EVERY newspaperman has his favourite editor, and there was never any doubt as to mine: Alastair CD Stuart.
Our paths crossed in 1973 when Alastair was chief London editor for Thomson Regional Newspapers: having to reconcile so many different personalities and demands across a range of disparate daily, evening and weekly newspapers.
It must have been like conducting an orchestra where all the players had individual notions of the score.
TRN operated back then out of a cavernous building in London’s Morningside Road – a daunting piece of Nazi-style architecture, formerly the heads office of a tobacco conglomerate. Alastair’s role was to oversee coverage of parliament, the City of London and all the major Royal, arts, sporting, celebrity and social events in the capital.
Editors wanted unique and dedicated coverage for their own paper. To hold all these competing demands together and avoid the regional conferences of editors from coming to blows, it required the diplomacy of a Kissinger and the cunning of Metternich.
Being a proud Scot, he had to work hard at being fair to editors worried that their local concerns across the UK were kept to the fore.
When we first met I was a rookie down-table sub-editor on the Western Mail in Cardiff. Bizarrely for a Scot, the highlights of my job entailed spell-checking of all the names in the long columns of Eisteddfod results with reference to a tattered Welsh dictionary chained to the library wall. Other major duties involved checking all the share prices on the business pages –a task I found infinitely easier. So when a vacancy arose on the business desk at TRN in London, I applied without hesitation. I was interviewed by Alastair, I knew little about finance but could trill yesterday’s share movements like a possessed canary.
For myself and for so many others, Alastair Stuart was a perfect mentor. He had a keen interest in public affairs and discussed them with knowledge and insight. At the same time he was attentive, encouraged engagement and had the gentlest way of bringing us face to face with our shortcomings. It always felt as if he read every word and was committed to our progress.
Without him, TRN would quickly have become a battleground. He was adept at making sure we attended to the needs of competing editors, not succumbing to a metropolitan view of the world and being respectful of the views of others. In all this a wry sense of humour was not merely helpful. It was a must for survival.
It was little wonder he was chosen to be the editor of one of the most successful innovations in Scottish journalism – the launch of Scotland on Sunday. My abiding memory? Visiting him in his lovely house with commanding views just below the Wallace Monument in Bridge of Allan. Seldom was such a view better earned.