Brash New York Post editor brought new grittiness that helped lift sales

4-10-1925 — 2-11-2012

ROGER Wood, who as the executive editor of the New York Post during the first decade of Rupert Murdoch's ownership promoted a feisty, titillating portrayal of New York City that helped more than double the paper's circulation, has died of cancer at his home in Manhattan. He was 87.

Wood's background was the newspaper wars of Fleet Street in London, and he brought a brash, flamboyant flair to the Post, America's oldest continuously published daily newspaper.

Front-page headlines combined concision and dark humour. An article about a teenager's suicide inspired the headline ''Boy Gulps Gas, Explodes''. When the crowd stampeded at a Who concert in Cincinnati, the headline read, ''Eleven Dead and the Band Played On''. ''Granny Executed in Her Pink Pajamas'' spoke for itself.

The most famous headline under Wood's stewardship has become newspaper legend: ''Headless Body in Topless Bar''. It summarised the grim tale of a mad killer who murdered the owner of a bar in the Queens borough of New York in April 1983, then took the patrons hostage. Learning that one hostage was an undertaker, he ordered her to cut off the owner's head, which he put in a box and took with him.

In his book about the Post, It's Alive!: How America's Oldest Newspaper Cheated Death and Why It Matters (1996), long-time Post editor Steven Cuozzo said the story epitomised the newspaper's ''taste for discovering the profound in the profane''.

''Its appearance in the nation's largest city blew down the restraints on coverage of unspeakable crime,'' he wrote.


Wood covered both the grittiness and the glamour of New York in a no-holds-barred style. He increased the Post's arts coverage even as he turned up the burner on crime coverage. ''Broadway and nuns raped in Washington Heights are part and parcel of the fabric of New York,'' he told Cuozzo.

Wood took over as editor in July 1977, about six months after Murdoch bought the Post from Dorothy Schiff. He brought a demanding manner to the newsroom and worked closely with Murdoch in developing Page Six, the irreverent daily helping of gossip.

Wood's efforts helped lift the Post's circulation from 400,000 to nearly 1 million in the early 1980s.

Wood was born in Antwerp, Belgium, and spoke no English until his family moved to Britain when he was seven. He served in the Royal Air Force in World War II and graduated from Oxford.

He moved to the US in 1975 and edited the Star, a weekly tabloid owned by Murdoch, until moving to the Post. After leaving the Post, Wood was the editorial director for the US newspapers owned by Murdoch company News America.

Wood is survived by his wife of 42 years, Pat Miller, his twin brother Victor, his son Nicholas, and two grandchildren.