Obituary: Bill Anderson, campaigning editor of the Sunday Post who first found acclaim as the paper’s ‘Hon Man’
Born: 10 February, 1934, in Motherwell. Died: 2 February, 2012, in Dundee, aged 77
The distinguished editor Bill Anderson had an instinct for a story and how it should be written. At the Sunday Post, his advice to young journalists was: “Ask yourself, ‘would Mrs McGinty be interested in that?’” He was a dogged newspaperman and spearheaded several campaigns that brought the Sunday Post into prominence.
He became editor of DC Thomson’s flagship Sunday paper at the age of 34 and took it to a pre- eminent position in Scotland. Its circulation rose steadily and the Guinness Book of Records listed it as the newspaper with the highest per capita readership penetration of anywhere in the world.
Anderson was a formidable presence who expected his staff to be as committed and dedicated as he was. Sunday Post deputy editor Alastair Bennett recalled: “I first came across Bill when I moved from Glasgow to Dundee as a sub-editor in 1990. He was still looming large over everything that happened in the Sunday Post. He was a fairly daunting figure to a young sub, but he always backed his staff and if you did a good job, you would never have any problems with him. He had a huge intellect, which combined with his dominant personality to make him something of a force of nature.”
William Anderson was the youngest son of a steelworker who was also a champion golfer. Bill, as he was known throughout his life, attended Dalziel High School in Motherwell, winning an English prize and editing the school newspaper. For a brief time he read medicine at Glasgow University but, after two years with the Royal Artillery in Hong Kong, he returned in 1958 and joined DC Thomson in Dundee.
He was appointed its court reporter and a general news reporter, but it was his seven years as the paper’s Holiday on Nothing reporter (the Hon Man) that brought him renown across Scotland. The column covered good value holidays and Anderson displayed typical initiative in discovering unusual destinations. He was on the first Concorde flight and visited Moscow in the early 1960s, a time when travel to the Soviet Union required copious visas. He was viewed with suspicion by the Soviet authorities, was followed everywhere and was watched with a keen eye by the babushkas at the end of his hotel corridor.
In 1968, he was appointed editor of the Sunday Post, in which capacity he displayed a passionate interest in all aspects of the paper. Editorial meetings were never dull. He threw out ideas to the assembled with a relentless rapidity. It was this persistence, and his rise through the ranks of the newsroom, that earned Anderson the nickname at DC Thomson of Flash. Significantly, it was seldom used in his presence.
He pioneered several campaigns that raised Scottish issues. One was to force local councils to take up the fight against giant hogweed on the banks of fishing rivers and around ponds in local parks, highlighting the exotic weed’s toxic qualities and, in particular, its capacity to blind.
In the 1980s, Anderson led a determined campaign to ban the sale of unpasteurised milk – or raw milk and cream. In 1982 alone there were 539 outbreaks of food-borne disease related to raw milk, including one death and 12 potentially associated deaths. At the time, consumption of unpasteurised milk was linked with typhoid. The campaign proved highly successful and the sale of raw milk was made illegal in Scotland in 1983. It was the first country in Europe to be declared free of the related disease, brucellosis. Later, a Westminster health committee reported that the sale of raw milk in England, Wales and Northern Ireland should be banned.
His determination to maintain standards at the Sunday Post was extraordinary. He kept a weather eye throughout the office – invariably through a cloud of cigar smoke. The keyboard of his computer was so covered with ash that the cleaners used to vacuum it every week.
Anderson retired from the Sunday Post in 1990 and set up Scotland Online, a joint venture between DC Thomson and Scottish Telecom. He was awarded a CBE in 1991.
Anderson was a keen sailor (he was a member of the Royal Tay Yacht Club) and enthusiastic angler – spending happy holidays fishing for trout and salmon on the Isle of Harris. His widow, Maggie Dun, told The Scotsman: “I worked for the Post before we were married. Bill could be terrifying to work for, but he was inspirational and was always keen to encourage young journalists. He set up an editorial training scheme and was an early enthusiast of technology.”
Anderson married Meg McLelland in 1957. She died in 1993 and he married Maggie Dun in 1999. She and three sons from his first marriage survive him.
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