Media families: 21. The Linklaters

Sunday 06 July 1997 23:02 BST

Despite being categorised by the Scottish critic Lewis Grassic Gibbon as a member of the Anglo-Scots' "bourgeois heart of Scotshire", the novelist Eric Linklater, along with his wife, Marjorie, founded one of Scotland's foremost media families.

There is even the story that when their son Magnus Linklater was editor of the Scotsman he had to ban his mother from the newspaper's letters pages because of the frequency of her pro-nationalist missives. Something which says more about the fiery nature of the fascinating Marjorie Linklater, who perhaps provided as much copy as some of her son's staffers, than it does about the size of The Scotsman's readership.

Marjorie Linklater died last week aged 88, still a fervent Scottish nationalist but probably no longer banned from The Scotsman's letters pages.

Magnus left the editorship of The Scotsman in 1994 after a row with the newspaper's management about its direction. His departure came as a shock. In six years Linklater had built himself an image that was almost inseparable from the newspaper itself by becoming a spokesman for devolution.

He has been described by colleagues as the last of the gentleman editors, but perhaps unsuited for the rough and tumble of Nineties newspapers. He is reported to have enjoyed the dinner party side of The Scotsman job. He mixed with the Scottish establishment and peppered the paper with double barrelled bylines. Yet for all that he fitted so naturally into the paper and its milieu, it was his first job in Scottish journalism.

After an education at Eton and Cambridge he began his career at The Express in Manchester before moving to the Evening Standard in London. Then came 14 years on The Sunday Times, working his way up to the position of executive editor before leaving to become a managing editor at The Observer in 1983.

The only hiccup in Linklater's career was the time in 1987 spent on Robert Maxwell's ill-fated London Daily News. He famously described the paper thus: "The operation was successful, but the patient died."

Since leaving The Scotsman he has written for The Times where he was billed as "The Scotsman in the Times", and he has become chairman of the Scottish Arts Council where he is currently fighting a funding battle with Scottish Ballet.

His eldest son, Alexander, after a PhD in Scottish Literature, moved to The Scotsman to review theatre during the Edinburgh Festival. However, it was thought impolitic for him to work under his father and he moved to the Glasgow Herald, where he still writes on theatre and the arts.

Magnus Linklater's membership of the great and good is at odds with his writer father's humble roots. Eric Linklater was the son of a master mariner, an Aberdeen grammar school boy made good through his prolific production of popular novels.

The one that made his name, Juan in America, was the first in a series of picaresque tales of innocents abroad which sold well between the wars. He was also a writer of non-fiction which tied into his ardent Scottish nationalism, his best known polemic being The Lion and The Unicorn, which traced Scotland's relationship with England. In 1933 Eric Linklater stood unsuccessfully for Parliament in East Fife.

It was also in 1933 that Eric married Marjorie MacIntyre. The daughter of an Edinburgh MP and solicitor she was more firmly of the Scottish establishment and therefore better able to rebel against it. She met Eric while campaigning for a Scottish National Theatre, telling him he ought to be ashamed of himself if he couldn't be happy with her.

As well as an ardent letter writer, Marjorie became an effective county councillor in the Highlands - fighting for rural schools as well as tourist toilets - and chairman of the Orkney Heritage Committee where she fought for the environment and the arts. She was popular across the Highlands and on endless committees for her frankness, style and wit. Her death last week prompted her other son, Andro Linklater, to take the highly unusual course of writing his own mother's obituary for this newspaper.

Andro Linklater has followed his father into travel writing, completing a number of books, writing features for the national press and becoming a principal book reviewer for The Spectator.

Andro is seen as a lighter writer than his brother, but given the different task of writing a review of his mother's life, he delivered one of the best-written obituaries you will read this year. One that made you truly wish you had met its subjectn

Interview by Paul McCann

Eric Linklater (novelist) and Marjorie Linklater (campaigner) begat Andro (writer) and Magnus (journalist turned arts supremo), who begat Alexander (journalist)

Eric 1899-1974

Marjorie 1909-97

m. 1933


Magnus b.1942

Alexander b.1968

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