Obituary: Kenny Macintyre

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The Independent Culture
FOR THE past 10 years, Kenny Macintyre had been Political and Industrial Correspondent for BBC Scotland. He was the pre-eminent practitioner of the art of political reporting in Scotland. It is hard now to imagine a Scottish political scene without what the Liberal Democrat MP Charles Kennedy called "the anarchic quality" that Macintyre brought to a room.

Politicians of all parties queued up to pay tribute to him as news of his death spread. Tony Blair described him as an institution; Gordon Brown said he had given Scottish political journalism a wonderfully human touch; George Robertson said the biggest and best light from Argyll had gone out and left Scottish political life in the dark. The SNP leader Alex Salmond mourned the loss of the "voice of Scottish politics". The former Conservative Secretary of State for Scotland Sir Michael Forsyth was one of the first to pay tribute. And a man almost as much of a maverick in his way as Macintyre himself, Tam Dalyell, said the fact there is a parliament at Holyrood in Edinburgh today owed a great deal to Macintyre's "ubiquitous and enthusiastic support".

He was born in Oban in 1944, the son of Angus Macintyre, a Highland poet and sportsman. Kenny was educated at Oban High School before the family moved to Tobermory, on the Argyll island of Mull. There he worked as a bank clerk, ran a gift shop in Tobermory, and set up his own building business (he was a self-confessed "bad builder"). He was also a Highland games athlete, and one year, with a distance of 48ft 71/2in, broke a record for the triple jump which had stood since 1899; he claimed he still held the British professional triple jump record. His entry into journalism came through his passion for sport, with occasional sports coverage for Radio Highland, a local BBC station.

Macintyre continued to work for BBC Scotland throughout the 1970s and in the late 1980s was appointed Political and Industrial Correspondent. Politicians would tell him things they would never have told another journalist - in the certain knowledge that their confidence would never be betrayed. Scotland's First Minister, Donald Dewar, described him as "a politician's agony aunt". Yet this was a man who, almost on a daily basis, came up with stories that beat his rivals by a country mile.

If Scotland is a village, Macintyre seems to have known all the inhabitants. And for a man who was never afraid to say what he thought, he seems to have failed miserably to make enemies. One of his former broadcasting colleagues concluded a tribute on Radio Scotland by saying that he forgave Macintyre for not turning up to be best man at his wedding. As the hapless volunteer forced to step into that breach, so do I.

It would be hard for anyone to hold a grudge against Macintyre for long. When John Major refused him an interview, he addressed the retreating prime-ministerial back with the immortal phrase: "I hope your cricket team gets gubbed." He got his interview. When Bernard Ingham, on a visit to the Highlands, insisted Margaret Thatcher would do no interviews, Macintyre popped out of a hotel cupboard to ambush her. And got his interview.

Kenny Macintyre never slept. When the concerned BBC management tried to stop him working excessive hours, Macintyre would wait till the bosses went home, and sneak back in. He was driven by a desire simply to tell the story, by an intense curiosity - and genuine liking - for people. And, says Charles Kennedy, who as a student worked with Macintyre at Radio Highland, a passion for the place he came from. The routine of the 25- hour day that saw him rocking back and forth at a computer screen in the wee small hours, and charming a politician's wife into rousing her husband at a clearly unreasonable time, may have contributed to his untimely end. What is clear is that nobody could stop him living that way.

There will never be another quite like him. Nobody doing unmentionable things with teeth that weren't his own and were clearly built with someone else's mouth in mind. Nobody who could hear a story below three levels of equivocation and wouldn't rest till he'd dug it out. And nobody who could play football with such a consistently high level of abuse for all and sundry, regardless of whether they were on his own side or the opposition. Nobody with the same lust for life and the gift for communicating that emotion to others.

It is also true that reading the tributes that have been paid him since his death would have embarrassed the hell out of him. In that, at least, he was a typical Highlander. In no other respect was he typical of anyone else.

Kenneth Macintyre, broadcaster and journalist: born Oban, Argyll 19 July 1944; married 1967 Elizabeth Kirsop (two sons); died Glasgow 30 May 1999.