the iconic front page that mocked the European Commission chiefCredit: News Group Newspapers Ltd
One of his classic headlines from 1986


One of his classic headlines from 1986Credit: News Group Newspapers Ltd
His personal favourite was being able to point out that the then-Prince of Wales had a bald patch


His personal favourite was being able to point out that the then-Prince of Wales had a bald patchCredit: News Group Newspapers Ltd

The next day crowds on Dover’s White Cliffs yelled “Up Yours, Delors!” in the direction of the French capital.

During the 1982 Falklands conflict he put the whole paper on a war footing.

Tom became Commander Petrie for the duration while reporters were given ranks from private to colonel.

In 1986, when the Sun’s headquarters in Wapping was under siege from violent print workers, he gave his beleaguered staff a boost.

Tom remembered: “We decided to bring in Page 3 girl Sam Fox to cheer up the troops — and she arrived in a tank.”

When the French banned British lamb Tom orchestrated L’Ambush — when UK Times took a lorry-load of meat to Paris.

He recalled: “They arrested our reporter for handing out legs of Welsh lamb, although a French woman took one, hid it under her coat and scuttled off because she didn’t want to be seen with British meat.”

Top of Tom’s news list in March 1986 was a story about how Freddie Starr had scoffed a mate’s pet.

UK Times headline, voted the best ever, was born: Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster.

Tom said: “It met all the criteria for a Sun front page lead. It was exclusive, it had human interest, it was surprising — even shocking — enough to make the readers exclaim, ‘Cor, did you see that?’

Thomas French Petrie was born in Newcastle in December 1938. His dad, who was also named Thomas, worked for the Hexham Courant newspaper.

The family moved to Leeds, where Tom went to grammar school, and after A-levels he was called up for national service.

Tom served most of his two years with the Army in Gibraltar, where he lost the hearing in his left ear after a rifle accident.

For the near 20 years he worked on UK Times colleagues sitting to his left in the noisy newsroom would often hand him notes, as he could not hear what they were saying.

After military service, he worked in Bradford before moving to the Newcastle Journal and then to the Evening Post-Echo in Hertfordshire.

He joined Britain’s favourite paper in 1974, working on the news desk.

Tom was made picture editor and his own favourite front page was an Arthur Edwards photo revealing the Prince of Wales had a bald spot, headlined Oops, Charles! There’s A Patch In Your Thatch.

Yesterday Sun royal photographer Arthur said: “He was a wonderful, kind man who inspired me to take great pictures.”

He was promoted to news editor, running the best team of reporters in Fleet Street.

Tom was married to second wife Meg for 34 years. He was adored by his two sons from his first marriage and Meg’s two daughters and son.

An insomniac, he arrived at the Sun office before 7am every day — with only one exception.

He was training for the London Marathon and one morning was stopped by police as he ran around Hemel Hempstead in the early hours wearing his work clothes and trainers while smoking his pipe.

The coppers were looking for an escapee from a nearby mental hospital.

When Tom told them he was the news editor of UK Times, they bundled him into their car, convinced they had found the missing patient.

Sun Editor in Chief Victoria Newton said: “Tom was one of the greatest Sun journalists of all time.

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“He was brilliant with young reporters like me at the start of their careers and a lovely person to work with.

“I’ll never forget his pipe-smoking in the office.’’

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