Obituary: David McColl, editor

David McColl: Editor who took charge of popular magazines such as Jackie and Story World
David McColl: Editor who took charge of popular magazines such as Jackie and Story World
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Born: 13 November, 1944, in Irvine. Died: 16 December, 2013 in Perth, aged 69

BY THE time he became one of the UK’s the youngest magazine editors, David McColl had already chalked up an eclectic mix of jobs. He had survived a stint as an ice cream van worker – when threats and violence over turf were not unheard of – become a department store employee, worked in insurance while studying law at night school and then taken a potentially backward step as a tea boy before graduating to horoscope writer.

It was a circuitous route and even more remarkable that he occupied an editor’s chair in his early 20s, given that he had been expelled from an English class a few years earlier.

But, once he had found his vocation, he took to it with enthusiasm, editing a range of magazines for DC Thomson including the phenomenally successful girls’ weekly Jackie where, under his stewardship, circulation exceeded a million.

He remained at the Dundee publishing firm for 37 years, working as an editor on a range of magazines including Story World, Annabel and My Weekly Puzzle Time.

Born in Irvine, he attended Largs High School before progressing to Ardrossan Academy. Although undoubtedly a bright pupil, he got himself excluded from his English class due to a spat with a teacher, who dismissed his concise one-page essay as verbal constipation. McColl, who had worked hard to ensure it would fit onto a single page – an early indication of his sub-editing skills – retorted that he would rather have that than verbal diarrhoea.

He was reportedly told he would be unable to sit the English exam but apparently managed to research and find a loophole and sit the paper anyway.

After leaving school his first job, on an ice cream van, resulted in him being blockaded and threatened in a dead end street. He moved on to work in a department store. A spell at Scottish Amicable followed before he took his first step towards journalism, starting as a tea boy.

He began in 1965 and soon made his mark, moving up to become a writer compiling horoscopes, and later an editor. Among his earliest editorships was Secrets magazine, which mainly featured short stories. Known for his nose for good fiction, he would also later take charge of Story World, another short story publication.

By the early 1970s he had become the third editor of Jackie. Aimed at the booming teenybop market, its mix of fashion, pop and picture stories proved enormously popular with girls, its problem page attracting sackloads of letters.

Jackie became the UK’s best-selling teenage magazine. His staff included the writer and critic Nina Myskow, to whom he gave a great deal of credit. She went on to edit the publication which, though it eventually folded in 1993, is still fondly regarded by former readers.

By the mid-1970s McColl had moved on to Story World, again using his natural instinct for a good story to identify and hone fiction he knew the readership would enjoy. He also edited the magazine regarded as Jackie’s older sister, Annabel, and My Weekly Puzzle Time.

He retired in 2002 after a career in which he habitually sat with his back to his office door. A small wing mirror attached to the side of his computer enabled him to see the corridor, allowing him to hurl a suitable expletive at anyone who popped their head in – without the need to turn round to establish caller’s identity first.

By turns infuriating, wise and supportive to colleagues in his professional life, privately he displayed a compassion for those experiencing troubled times through his voluntary work for Samaritans.

It was through the charity that he met his wife Hilary, a fellow volunteer. He first asked her out at a fundraising event and often joked that he got his wife at a jumble sale. They married in 1974 and had a son, Ben.

Aside from his family, his other great love was folk music, especially bluegrass. Although he had never learned a musical instrument in his youth, he enjoyed making wooden instruments, which a friend would then tune and play.

Finally, in retirement, he took banjo lessons and mastered some of his favourite tunes. He also bequeathed a mandolin, which had hung behind his desk, to be used to encourage youngsters to explore folk music. It will be awarded as an annual prize at the Moniaive Bluegrass festival to a musician under the age of 16.

David McColl is survived by his wife and son.