My Mentor: Jeff Randall on Andrew Neil

'There was no shillyshallying: he took on the IRA, Buckingham Palace and the Aids lobby'
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The Independent Online

Working for Andrew Neil is the career equivalent of taking cod liver oil. At the time it can seem unpalatable but in the long run it definitely does you good.

We first met in 1988, when he was editor of The Sunday Times and I joined the paper as a City reporter. Andrew had just been through the Wapping strike and still had the scars to prove it. Inured to threats from militant printers, angered by sniping from within the paper, and ridiculed by those to whom he referred as "the dispossessed" (journalists he had sacked), Andrew was an embattled figure. Machiavelli asked whether it is better to be loved than feared. Those who worked for Andrew in the late 1980s were left in no doubt what he thought the answer was.

Andrew was intellectually robust and incredibly demanding, sometimes unreasonably so. But he earned my respect because he was brave and led from the front. There was no shillyshallying: he took on the IRA, Buckingham Palace, No 10 and the Aids lobby.

He became fodder for Private Eye, yet I witnessed another, more impressive side to him. As part of an investigation into Lonrho's evil genius, Tiny Rowland, I was hoaxed by a con man. The upshot was that a piece appeared in The Sunday Times under my byline, which was, frankly, a load of bollocks. That Sunday, after a competitor had called to tell me the bad news, I said to my wife: "I'm a goner and can have no complaints." Contrary to my expectations, however, Andrew went on radio that night and took the flak himself. He admitted that "we have been conned" but never mentioned my name. It taught me a lot about leadership in adversity.

Seven years later, Andrew invited me to be launch editor of Sunday Business. Throughout my three years there, we didn't always see eye to eye. I was determined to be the editor, not Andrew's deputy. But we parted on good terms and still meet for dinner and a gossip.

Jeff Randall is the BBC's Business Editor