I seem to have reached the age where I have a funeral to attend each month.
On Friday I’m heading to Dundee to say a sad farewell to my first editor Bill Anderson.
Bill was old skool. He earned the name nickname Flash because of his meteoric rise to editor at the tender age of 34, although no one called him that to his face.
He took The Sunday Post into the Guinness Book of Records for its readership.
Under Bill’s tutelage, DC Thomson took on 10 trainee journalists in 1990. I was one of them.
As well as a covering letter we had to send in a photo. Everyone else had sent a photobooth head shot. I’d sent a holiday pic, complete with fake Raybans obscuring my face.
There was a first interview. I turned up a day late. I had to sit a spelling, grammar and news knowledge test. I had to write 500 words about a person I’d met who’d impressed me. Everyone else wrote about famous people. I wrote about my step dad.
Against the odds I got a second interview – a panel of five suits, including Bill sat in front of me. It was relentless, quickfire questions. Bill gave me some facts about a warehouse fire in which five firemen died. I had to instantly tell him the intro to my story. I forgot to mention the five dead men. He told me to face him, not turn round and describe Mr Millar. I knew Mr Millar was short, bald and thickening round the middle but instead I said he had dark hair, blue eyes and a blue suit. The tea trolley came round and I asked for tea with milk and one sugar. Bill came back with coffee and no sugar. I drank it anyway. Apparently he’d done it on purpose to see what I’d do.
I got the job and so started a four-month training course where we learned to sub, learned about Scots Law, learned interview techniques and how to write headlines, learned about the stress on the night the Herald of Free Enterprise went down and why the picture editor had chosen the photos he did from the Hillsborough disaster. Once a week we were dropped off in pairs in some windswept Scottish town and told not to come back without a story.
After four months we were placed in the jobs they thought suited us and off I went as a junior reporter at the Sunday Post office in Glasgow to cut my teeth on bingo winners and middle page stories.
The wrath of Bill was at the back of my mind during every interview and while I wrote each story. He was a living legend who was totally approachable, quick-witted, super-intelligent and knew his readers so well he could tell you how they took their tea. Do something stupid and he came down on you like a tonne of bricks but the thing was, as you were getting your dressing down, you knew he was right so you stood there and took it. And whatever it was, you never did it again.
Bill was awarded the CBE in 1991 for his contribution to journalism and it was truly deserved.
Bill was also ahead of his time with the Internet. The Sunday Post had a website before The Guardian and instead of taking a well-earned retirement Bill went on to head up DC Thomson’s Internet venture Scotland Online and I had the chance to learn how to write for the web doing interviews with pop stars, musicians and DJs and reviews of gigs, festivals and club nights.
For my last eight years with DC Thomson I worked under Bill’s wife Maggie, who was editor of the Sunday Post Magazine and a former editor of Jackie, the only magazine I’ve ever subscribed to.
Like Bill, she knew the industry inside out and knew her readers like they were her friends.
Both were great bosses, firm but fair and I like to think I thrived working for them. I suspect everything I do now is driven by the ethics they instilled in me. I even have every single cutting from those days, carefully pasted into scrapbooks.
I remained friends with them once I’d moved on and they’d both retired, visiting with my family and staying over occasionally.
Although he’d been ill Bill’s death still came as a shock to me and I’m guessing there will be standing room only at his funeral.
I’m also guessing that once he gets where he’s going there will be plenty sailing and fishing to be done and if there happens to be a newspaper he’ll soon have it whipped into shape.
Goodbye Bill. Thanks for taking that risk with me – I owe you big time x