HERALD owner and passionate supporter of the local press Sir Ray Tindle has been recognised with a lifetime achievement award by the Journalists’ Charity.

Sir Ray, once described by Prince Charles as a “legend”, is the founder and chairman of Britain’s biggest independent family-owned local newspaper group – Farnham-based Tindle Newspapers Ltd.

He started his first paper on a troop ship to the Far East and then spent his £300 demob money buying the Tooting and Balham Gazette. Now his empire includes more than 200 titles with a combined circulation of more than 1.4 million.

Jill Palmer, chairman of the Journalists’ Charity, told the awards ceremony at the Marriott Hotel in London’s Grosvenor Square: “[The group’s] keyword is ‘local’ and it is Sir Ray’s passion for local news that earned him the Journalists’ Charity special award.

“Often standing against the tide, Sir Ray, a strong believer in the future of print, has opened new papers where others have closed them and rescued titles that were destined for extinction.”

Sir Ray acquired the Herald series of newspapers in 1969 shortly after the death of its founder, EW Langham, and has overseen many technological advances at the paper.

However, his most famous achievement came in the 1970s when he bought the West Wales Observer, which had covered a large area of west Wales but had ceased publication. Resurrecting its original title of the Tenby Observer, he told journalists to reject any story that was not about Tenby.

Soon afterward the paper was breaking even and within a few years the circulation had risen from 2,700 to 7,000.

Not immune from the immense financial pressures facing the local newspaper industry, staff numbers have fallen, but Tindle Newspapers has never introduced compulsory redundancies and the group remains debt free.

Sir Ray has supported the Journalists’ Charity for many years and has achieved the ultimate accolade – the bar at the charity’s nursing home in Dorking is named after him in recognition of his generous contribution to the cost of building the home.

Unfortunately Sir Ray, who is now in his 91st year, was unable to attend the awards ceremony in person and the award was accepted on his behalf by Mick Ferris, editor in chief of the Yellow Advertiser, another Tindle newspaper.

Mr Ferris said: “Anyone who has been fortunate enough to sit with Sir Ray at events such as this and been entertained by his stories and anecdotes will know that he really would have wanted to be here today. He would have been in his element.

“He takes great pride and enjoyment from being with his people and watching their achievements get recognised.

“Sir Ray remains passionate about the regional press and the role of local newspapers in the communities they serve.

“He has asked me to pass on his thanks and best wishes to everyone concerned. He feels honoured to be given this award, especially in Local Newspaper Week, and I’m proud to accept it on his behalf.”