Obituary: Ian Saunders, journalist

Ian Saunders
Ian Saunders
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Born: 24 September, 1933, in Glasgow. Died: 12 January, 2013, in Perth, aged 79

IN a journalistic career broken only by his national service in the RAF, Ian Saunders started as a junior reporter on the Edinburgh Evening News in 1949 and retired as The Scotsman’s Scottish news editor in 1993. Along the way, he worked in the Scottish offices of the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and the Glasgow-based The Bulletin, as well as a spell in London with the historic John Bull magazine, that old favourite of dentists’ waiting rooms. During his time at The Scotsman, he was credited by his peers as boosting this newspaper’s reputation and sales.

Ian Saunders was born in the Bridgeton district of Glasgow to John Saunders, a unit operator at Glasgow Corporation’s Dalmarnock Power Station, which towered over the Clyde and supplied power to much of Glasgow, including its trams.

The station, and the family, survived the Luftwaffe’s attempts to hit the building in 1940–41 before the Saunders moved to Edinburgh, when Ian was ten, for the sake of the health of his mother Helen (née Price, from Ayrshire).

John got a similar job at the famous red-brick Portobello Power Station, an Edinburgh landmark until its demolition, and young Ian went to Portobello High School.

Ian left school at 16 – in those days when you didn’t need a degree to get into journalism – and, in 1949, got a job as a cub reporter at the Edinburgh Evening News at 18 Market Street.

In 1952, he was called up for his national service and spent two years with the RAF, mostly at RAF Gutersloh, West Germany, headquarters of No 2 Group RAF, close to the East German border where the Soviets became the major threat.

Saunders’ deadliest weapons were his pen and typewriter. Because of his journalistic training, he was given the official title “Clerk to the Commanding Officer”, but inexplicably won the nickname “Abe” from his comrades.

He also won their envy since his post brought him better lodgings, better grub, more time to explore the region and a coveted bonus cigarette allowance.

His service over in 1954, he returned to the Evening News where his writing came to the attention of John Bull magazine in London, founded in 1820, famous for its cover illustrations and a national institution in post-war Britain.

Being published in John Bull in those days was a young writer’s dream.

He remained there until the magazine ran into difficulties and in 1958 he returned to his native city, Glasgow, to work for what was one of the finest newspapers of the day, The Bulletin, under the same ownership as The Herald.

With The Bulletin itself approaching its sell-by date, Saunders had no trouble getting a job at the Daily Express on Glasgow’s Albion Street, again a coveted place for young Scottish journalists with Fleet Street on their minds.

After six years there, Saunders had a three-year-spell as a reporter with the Scottish Daily Mail before joining The Scotsman in 1968 as a senior reporter based in Edinburgh.

He would spend a quarter of a century with this newspaper, including as education correspondent, religious correspondent, deputy news editor and finally Scottish news editor until his retirement in 1993.

The latter were major jobs, in which he guided and encouraged younger staffers, teaching them to make his editing as unnecessary as possible.

During his time at The Scotsman, Saunders received “herograms” from colleagues or editors such as this one from John McNeilly on 9 January, 1989: “Dear Ian, once again an absolutely superb paper today thanks to your enthusiastic and professional efforts. In my opinion, we had the best front page on newsstands throughout Scotland. Very Well Done.”

After the final ceremony of the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, The Scotsman’s Chris Baur wrote a letter to Saunders which read: “Dear Ian, I’d like to thank you for all your hard work during the Commonwealth Games.

“Our coverage has been splendid and I’m particularly grateful to you for what you did to make it a success. It may interest you to know that we shifted some 36,000 extra copies in bulk sales over the two week period and that in the final full week it looks as though our average daily circulation was about 3,000 up on the same period last year. That was due in no small measure to your efforts.”

After retiring, Saunders put his zest into holidays, from the United States or Canada to his beloved Austria and on to Dubai or Hong Kong.

His other passion in Edinburgh was bowling and he was a champion and past president of Brunstane Bowling Club on Brunstane Road, Joppa.

He was an avid reader and also enjoyed meetings of the Probus Club, now a worldwide network which brings together people in retirement who seek to share their values in similar interests.

Ian Saunders was celebrating his wife Evelyn’s birthday during a break in Pitlochry and Crieff when he fell ill and later died in Perth Royal Infirmary.

Ian Saunders is survived by his Evelyn (née Davidson, from Dalkeith), whom he married in 1961, by their son Paul and daughter Jocelyn, and by his brother Alan.

His funeral will take place at 2pm next Tuesday at Warriston Crematorium (Lorimer Chapel).

PHIL DAVISON