Hugh Currie’s sudden death, in his 96th year, has come as a shock to his many friends and former colleagues in the newspaper world. After all, here was the man who still held the British Over-65 record time for the marathon and who had only recently ceased running.
It was perhaps appropriate that Hugh should become so adept at marathon running, one of his jobs in his 40-plus years with the Daily Record had been to compile the legendary “Pat Roller” column, a daily digest of the smaller news stories gleaned from around Glasgow.
He was a Gorbals boy who made the long journey across the Clyde and onto a home in leafy Milngavie, where he died, shortly after his 95th birthday. Hugh’s father, also Hugh, was a maintenance engineer, and he and mother Elizabeth had three children, Hugh Jr, Donald and Martha.
Hugh left Adelphi Terrace School, aged 14, to work in a fruit and vegetable wholesalers. He was still there when the Second World War broke out, propelling Hugh into the RAF, where he saw service in India and just behind the front line in the advance from the Normandy Beaches into Germany. He was in Signals and it was this experience, plus the help of newspaperman John Rankin, which opened doors at the Record when he returned to Glasgow.
Working in the wire room in the then Record building in Hope Street was, in some ways, like being in the RAF. However, Hugh quickly developed an eye for a good story and the many leads he supplied to the reporters upstairs soon saw him recruited to their number.
He began as a general news reporter, which included his stint as “Pat Roller”, before he began to specialise in crime reporting.
He became Chief Crime Reporter, then graduated to the News Desk, before his relentless drive took him onto the Executive floor, then a place on the Board as Editorial Manager, where even Robert Maxwell was known to defer to Hugh’s judgement.
In his various roles he was a pivotal figure in making the Daily Record Scotland’s best-selling newspaper. When official retirement came, at 65, Hugh was not yet prepared to stand down.
He crossed the Clyde to join the Sun, was involved in David Murray’s shortlived Sunday Scot, before joining First Press Publishing, which saw his 60-year career in journalism turn full circle when the Daily Record and Sunday Mail group bought First Press, before he finally put away his notebook.
Hugh Currie stories are legend. He was one of the reporters heavily involved in covering Peter Manuel’s reign of terror in Glasgow and Lanarkshire in the 1950s, landing the Record with an exclusive when an over-zealous policeman, tackling Hugh to the ground at a crime scene, in the process accidentally gave away the news that the body they had found was that of 17-year-old schoolgirl Isobel Cooke, the sixth of Manuel’s nine known victims.
Jack Irvine, who recruited him to the Sun and kept him by his side at the Sunday Scot and First Press, said: “I could not believe the Record would let him go, he certainly kept me out of jail on a few occasions.”
Jack recalls that in his Record days Hugh arrived at a suicide scene – the victim had dived out of an upper floor tenement window.
Beating the police there, Hugh found the tearful widow regretting that their insurance would not pay-out on her late husband’s suicide.
Hugh dashed downstairs and returned with a chamois leather, which he convinced the grieving widow to place in her late husband’s hand – then tell the police he had died when cleaning the windows.
Since his death, older Anderston Quay hands have been recounting some more of the Hugh Currie legends. There was the night, on Mull, when he put the pub clocks forward half an hour, then, when they thought the presses were rolling, persuaded some rivals from the Daily Express to reveal the exclusive they had, in time for him to telephone the story through to the Record and get it into the next day’s paper.
Former Sunday Mail Sports Editor turned bestselling author Alex Gordon remembered being wrongly fingered as a card sharp who was fleecing colleagues in late-night card games.
“I convinced Hugh of my innocence, and he then identified the true culprit, before coming onto the Editorial floor to deliver a very public apology to me, which was the measure of the man,” said Gordon.
Malcolm Speed, former Editorial Director of the Daily Record and Sunday Mail, said, in tribute to Hugh: “He was never a man to be underestimated either on the road as a reporter or later as a senior executive who really had mega power in shaping editorial decisions.
“If Hugh Currie was on board it was more than half the battle. He was a founder member and active in the Association of Mirror Pensioners.
“His sudden death has come as a shock to those who remember him. The editorial job sometimes called for unpleasant decisions which he always tried to make palatable. He was always a formidable opponent with an exemplary reputation recognised by journalists across many decades.”
Although born and raised in Glasgow, Hugh loved the outdoors.
He was a good skier and he had long enjoyed mountaineering. Indeed, during a summer holiday, climbing in the Swiss Alps, around Zermatt, not even being an eye-witness to a local guide and his client falling to their deaths could put Hugh off conquering the Matterhorn. He was a member of the famous Creagh Dhu Mountaineering Club and Glencoe Ski Club.
He caught the running bug to such an extent, competing in the Inverclyde Marathon in 1990, that he set a European Best Time for an Over-65 runner of 2 hours 51 minutes, 30 seconds, which still stands as a British Best today.
Malcolm Speed remembers: “With his expertise in marathon running, fellow Record staffers who ran were wary of allowing him to set the pace around Pollok Park.”
Hugh married Phyllis Fox in 1959. She survives him, along with sons Max and Peter, and six grandchildren: Aimée, Poppy, Findlay, Rory, Théo and Fergus.