London — After only a year in the editor's chair of The Times of London, Harold Evans has bowed out amid high controversy and intense speculation about the future of ''the top people's newspaper.''
Mr. Evans's departure came after a week of public argument between two opposing groups of Times journalists. One side insisted that Evans was being hounded out by the newspaper's Australian proprietor, Rupert Murdoch. The other argued that Evans had failed to safeguard the editorial integrity of The Times and was presiding over a demoralized staff.
In the turmoil two things were certain: Murdoch wanted Evans out, but Evans was reluctant to leave without a satisfactory ''golden handshake.''
As Evans, named ''editor of the year'' only two months ago, departed, his deputy editor Charles Douglas-Home, was expected to be confirmed for the top spot.
It will fall to Douglas-Home, who has been with The Times for 17 years and is a nephew of the former Conservative Prime Minister, Lord Home, to try to end the paper's internal strife and set it on the road to recovery.
But he takes over at a moment when The Times is losing (STR)15 million ($27 million) a year. The staff is deeply divided. A number of key executives who backed Evans in his struggle with Murdoch have signified their intention to resign.
Evans, who ran the London Sunday Times with great success before being named to edit the daily Times, appears to have run into conflict with Murdoch in three issues:
* Refusal to hew to a sharply right-wing editorial line.
* Heavy spending on the acquisition of senior staff members, some from the Sunday Times.
* A failure to achieve the undivided loyalty of editorial writers, many of whom are claiming that he was inconsistent in his decisions and uncertain about what their roles should be.
The battle between editor and proprietor reached a crescendo on March 9 when Murdoch demanded Evans's resignation. Evans refused, apparently dissatisfied with severance arrangements being proposed by management.
Senior writers, appalled and unsettled by the row, claimed after Evans's departure that labor tensions at The Times played a large part in souring the atmosphere for editor and staff alike.
Shortly before Evans resigned, one staff faction released the text of internal memoranda purporting to show that Evans had surrendered his independence to Murdoch. But Evans's defenders insisted that, as editor, he spent a lot of his time trying to fight off managerial interference.
The future of The Times looks far from assured, even if Douglas-Home ends disputes within the staff and achieves a period of peace and stability.
Although Murdoch this month secured over 400 staff layoffs as an economy measure, big losses seem certain in the next two or three years.
Meanwhile, Evans has already turned down a job offer from Ben Bradlee of The Washington Post.