Nick Smith: Stalwart of the 'Independent' Foreign Desk

 

Nick Smith, who has died aged 64, was part of the Foreign Desk team at the launch of The Independent 25 years ago. His name has never previously appeared in this newspaper. Nor did it appear in the other newspapers that he served with skill and devotion for more than four decades, including the Rand Daily Mail, The Times and the Financial Times. Nick was a supreme example of a journalistic breed which has become scarce, though not extinct. He was a supremely skilled sub-editor who took an enormous pride in improving, and rescuing, the work of others. He showed no desire to move on to writing or executive positions, once describing his career aim as "well-paid obscurity".

The greatest tribute one can pay to Nick Smith was that, when your copy was given the Smith treatment, you still fondly believed that it was your copy. With patience and care, he corrected grammatical and factual mistakes and removed misjudgements. Who could complain that their copy was irretrievably better?

In other ways Nick was the antithesis of the old school journalist. He was not a "hack in a mac", addicted to pubs and cigarettes. He was a slender,cycle-mad, militant anti-smoker, who would spend a couple of hours wind-surfing in some forsaken wharf in London docklands before turning up for work in his Lycra cycling outfit. Nick avoided the canteen and pub grub. His diet consisted of what one former colleague describes as "sinister, macrobiotic packed lunches".

Once he had changed into office clothes, his routine was sacred. He would remove his subbing tools from a drawer – the Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors (Odwe), Hart's style guide and several others – and arrange them beside him like a surgeon arranges his scalpels and saws.

Nick Smith was a late addition to the Independent's original staff. Before launch, the paper's founders were convinced that sub-editors were redundant in the computer age. They soon discovered otherwise. Many of the subs who were hurriedly hired at this time went on to great things on this and other papers. One of them, Brian Cathcart, latterly deputy editor of The Independent on Sunday, now Professor of Journalism at the University of Kingston, said: "All of us in the original subbing team relied on Nick enormously and deferred to him, and he was of course unfailingly patient, charming and helpful. I have been telling sceptical students for nearly 10 years that sub-editing is a great art, a highly refined skill in journalism, and when I say it I often mention and always think of Nick."

Charles Nicholas Smith was born in Chelmsford in Essex in 1947. His parents, Eric Smith and Gwen Smith, née Withers, came originally from Birmingham. In 1955, when Nick was eight, his father, a metallurgist, took a job at Gwelo, Southern Rhodesia, now Gweru, Zimbabwe. Mr and Mrs Smith loaded Nick, his sisters Margaret and Bridget, his younger brother Stephen and the family car, into a steamer at Southampton. They drove north from Cape Town to their new home.

Nick was educated at St George's College in Salisbury, now Harare. When he finished school he rejoined the family, by now in Johannesburg. His only surviving family member, his sister, Bridget Smith, recalls that Nick's original choice of university studies was not a great success. "He said he wanted to be a businessman and make a lot of money and started a commerce degree at the University of Cape Town. He seems to have spent two years mostly surfing in the western Cape."

Nick switched to an English degree at the University of Natal, Durban. By Bridget's recollection, he was not at this time completely opposed to drinkor even to smoking cigarettes. Hisexasperated father soon warned him that he would have to pay his own way. He took a series of low-paid jobs,including one looking after old ladies in a home.

Upon graduation, he drifted into journalism and worked for the Rand Daily Mail and the Cape Times. In the early 1980s, despairing of the then unbending apartheid regime, he moved to London. He worked at first for The Times and then The Independent from just before its launch in October 1986. From 2000, he worked for the Financial Times.

Outside work, Nick was devoted to art, music and travel. His home was an Aladdin's cave of books, almost all of them works of history or reference. He had a series of girlfriends but never married. Three years ago, he suffered a severe bout of depression. Nick recovered and returned to work at the Special Reports section of the FT last year. A few weeks ago, he was diagnosed with a virulent and incurable cancer. He died at the Trinity Hospice, Clapham, in south London.

John Lichfield

Charles Nicholas Smith, journalist: born Chelmsford, Essex 11 August 1947; died London 8 November 2011.

Suggested Topics
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
football
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Assessor

£26000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: SAP Assessor Job T...

Year 6 Teacher needed for 1 Term- Worthing!

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: Year 6 larger then life teach...

SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: SEN Jobs Available Devon

Infrastructure Lead, (Trading, VCE, Converged, Hyper V)

£600 - £900 per day: Harrington Starr: Infrastructure Lead, (Trading infrastru...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering