Obituary: n Gordon Airs, Journalist.

Gordon Airs: Newspaper man covered many hotspots and went to jail rather than reveal his sources

Gordon Airs: Newspaper man covered many hotspots and went to jail rather than reveal his sources

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Born: 10 December, 1938, in Edinburgh. Died: 14 February, 2015, in Paisley, aged 76

Gordon Airs, who has died of cancer aged 76, was a Scottish newspaper reporter who went to jail during the Tartan Army trial at the High Court in Glasgow for refusing to reveal his sources to the judge.

Airs, who was chief reporter on the Daily Record, refused to identify one of the terrorists who had blindfolded him and drove him in a closed van to a secret rendezvous in a lonely place for an exclusive interview for his newspaper.

He was sent down by Lord Keith and detained overnight in police cells after Lionel Daiches, QC, for the accused, asked him to identify one of the men in the dock. Airs refused and told the judge it would be wrong for any journalist to reveal the source of his information.

On 23 May, 1975, after a 15-day trial, five men were convicted of plotting to help seize Scottish independence through the Army of the Provisional Government (APG). They were jailed for a total of 34 years.

This was just one of the many remarkable episodes in the life of award-winning reporter Gordon Airs, who was inevitably nicknamed Porridge by his newsroom colleagues.

Born in Edinburgh into a working-class family, Airs went to Tynecastle High School, which he left at 15 to become a copy boy in the office of the now defunct Edinburgh Evening Dispatch.

He learned shorthand and typing at night classes and was so good at it that when he was called up to do his National Service, he was immediately given the job of secretary to the Officer Commanding at Catterick Camp in Yorkshire.

It was a source of great regret to Gordon that the general in question thought he was so valuable to him that he never allowed him to be posted abroad or to anywhere he would be in danger.

He was to experience plenty of action later, though, when, after returning to Edinburgh and spending six months on the Dispatch in 1960, he transferred to the Record reporters’ room in the capital.

Firstly, however, he met and married his first wife, Monty (Monica) Symington, at St Michael’s Church of Scotland in Edinburgh. In 1967, the couple, who were later to separate, had a son, Kevin, who is a football magazine editor and broadcaster in Sydney, Australia.

Gordon Airs was promoted to the post of chief reporter at the then Record head office in Hope Street, Glasgow, and was given important assignments including covering the Troubles in Northern Ireland in 1971. There, he was forced to flee with fellow journalists from their temporary office in the infamous Europa Hotel in Belfast, minutes before it was bombed by the Provisional IRA.

Meanwhile, his wife worried about the intrepid Airs at their home in Bridge of Weir, Renfrewshire, while he travelled to some of the most dangerous places in the world. These included the deserts of Kuwait and Iraq and European towns and cities in Germany and Holland to cover the activities of the terrorist Baader Meinhof Gang.

Monty recalls: “The Tartan Army incident was the first of many dangerous situations Gordon found himself in. He was sent to the cells in the High Court when he refused to identify and give details of the men in the dock.

“He had been blindfolded and taken by these terrorists in a van for an interview. When he came back, Gordon refused to give any details to the police and he remained silent about it.

“When he refused again in court to give evidence about it, he told the judge he could not reveal anything. He said if he did he would never be trusted again by anyone to do his job as a journalist. I took blankets and clothes, including a suit, for him to the police station. The police said the cells would be both dirty and lousy and they were.

“I also took him in a carry out Chinese meal and a plastic knife and fork which we joked about, with him asking me why the plastic cutlery and did I think he would cut his wrists.”

Airs’ work, tremendous energy and colourful lifestyle took its toll on his marriage, and he and Monty separated in 1977.

A short time later he met and married his second wife, Maggie Tyne, and they had a daughter, Kirstin Jennifer. The couple separated in 1986.

Two years later, Airs, who lived life to the full, met and became the partner of Carole Bentley, a BBC news scriptwriter and radio news reader, in Glasgow.

The couple settled in Kilmacolm, where Airs was able to indulge in his great passion of playing golf at Kilmacolm Golf Club and travelling to unusual foreign parts.

He separated from Carole around the time of the Balkans War, which he covered for the Record. Airs was shot at and narrowly escaped death in Croatia when his driver took a wrong turning and came up against heavily armed soldiers.

Gordon’s other passions were sports cars and cooking, and when he retired from the Daily Record, aged 55, after Robert Maxwell took ownership and he fell out with him, he toured the world at least five times in his Triumph Spitfire and later his Morgan.

He enjoyed driving great distances to places such as St Petersburg, Mongolia, Beijing, Romania and even Australia.

Monty said: “Gordon was a good cook and good father to Kevin and Kirstin. He took us on marvellous holidays and later in life his former partner Carole and I went on holiday together while he went away and played golf.

“He kept up with all of us and treated us well but he was a handsome man with a free spirit who found women very attractive and had lots of different relationships over the years.”

Malcolm Speed, former news editor and managing editor at the Record, said: “Gordon Airs was a colleague for almost 25 years. He was one Scotland’s best reporters and was a member of that top group of news ‘firemen’ much valued by news editors.”

Media House director Jack Irvine, who was an executive editor at the Record, said: “Gordon was a newspaper legend, the man who went to jail for the Record rather than give up his sources.”

Airs’ funeral will take place at Paisley Crematorium later this week. His son, Kevin, was flying to Scotland from Australia yesterday to meet relatives and friends and make arrangements.

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