Creighton Burns, who died at the weekend aged 82, was a class act in the rough and tumble world of newspapers – a Rhodes Scholar and former academic who could could edit a newspaper with the best of them.

A thoughtful, sometimes reserved but essentially fun-loving man, Burns came to the editor’s job at The Age reluctantly in 1981, following two very influential and idiosyncratic editors in the late Graham Perkin and the eccentric Michael Davie.

Burns hired me from the Sydney Morning Herald, but I had little to do with him until a quiet news day on a public holiday when we adjourned late morning to the nearby Golden Age pub.

This is where I began to learn about the other side of the sometimes aloof editor who admitted that being an academic, foreign correspondent and editor would not have been his first three choices of career if he had his time over. He rather fancied the idea of being an opera tenor or a leg spin bowler.

On the short trip back to the office, via a back street, we each discovered why neither of us would crack it as tenors, but back outside his office, we each impressed one another with passable Richie Benaud leg breaks with a tennis ball.

Burns was good with young journalists once he saw sufficient talent to be interested, and he encouraged them to read widely and often. He would often recommend a book or magazine article he had just read.

The only time I can ever remember crossing swords with Burns was when he killed a feature story I had written about a s-x therapist who specialised in treating mast-rbation addiction.

“As long as I am editor, this is one word and one subject that will not see the light of day in these pages,” he admonished.

I have always wondered why.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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