Bill Allsopp, journalist and lecturer. Born: 17 October 1932 in Aldershot, Hampshire. Died: 21 August 2018, aged 85.
To me and my siblings, Bill Allsopp was, first and foremost, Grandpa Bill. He and our Granny Anne lived around the corner from us our entire lives and we were lucky enough to spend a great deal of time with them. However, we were aware that Bill was no ordinary grandpa. He had always regaled us with tales of his years as a journalist. In the past few months, as news spread of Bill’s illness and old friends got in touch, we began to appreciate just how remarkable he was. Thanks to him putting me in touch with former students, I have the privilege, and the daunting task, of writing his obituary.
William Allsopp, a well-respected and admired Scottish journalist was an inspiration. When he talked the whole room would listen and when he joked the whole room would laugh. When he told a story, he wouldn’t waste a word and his writing was always flawless.
Bill had always told his students that journalism isn’t a profession, it’s a craft. Every one of Bill’s descendants, whether one of his five children, eleven grandchildren or six great-grandchildren (once they’re talking) could tell you his mantra: “There is nothing more important than the story!”
Bill was born on 17 October, 1932 to John and Marion in Aldershot. His father was in the Army and stationed there. Being an Army man, John didn’t go overboard with displays of affection, a trait carried on by Bill – receiving a hug was a rarity and was often replaced by a warm, firm handshake. But, just as with his father, you could be sure he would always be there to lend a helping hand.
Whatever Bill put his mind to, he would throw himself into it wholeheartedly. This became apparent when he turned down a scholarship for George Heriot’s school because it was a rugby school and Bill was a footballer.
After being awarded the school Dux at Tynecastle High, Bill decided he was going to become a journalist. Without hesitation, he began on his way. At 16, Bill became a copy boy at the Daily Mail. He began learning shorthand and typing and would go on to display the finest Pitmans ever seen in a newsroom. From there, Bill become a cub reporter in Dingwall and then had a stint in Newtonards, Northern Ireland.
Bill’s next move, to Chelmsford, Essex, turned out to be a fateful one. He was in his early 20s when he took up a job at the Essex Chronicle.
At a party he would meet a young art student named Elizabeth Anne Page, my granny. Within a year, in 1955, they got married – quietly, at the local registry office – on the assumption their families would not be best pleased. They grabbed two strangers to act as witnesses and compensated them with a drink at the pub.
A year later the first of Anne’s five children was due. Bill insisted on his child being born in Scotland, so this meant another move. With his wife in tow, Bill went to Oban to be chief reporter with the Oban Times. Jane was duly born and, a year later, Jerry followed. From there, Bill moved his family to Glasgow to take a job at the Scottish Daily Express as a feature writer. During their time in Glasgow, Bill and Anne had three more kids.
Bill witnessed the birth of his child for the first time in Glasgow, when his third miracle, Sue (my mum), came along. She was born at home and became the subject of one of Bill’s famous features in which she was described as a “crumply little person”. She was followed shortly after, by Penny, and later Lucy.
But that was only a drop in the ocean of adventures Bill would have as a prolific feature writer in Glasgow. There was the time he accompanied the Royal Navy during winter manoeuvres off the Norway coast where temperatures reached -20C – sleeping in a communal tent that was frozen shut. He would keep a watchful eye on the lantern that had to stay lit – he was informed by one of the soldiers that if it was to go out, that meant there was no oxygen. When he brought a bottle of whisky for the troops as a thank you gift, he got a row from the commanding officer because they weren’t meant to be drinking.
Another great story was of his trip to Glencoe for a piece about mountain rescue dogs. Bill was buried under several feet of snow by the mountain rescue team and left there, trapped and unmarked. Then the team sent up the dogs and, lo and behold, they found him and dug him out. Bill was never a fan of dogs but after that he was converted, so much so that he ended up owning one of the rescue dogs’ pups.
There was the trip round Scotland with Alfred Hitchcock as he researched locations for the 39 Steps film, and the time he convinced Yehudi Menuhin to play with Spoons Ernie, a street spoons player, at the Glasgow funeral of a homeless man.
He spent weeks on trawlers on the North Sea, time with members of Glasgow’s criminal underworld and even ghost-wrote the autobiography of the famous Glasgow criminal defence lawyer, Joe Beltrami.
He also championed the cause of children with spina bifida and experienced and exposed the conditions in Scotland’s doss houses.
And we can’t forget the story of when he turned down the opportunity to meet Edith Piaf at her party in Paris because he didn’t want to leave the pub!
In 1975, the Scottish Daily Express closed its Glasgow offices and Bill’s time as a feature writer came to an end.
He then worked for a short time at the Sunday Times as their Scottish correspondent, but a new chapter began when he was approached to set up and teach a new course in Journalism and Media Studies at Edinburgh Napier College. He required certain basic qualifications for the job, so he took O Grades in German, Arithmetic and Modern Studies, earning As in them all.
Between 1976 and 1994, Bill lived with his family in Edinburgh. He loved his job, likewise his students, and they loved him right back. Bill pioneered a hands-on course and would send his charges out to find a story, telling them not to return until they had one.
After his death, tributes to Bill came flooding in from former students, who are now successful in the field.Among the students who learned under Bill were Sky Sports presenter Jim White, TV journalist Martin Frizzel and national treasure Lorraine Kelly.
Lorraine said: “I used to hear his voice in my head whenever I was writing a story and that continues to this day. I would never have had the gumption to go into TV reporting without his help and guidance.
“He was a very special man. A one off and the world is a sadder and much less interesting place without him.”
In Bill’s early 60s, he had two heart attacks in consecutive years and took early retirement at 62. He decided to focus on his health and quit smoking and drinking. But Bill didn’t do half measures – in any sense – and in addition to his quitting old habits, he began to climb hills and Munros, climbing over 30 in his 70s.
In everything he did, he would always help people in some way. Even from his most negative experiences, like having a heart attack, Bill would make something positive from it as he volunteered for more than 20 years with the St John’s cardiac rehab team.
One of Bill’s memorable and lovable traits was his sense of humour. Even in his final days Bill would be laughing and joking. His wit wasn’t lost on his students either as one of them shared this final, fitting anecdote: “Bill once said to me: ‘One day you’ll make a very good journalist.’ As I walked out of his office, he whispered: ‘It’s all the other days that worry me.’”