Gordon Campbell

'Father of the Press Gallery'

When a Member of Parliament first arrives in the House of Commons, one of the most important groups of people he encounters are the members of the press in the parliamentary lobby and the parliamentary gallery who cover the area of his constituency. They have it in their power to make or break a new MP.

Gordon Henderson Naismith Campbell, journalist: born Bellshill, Lanarkshire 22 December 1927; OBE 1973; married 1951 Mary Bullen (one son, one daughter); died Guildford, Surrey 10 February 2005.

When a Member of Parliament first arrives in the House of Commons, one of the most important groups of people he encounters are the members of the press in the parliamentary lobby and the parliamentary gallery who cover the area of his constituency. They have it in their power to make or break a new MP.

When I arrived in June 1962 the members of the East of Scotland lobby included Hugh McMichael, the avuncular old-world political editor of The Scotsman, a man of shrewd but fair comment. The Daily Express and the Daily Record were represented by thrusting and aggressive young journalists with whom I soon discovered that I had to be very guarded: one was Joe Haines, later Harold Wilson's formidable Press Secretary and a considerable Downing Street operator; the other was Gordon Campbell, of the Scottish Daily Express. Incisive, ever to the point, and from the school of Arthur Christiansen, the legendary editor of the Daily Express in London, he was to go on as a denizen of Westminster for another 40 years, ending up as "Father of the Press Gallery".

Campbell was a credit to his profession. He was a Daily Express worker in those days, toiling alongside Ian Aitken, then of the Beaverbrook press and later to be a distinguished journalist with The Guardian. Campbell's enormous strength was his relentless drive to get to the bottom of any story. That is why many Scottish MPs were in awe of him. As a young journalist he won the admiration both of MPs and his own colleagues by the way in which he would joust with Willie Ross, Harold Wilson's "basso profundo" and Secretary of State in charge of all matters Scottish. The truth is that the only people who stood up to Ross were Campbell and his editor in Scotland, Taff McGill.

Gordon Campbell's heyday was during the devolution debates of 1978-79. He was personally a sceptic about the proposals for a Scottish parliament, and was writing for a newspaper that had its doubts. But those who were in favour of devolution would concede that in his many broadcasts, particularly for Scottish television, he was eminently fair to their cause.

Like many Scots living in England, he saw that there were two sides to the argument - and believed that the greater problem of a Scottish parliament lay not in Edinburgh but in Westminster. When his friend Enoch Powell named the dilemma which I posed "the West Lothian question", Campbell was the first Scottish journalist to grasp its significance.

Gordon Campbell was born in Bellshill near Glasgow in 1927, moving as a child with his family to Birmingham, where he attended Moseley Grammar School. During the Second World War he served with the Royal Navy on minesweepers in the North Sea. He came to the Commons in November 1951, as a holiday-relief reporter for the Exchange Telegraph news agency, before moving to the Scottish Daily Express. In 1979 he became a political reporter for Independent Radio News, his clipped tones providing succinct information for radio listeners across Scotland.

For 17 years, Campbell was Honorary Secretary of the Press Gallery, during which time he negotiated with Robert Maxwell, the then Chairman of the Commons Catering Committee, for the building of the Press Bar.

All those at Westminster admired enormously Campbell's guts in coming into work after he was severely disabled, having had his leg amputated. In the 1960s and early 1970s I used to play squash with him in the ICI courts which had been given to us early in the morning. He was then lithe and immensely fit - never, later, did I hear him moan about the physical affliction that had been visited on him.

Chris Moncrieff, the veteran political editor of the Press Association, describes Campbell as

the most courageous reporter I knew at Westminster. In the face of a succession of serious illnesses, including a heart attack and the loss of a leg, his enthusiasm for the job remained undimmed and his energy was incredible. When I first met him, I realised that here was a dedicated and brilliant reporter. Nothing had changed 43 years later when he was reluctantly forced to retire last November.

For Jim Naughtie, when he arrived in the early 1970s as the junior lobby correspondent of The Scotsman,

He represented a brand of parliamentary reporting which was far less random than the sketch-writing tradition of today. Gordon believed that a reporter had to be there, hear what people said and get it out.

Tam Dalyell

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