Russell Reid: Long-standing editor of ‘The Sunday Post’

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The Independent Online

For almost half a century, with a short break for National Service, Russell Reid worked for the publishers D.C. Thomson.

He started his journalistic career on the company’s Dundee Courier, and in 1957 joined The Sunday Post, Scotland’s largest-circulation newspaper, where he rose through the ranks, eventually becoming its editor in 1989, a post that he held for 12 years.

Throughout, he worked in harness and great harmony with Brian Thomson, the company’s proprietor. Reid was not merely loyal; he was the quintessential Sunday Post man, eschewing the sort of smutty or vindictive stories that other papers ran in the hopes of boosting circulation.

William Russell Reid was born the son of a hairdresser mother and an art teacher father on the outskirts of Dundee. He attended the local primary school, then Harris Academy in Dundee. From Harris, he transferred to Arbroath high school, to which his father was promoted. Part of his humanity as a journalist, he told me, came from the example of his father, who organised and performed music as therapy, through hospitalfriendship organisations, for the longterm disabled.

Reid himself was a talented organist, often performing at the huge Caird Hall in Dundee, where he was President of the University Musical Society (His lifelong contribution was recognised with the award of an Honorary Degree in 2007). His friend Mary, the Dowager Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne, told me: “Russell was wonderful in helping to organise and write about the annual musicale at my great castle at Glamis. He was a true gentleman in every sense of the word.”

On leaving school, he joined D.C. Thomson and started work on the Dundee Courier as a copy boy. In 1955 he left to do two years’ National Service in the RAF, but never got further than Leuchars, in Fife, where he had the unusual but educative assignment of organising the demob suits and arrangements for personnel leaving the RAF. The experience imbued him with sympathy for squaddies. He then returned to D.C. Thomson, this time to The Sunday Post, where he was to work for the remainder of his career in a variety of posts, learning about all aspects of the paper.

In the 1950s, D.C. Thomson would not countenance trade unions in their premises, so there was a boycott of the papers that the company owned by those on the political left. However, in the aftermath of a brief strike action taken by workers, the real position was encapsulated for me by a personal experience. I was being given a lift by a prominent Communist official of the National Union of Mineworkers.

Noticing a Sunday Post stuffed into the side pocket of the passenger door, I could not resist saying “Hey, Grahamy, what this doing here?” He grinned sheepishly and said, “It’s for the missus, you know”, but by the end of the journey, it was apparent to me that my Communist friend knew most of what was in the paper.

Reid’s personality and instincts made him a natural fit at The Sunday Post, which slanted towards respectability. Over my 33 years as a Scottish MP, I discovered a pretty unique feature about the Post – its readers, over Sunday to Saturday, tended to read their paper from cover to cover, in their thousands, and believed what they read. “I saw it in The Sunday Post”, they would say, asserting that something was true – and it generally was.

But he did not shy away from controversy.

In May 1982, when I was public enemy No. 1 in many quarters, and lambasted by the Scottish press for vehemently criticising Mrs Thatcher’s decision to send a task force to the South Atlantic, Reid phoned me and said “Since I note that you specifically do not criticise ‘our boys’, I will give you 1,000 words in the paper to put your point of view criticising Mrs Thatcher”. He made a similar offer during the first Iraq war when other papers steered clear. And in January 1979, Reid and Brian Thomson were virtually the only people in the Scottish press to challenge the idea of an assembly in Edinburgh; one of Reid’s principal strengths as a newspaper man was his belief in the duty of giving voice to serious dissent.

Reid became deputy editor of the paper in 1983, and editor in 1989. His skills and attitudes were further recognised as a prominent member of the Scottish Newspaper Society, of which he was vice-chairman from 1993-97, and chairman from 1998- 2000. On the UK level, he played a robust part in the Newspaper Editor’s Code of Practice Committee.

Speaking from their headquarters in Cambridge, Bob Satchell, director of the Society of Editors, told me of Reid’s “valuable contribution in the early days of the Editors’ Code and the Press Complaints Council system. He brought forthright views from Scotland developed from years of experience”.

The current chief executive of the DC Thomson empire, Christopher Thomson, recollects: “Russell was a highly regarded editor and steward of The Sunday Post. He was a longstanding trustee of our pension fund, and his wise counsel will be greatly missed.”

“Steward” is the mot juste relating to the values of The Sunday Post. Those values were accuracy, decency, compassion and human interest, and they were values shared by Russell Reid.

Tam Dalyell

William Russell Reid, journalist: born Dundee 27 January 1936; married 1964 Patricia Rutherford (two daughters); died Dundee 15 March 2009.