Obituary: Ivor Turnbull
Friday 01 December 1995
The core of the subscription-only Gazette is a country-wide calendar of art and antiques sales, wrapped in reports and advertisements. At first it was resented by many dealers who did not wish their favourite country sales to be known to all. Soon, however, they realised that they were getting other people's sources in return, and the Gazette became an essential tool of the trade.
Turnbull was born in Edinburgh, educated at Merchiston Castle, and then did national service as a sub-lieutenant purser in the Royal Navy. This thoroughly unromantic introduction nevertheless left him with a love of the sea which re-emerged in later years. On returning to civilian life he studied music briefly at Edinburgh University, considered himself, like so many people at that age, the great hope of English playwriting and, more practically, began a newspaper career as a reporter on the Scotsman.
His first, brief, marriage was not a success, and in the late 1950s he moved from Edinburgh to London, where he worked for the Daily Sketch before becoming editor of "Londoner's Diary" on the Evening Standard. It was life as a gossip columnist which gave him what he described as his "allergy to champagne". In the late 1960s he was appointed editor of Art and Antiques Weekly.
Like many journalists he worked best in difficult conditions and against a deadline. When his proprietor levanted leaving him with an unpaid staff and bailiffs at the door, he successfully found backing for his own simple business idea. The backers included friends from his Belsize local pub, whose pounds 250 debenture loans and small shareholdings were to prove the best investments of their lives when the Antiques Trade Gazette was sold to the Daily Mail Group last year. The first issue, which appeared in September 1971, was produced in the storeroom of a furniture design company, and editions were put together by candlelight during the three-day week period in 1974. Against a recurrence Turnbull had the gaslight fittings re-connected in the Covent Garden office.
An early success was scooping the nationals with the details of VAT, then about to be introduced. He had had sight of the proposals, but been barred from making notes, and so relied on a fine visual memory. To begin with, he knew nothing of antiques, but by the end he had learnt a great deal, and knew the trade through and through.
In the 1970s he took up sailing, learning navigation to increase the enjoyment of cruising to the Channel Islands and elsewhere with colleagues and family. He took part in the storm-shattered 1979 Fastnet Race in which many boats were lost. After a nasty few days without news of him, he returned well-groomed as ever.
I first met Turnbull, not untypically, in a Fleet Street pub, when I was introduced as a possible cartoonist for Art and Antiques Weekly. Over a decade later, during which I had been writing copiously for him, he kindly published my first cartoon. That was typical of his methods of recruitment. Chance meetings over a drink, forlorn introductions from acquaintances with stepdaughters on their hands, rather than well-starched interviews, could transform a barmaid into a successful company secretary, a librarian into a deputy editor, or a wayward coin specialist into a level-headed correspondent. He made few mistakes in his choices, and was repaid with love, loyalty and respect.
A story happily told against himself concerned his time on the Scotsman. He was on the night desk when news came of the death of some public figure. The name was alphabetically close to his own and, while rummaging through the obituaries file, he sneaked a look at what had been written of himself. After praising his journalistic skills, the piece ended: ''and it was said of him that he never refused a drink, lest he give offence to a friend''. Equally, no friend knew him ever fail to stand his round, or to stand by when needed.
Ivor Sinclair Turnbull, journalist: born Edinburgh 15 May 1930: twice married (three sons, two daughters); died Canterbury 7 November 1995.
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