Skip to main content

Obituary: David Steers

By 21st October 2016July 27th, 2023No Comments

David Steers, a distinguished agricultural journalist with the Sunday Telegraph, a former press officer at the NFU and a long standing Member of the Guild, has died.

David’s widow Elaine recalls that he started his career in journalism as a cub reporter on the Bedfordshire Times and worked in a similar position on the Worcester Evening Newswhen his parents moved to Evesham.

From there, he went to Farmers Weekly to further his interest in agriculture, later joined Farmers Guardian and progressed to become agricultural correspondent of The Sunday Telegraph, often contributing to The Daily Telegraph where Godfrey Brown, a fellow Member of the Guild, took on the farming brief in 1973.

After about 10 years at the Telegraph, David moved to regional communications responsibilities with the NFU and was eventually appointed national press officer for the organisation, when his duties included media training courses for NFU officers.

Like many journalists before him, David completed his career as a freelance, using his past experience in writing, PR, media training and broadcasting to good effect, including a stint as editor of Timber Grower.

As an active and enthusiastic Member of the Guild, he served on the management Council for many years, being elected chairman in 1976, helping organise the IFAJ Congress hosted in England in 1997 and taking on the role of membership secretary.

David is pictured with his wife Elaine, the late Peter Bell (left) and Peter Ryder.

He represented the Guild as executive committee delegate to the International Federation of Agricultural journalists (IFAJ) from 1976 and was elected President of that organisation at the 1992 Congress, taking up office the following year and remaining in the role until 1996. He then became IFAJ membership secretary and a contributing editor to IFAJ News until 2000.

David continued to take an active interest in the Guild, attending Council meetings as a Senior Fellow, before winding up a remarkable record of involvement in the British and international agricultural journalist organisations.

The Guild sends heartfelt condolences to David’s wife and family.

Any Member or Friend of the Guild who knew David and would like to share their recollections of him can email them to Peter Hill.

David Lloyd: David Steers was a journalist of high standing and a fine ambassador for the Guild.  My first work contact with him was during the time he worked for the Telegraph when we were engaged in reporting the McSharry reform of the European Community’s Common Agricultural Policy. Mountains and lakes of various agricultural products triggered calls for quotas and land set-aside that led to public criticism of farmers and growers gaining from farming empty acres.

In time, I was privileged to become the Guild’s rep on the executive committee of the IFAJ where David was well established and we actively campaigned to invite the active participation in IFAJ of farm and food writers in countries east of the “iron curtain”.

We also helped fund delegates to attend the International Congresses in Ireland and Britain when David was President of the IFAJ. He will be remembered particularly for his efforts to enhance the role and influence of the Guild and promote the importance of the liberty of a free Press.

Brian Chester: I first met David when we were both working in Fleet Street at a time when it was still the home of many of our national newspapers and magazines, and agriculture was still a power in the land. I followed him to Farmers Weekly and then he followed me to Farmers Guardian before David moved on to greater things as agricultural correspondent for The Sunday Telegraph.

I went to Suffolk to keep pigs for a while and a job change meant my resignation from the Guild council (as treasurer and vice-chairman) on which David also served, but our friendship with the Steers family remained.

When David moved into the realm of public relations, we worked alongside him to produce a magazine for the Timber Growers Association. It was quite a drive from Fleet to the Norfolk/Suffolk border on press day but, you’ll be pleased to know, he always managed to arrive in time for lunch – usually a particularly good plate of fish and chips in the pub across the road from our offices!

Trevor Hayes: Sorry to hear about the death of David Steers. When I started to report about food and farming, David was a key contact. He knew which button to press in terms of what to say and what not to say. The other reminiscences about him reflect the different days we lived in as reporters/press officers all those years ago, when a “working lunch” meant passing the time pleasantly in a good eatery – especially The Ark, if I remember the name correctly, in Kensington.

Steve Panton: I first came into contact with David in 1977 when he’d joined the National Farmers Union as regional press officer in Liss, and I’d become news editor of BBC Radio Solent based in Southampton. David was already a regular broadcaster on the station and besides being very professional and knowledgeable, I found him to be an affable, fun-loving raconteur with more than a passing interest in good food and drink. We immediately hit it off.

David’s special skill was in turning what for many were boring stories about farming into issues that resonated with the general public. That’s probably why he was recruited by The Sunday Telegraph as their agricultural correspondent, a position he held with distinction for a decade.

David’s appetite for explaining the importance of Britain’s agricultural industry to newspaper readers never diminished. He tackled with relish nearly all the stories his editor commissioned.

I say ‘nearly all’ because he was more than a little disgruntled one year when told he had to cover Crufts Dog Show on the basis that dogs had four legs and so ought to come under the remit of the agricultural correspondent!

Anthony Gibson: When I worked in the NFU Press Office in Knightsbridge in the early ’70s, David was a frequent caller, and always announced himself on the telephone as “David Steers, Sunday Telegraph” in a flat monotone, which somehow managed to convey both supreme indifference and deep suspicion.

I was slightly surprised when he got the job as South-East Regional Information Officer, as I’d always seen him as more of a journalist than a PR man. He was one of the old school: met his deadlines (just), kept up his shorthand and did what was asked of him.

However, you could not in all honesty describe David as one of nature’s work-horses! He liked nothing more than a four hour lunch, preferably at the splendid White Horse at Steep.

As HQ press officer, he gave us county secretaries no trouble (unlike one or two of his successors!) and he was well-liked throughout the organisation.

Shaun Leavey: as former NFU colleague I’m afraid my only clear recollections of David are a) his remarkable capacity – even by the standards of most journalists – to sink successive pints with little apparent effect; and b) his general cheeriness.

Peter Barton: I am very saddened to hear about the passing of David who was very influential in my early days in the NFU whilst working at the Regional Office in Liss Hants from 1979 until he left.  I was a new boy in my early ’30s and very much out of my depth as the new Regional Poultry Specialist for the huge SE Region.

David took me under his wing, kept me out of trouble and advised me on the machinations between HQ (then in Knightsbridge) and the rivalry between the three Directors of each County.

He also introduced me to fine wines, spirits, cigars and food, as well as the ways of The Media, including his famous media courses when he trained us always to answer the question you would have wanted the journalists to ask rather than the ones they did ask.

A great guy who was a privilege to have known and will be sorely missed.

Robert G Rupp: I remember David Steers from when he first came onto the IFAJ executive committee representing Great Britain and I was representing the American Agricultural Editors Association. David represented his Guild and his country well. I am sorry to learn of his passing and send condolences from AAEA and myself to his family.

Iurii Mykhaylov: Please send our deepest conodolences to the family of the late David Steers from the Union of Agricultural Journalists of Ukraine. Let his soul rest in peace. Please also pass our sympathies to the British guild.