Obituary: Ken Vass, journalist, TV and radio producer, director and editor, behind Scotsport and Weir's Way
Ken Vass, former head of Scottish Television’s Scotsport programme and producer of Weir’s Way, has died in the Republic of Ireland, aged 81, after a long illness. He had also worked as a producer and studio director with BBC’s Panorama and Nationwide programmes for five years.
Vass began his career in journalism as a sub editor with the Evening Citizen in Glasgow before becoming a news reporter with the Scottish Daily Mail, Scottish Daily Express, Sunday Telegraph and the old Daily Herald before it became Rupert Murdoch’s Scottish Sun.
While working as a war correspondent during the hostilities in Cyprus in the 1960s he and other press colleagues took refuge in a café. He later discovered a sniper’s bullet had pierced the windscreen of their vehicle.
In 1964 Vass joined STV as a news reporter before switching to BBC radio and television with Reporting Scotland. He later became a radio producer and moved to the BBC in London in 1970.
One memorable incident which involved Vass himself happened when he was attending a press conference in a top London hotel. He was locked out on a fifth floor verandah when a door was blown shut by a gust of wind.
He vainly attempted to raise the alarm but realised that his only way of escape was going to be along a two-foot wide window ledge.
As he edged his way nervously along the ledge a jet of water shot out in front of him and stalled his progress.
The London Fire Brigade had been taking part in a training exercise far below and immediately went to his aid to guide him back slowly to safety.
In the 1970s Vass had been covering a news story with BBC colleague Raeburn Mackie in the West Highlands when tragedy struck.
Both men were returning south in separate vehicles close to Kinlochleven on the A82 when Vass came upon an accident where his 28-year-old friend and colleague was trapped in his car after a collision with a lorry. Mackie died shortly afterwards.
At Scotsport, Ken Vass appointed Jock Brown as successor to the veteran commentator Arthur Montford and later organised the channel’s coverage of the 1982 World Cup in Spain.
He won praise as a Daily Express reporter early in his career for revealing Rosslyn Chapel’s links to the Holy Grail and for a series on the spartan lives of young Scottish novitiate nuns.
Vass was also involved in covering two of the biggest crime stories of that era – the infamous Bible John case in Glasgow, and the cause celebre of Paddy Meehan, who was found guilty after trial of the murder of Rachel Ross in Ayr and later pardoned by the Crown.
Reporters who worked alongside Vass included Hugh Cochrane of the Herald and David Scott of the Scottish Daily Express and BBC Scotland.
Ken Vass was born in London and educated at Hutcheson’s Grammar School when his parents returned to Glasgow. He studied English and History at the University of Glasgow and graduated with a Master of Arts degree.
Vass edited a number of magazine programmes on BBC Radio 4 between 1983 and 1995 and produced an industrial and trade union series for Channel 4 in 1982. He was head of current affairs and documentaries responsible for five weekly and three monthly programmes about politics, the arts, social and consumer affairs plus all of the channel’s sports coverage.
Vass also produced an annual average of six documentaries of between 30 and 50 minutes’ duration.
Always keen on the outdoors, Ken was a keen diver and mountaineer, and producing Weir’s Way with the eponymous Tom Weir was a great pleasure for him.
With his wife, Janice, who died in 2009, Vass retired to the West Highlands but 20 years ago the couple decided to move to the scenic town of Kenmare in the shadow of the Macgillycuddy Reeks in the Ring of Kerry.
He continued to walk and climb there until eight years ago when he took ill and went into residential care.
Ken Vass is survived by his younger brother, Gordon, also a journalist, sister Sally-Anne Whyte and brother-in-law, Andrew.
Young musicians who travelled with Ken’s family from Scotland for his funeral at Holy Cross Church in Kenmare played a number of laments, including Loch Lomond, during the service and afterwards at his graveside in the town cemetery.