Obituary: Bill Forsyth, colourful accountant who pioneered a new era for Scottish newspaper group
Born: 30 August, 1919, in Kilmarnock. Died: 30 October, 2012, in Aberdeen, aged 93
Bill Forsyth was the able and amiable assistant managing director of Aberdeen Journals Ltd, whose accountancy expertise provided for the financial arrangements form the relocation 1970 of the Press & Journal in Aberdeen, the oldest English-language daily newspaper in the world, from a city-centre site to an industrial estate four miles away.
In a move then without parallel in Scotland and in days before computerisation, Forsyth put in place the financial planning that created a seamless move of everything from 20-ton presses to ensuring that billings and invoices continued be received and paid on time.
His three-year planning within the management team ensured that the P&J and sister newspaper the Evening Express flitted without a single edition being lost or curtailed. More importantly to him, every member of the 600 staff was paid on time the following week.
His timing was such that window frames in the city-centre premises of Broad Street were being unscrewed to lift out sub-editors’ tables just as journalists sitting at them edited final copy for the Saturday Green Final edition of the Evening Express. Some 26 hours later, the presses began to roll in Mastrick with the first of 11 editions of Monday’s Press & Journal.
William Pollock Forsyth enjoyed an early introduction to newspapers. Born and educated in Kilmarnock and with a lifetime interest in cinema, he wrote a weekly film column under the name of Gregor Graham for the long-defunct Kilmarnock Herald.
The paper proved a lively journal filled with news about people and local industry of ironfounders Glenfield & Kennedy, locomotive builders Barclay, distillers Johnnie Walker, carpet makers Stoddard and agricultural machinery manufacturers Massey Harris.
What the youthful Bill did not appreciate when he took on the job was that everyone from editor to copyboy was expected to turn up on Friday nights to hand-fold every sheet off the flatbed press, then paginate the sheets to create each newspaper.
Encouraged by his parents, he took up an accountancy apprenticeship with a local company. Within two weeks of the outbreak of war in 1939, he had joined the Royal Scots Fusiliers, seeing service on mainland Europe, in the Netherlands.
Active in his regimental association, he returned to see Dutch friends first met during wartime in 1944, right up to the 65th and final anniversary reunion in 2009. An early wartime posting was to Banchory, Kincardineshire, a move which entirely changed his life. There he met Audrey, and the two were married in 1944.
In 1946 they settled in Aberdeen, and Forsyth never left his adopted city. From his office in 41½ Union Street, the most famous half-number in the Granite City, the reputation he created for himself in building up and handling agricultural accounts came to the attention in 1959 of William Pattillo, assistant managing director of what was then Kemsley Newspapers in Aberdeen.
He was headhunted and taken up as a management accountant the month before the P&J and Evening Express were bought by Canadian press magnate Roy Thomson.
He rarely found life dull. On one occasion in the early 1960s, a report of a court case in an early edition of the Evening Express involved a James MacDonald of a Banffshire town, but carried the picture of another MacDonald entirely. The presses were halted and every spare set of hands alerted to retrieving all available copies, with Bill himself sprinting into nearby Union Street to relieve several surprised vendors of their quires.
But a single copy somehow made it to the Moray Coast and was seen by the innocent MacDonald. It was Forsyth who signed the cheque in reparation.
Always physically active, when not playing at Deeside Golf Club Bill he and Audrey tackled the Cairngorms. Even in late life, the pair were still out, though by now restricted to lower walks round Loch Muick. In later years, Bill acted as a practice patient and as a volunteer guide at the Gordon Highlanders’ Museum.
A regular user of the Deeside railway from 1942, he took an accountant’s view in opposing Dr Beeching’s closure, pointing out to British Rail and to the subsequent hearing by the Scottish Transport Users Consultative Committee that indeed the line could be made to pay, but that it was being run down by his opposite numbers in BR for closure.
His efforts and arguments then and in a follow-up contribution in the attempt by Kinnord Associates to retain the line held no sway, and in February 1966, the Deeside Line closed.
Unusually for an accountant, Mr Forsyth proved a popular figure with the hacks whose expenses he signed off each week. At the annual lunch of retired journalists of Aberdeen Journals, he was one of only two non- editorial guests – a much-liked figure in his Forsyth tartan trews. The excellence and originality of his grace before the meal saw him referred to as “our honorary padre”.
Mr Forsyth was predeceased by his wife Audrey in 2005, and is survived by his daughters Moira and Dorothy, five grandchildren, and a great-grandchild.
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