A Fond Farewell

I’m always uneasy writing after a death. Clearly you must be respectful and appropriate but I can’t help also being truthful, yet most of the remarks I read about the deceased are impossibly charitable. Nobody is a saint and the last thing (literally!) I want is someone to speak with forced charity about me – once they’ve stopped dancing on my grave.

So with Angus Macleod with whom I partially shared a newspaper past (were both 63) and for some years a Saturday morning radio studio…he was cantankerous, argumentative and a diva. He was also passionate, warm and a professional.

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He would arrive at the BBC before 7 am and after warm Good Mornings – he never failed the greetings test – would launch into a complaint about the BBC. ‘How many reporters do they have and yet they managed to miss the real story yesterday…Reporting Scotland was dreadful…who’s running this place?’

The call would go up ‘black coffee, lots of black coffee’, and once he was settled with a pile of newspapers at his desk I would instigate a political discussion to test my latest theory against his knowledge and insight. I never said so but I cherished his opinion and was genuinely pleased when, occasionally, we concurred. Mostly we didn’t.

My gentle prompts would be dismissed contemptuously. ‘They’ll never give that job to Murphy’, he’d scoff. ‘Someone needs to check Salmond, I’m telling you…’ Mostly we disagreed over independence and the SNP whose administration he quietly admired. He told of civil servants glowing in their respect for their nationalist ministers and of the admiration the Times editor held for Salmond after meeting him with Angus and anointing him Briton of the Year.

But he was a die-hard on the Union and was genuinely afraid of what might happen if there was a Yes. Yet, when challenged I only remember one justification for his stance. ‘I love England and the English people’, he’d say. To which I replied: ‘Me too’. We were as far apart on that one issue as it was possible to be and he certainly wasn’t having me writing in his paper. It was noticeable that throughout the whole campaign, despite having a budget, the Times didn’t utilise a single Yes voice as a regular columnist but did offer space to Unionist writers like Alex Massie and David Torrance. I know he did try to hire an unnamed Nationalist as a columnist in 2011 but was turned down.

He wrote his script in longhand and would come into studio when we were on air to hand it over so I’d know how to lead on to each item – if I could read his writing. Often I couldn’t and would say so live just to wind him up.

I know from many conversations that his energetic Hebridean outpourings delighted listeners and injected a sense of bemusement about the crazy modern world that reflected the common experience of life. If a phrase summed it up it would be: ‘Has the world gone mad?’

I was instructed not to read his last ‘and finally’ in case I was tempted to trump him with a joke. He didn’t like to have his thunder stolen and when we invited him into a political debate on the programme he would listen to the other contributor (Iain McWhirter perhaps) and shake his head in amusement at his answers. And woe betide us if we put him against two guests who disagreed with him. ‘You set me up’, he’d roar. Honest, Angus, we didn’t.

He brought a colour and a distinctive tone to broadcasting which without challenging characters can easily become bland. We regarded him as a star and so did he. When he thought he wasn’t being paid enough, a campaign was begun roping in presenters and producers to the cause until it went to the head of department who eventually caved in. He wasn’t a man to make an enemy of.

He was proud of his class of trainee journalists who had all gone on to have rewarding careers (including James Naughtie) and he moved effortlessly from the tabloid Sunday Mail to the Times. I remember his delight and pride at becoming Scottish editor after Magnus Linklater.

He loved to gossip and shared more than he perhaps should about people’s earnings, their incompetence and backroom dealings. He was forceful and not prone to self-doubt and a member of his staff told of being run ragged with demands, reasonable and otherwise. Patience wasn’t his virtue.

But plain old humanity was. He was as transparent as the sea on the Lewis shore, wearing his emotions like an old jumper, one minute barking at you, the next laughing with you. I last saw him shuffling away down the BBC corridor with the air of one whose journey began in another age of journalism and who had risen to master the new one – shrewd and trenchant, knowing and unbowed.

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24 thoughts on “A Fond Farewell

  1. No comment.

  2. A lovely piece Derek.
    I can still hear him, during the run up to the 2007, Holyrood Election describing the SNP’s favourable position in the polls and their not wanting to do anything to rock the boat as them ” carrying a precious crystal bowl over a polished floor in stocking soles”
    Rest In Peace Angus.

  3. Yip the picture I have in my head, only met him a few times back in the 1980s, and that matches him fine.

    Essentially a character, and at that a commodity we don’t have enough of.

  4. A fine tribute.

  5. Aye, he interviewed me a couple of times and I can certainly concur that he wasn’t a man of infinite patience, but having said that he was very ‘gentlemanly’ about it. I really miss those Bateman/Macleod conversations that used to light up Saturday morning radio. A very fine journalist indeed.

  6. A lovely tribute. I disagreed with him politically but loved his Saturday morning slot on the Beeb. I didn’t know him though I had a robust exchange with him on Twitter at the time (I think) of the Megrahi release. He started arguing with me about the wording of the relevant legislation and asked whether I was qualified to read legislation and interpret it in a different way from him. “Yes. I’m a solicitor” I replied. We never exchanged tweets again 🙂

  7. Is it okay to be honest? …………….. because ……………….

  8. This is a superb piece of writing which captures Angus’ complex but endearing nature. I was part of the generation who came after Angus and only got to know him properly a decade or so ago. Derek describes him as he was. I got the sharp end of his tongue a few times – not something easy to forget – but his honesty and decency always immediately returned the friendship to an even keel. I feel as though I can never match his Saturday morning reviews but he write me a long email encouraging me to do my own thing. His last email only recently was kind and wise. I wish he was was still around and I miss him.

  9. Wonderful, sensitive, insightful and honest tribute.

  10. Katherine hamilton

    Sounds more like good riddance to me to a self aggrindansing bully. Sorry.

  11. Angus and I had a friend in common – my girlfriend, actually. She invited him to dinner at our place, which I, as always, cooked. It was just after the the Perth and Kinross by-election following the death of Nicky Fairbairn (won by Roseanna Cunningham for the SNP).

    McLeod had no idea who I was. He told tales over the dinner table of drunken rioting by SNP supporters outside the count – extravagant, shocking stuff, intended to entertain the company. He became very silent when I told him that I had been there and knew different.

    I don’t know what positive qualities this man might have had. Telling the truth clearly wasn’t one of them, but I suppose I’m being very old-fashioned to expect that from a journalist.

  12. Angus McLeod was a one-off. I thoroughly enjoyed his newspaper analysis on a Saturday morning, and I was wondering why I hadn’t heard him for while. I disagreed with him about a year ago when he said that people would make their decision about the referendum based on ‘What’s in it for me?’ I’ve now realised he was right. He’ll be sadly missed.

  13. What is it about these western islanders who are died in the wool unionists?

    What has WM ever done for that area, it is sadly neglected with limited investment and it was only the introduction of Holyrood that raised the issue of land reform and getting rid of absentee landlords.

    I remember seeing a prog about the Faroe Islands and what a contrast to the Hebrides, a young, vibrant, articulate , thriving community.

    Investment includes, regular and frequent services by sea and air to several neighbouring countries.

    Roads, eighteen tunnels, two sub-sea tunnels, and a well-built bridge connecting the two largest islands.

    Remote settlements are linked to the main area with scheduled ferry and helicopter services, comprehensive network of ferry and bus services connecting all villages and towns , modern facilities for cargo, fisheries, offshore and oil exploration, and cruise ships.

    They of course are fortunate to be connected to Denmark and not the UK.

    • Steve Asaneilean

      Absolutely Liz. As someone who has spent 20 years campaigning for the needs of remote rural communities in Scotland I too don’t understand why anyone living in such communities can see any benefit to ultimate rule from London when such rule has done nothing for them.
      Their populations continue to decline (Skye being the only significant exception); their economies continue to struggle; there is a perpetual lack of decent public transport, secure well-paid employment, affordable housing, etc.; and their public services are limited, increasingly fragile and largely unsustainable.
      There is little a fiscally-constrained Scottish Parliament can do no matter how willing. But I do hope we now see a radical land reform bill and continued pressure to hand over Crown rights to local communities.

      • I think you will find the severe religion of the area has something to do with it. Extreme Calvinism seems to breed an individualistic self-reliant basically Tory outlook. Not Tory as in neoliberal capitalism and corporatism, but Tory as in ‘they shall not eat that do not work’.

        It’s not an attitude you find amongst Catholic Hebrideans though.

        • Steve Asaneilean

          Maybe MBC – but it doesn’t explain why one of the most religiously traditional “Calvinist” parishes in Skye was over 70% Yes and why one of the least traditional parishes on the island voted No.

          • I don’t mean that their Tory outlook translates into political support for that party, not at all. They vote SNP. I only mean that they have values similar to those held by Tories in other parts of the UK. Which is why some are Unionist.

            I don’t know what you mean by ‘least traditional’ but I’m guessing you mean it has a large number of incomers… and we know which way they vote.

  14. I’m not one to comment here, Derek, as you know.
    But I think you’re spot-on with a lot of what you say about Angus: he was a dyed-in-the-wool unionist, and a loyal Highlander. Do you remember his tale of the longstanding (!) Lewis bachelor who married a somewhat plain girl with the justification that “she had a good back for carrying the peats”!
    You’re right that he was volatile, from angry denunciation to ready laughter within minutes. He was very engaged with the news of the day, and fundamentally believed in the power and responsibility of journalism. He had also, mind you, an eye for the scoop. To his credit he would sometimes (at least before programmes) admit that other papers had a good story that his didn’t.
    I liked his declamatory style with the Saturday paper review. Though it was scripted in longhand, he was perfectly capable of ad-lib, witty, response.
    Latterly he had clearly been ailing: I don’t think it’s any breach of confidence to say he had pancreatic cancer – he took us all aside to tell us early one Saturday morning in (I think) Spring.
    He was dogged thereafter in coming in week after week to complete a job which, frankly, I think many of us in the same situation would have ducked.
    It was a mark of the man.
    RIP

  15. Wearing his emotions like an old jumper – I love that line. I never met the man, but this piece paints a fantastic picture.

  16. Like many , I did not always agree with his views. He had an endearing manner and quirky humour which made the Sat morning enjoyable . Bless him . RIP.

  17. Well said, Bill. And Derek.

  18. it is a lovely piece derek. He used to be s presence across the Record newsroom long ago, but I never really knew him, just of him and his reputation, ie, he was really good. I loved his Saturday morning papers roundup, would sort my morning to hear it. I know nothing and no one lasts forever, but this is a truly sad loss.

  19. The Times Scottish edition devoted considerable space (which I read daily, eventually as a form of self-punishment) to referendum news, analysis and comment – all consistently partisan . Well, there is no need for a newspaper to be fair, and it’s The Times prerogative that its regular and occasional contributors should favour the unionist case – but many of these articles were poorly argued, failed to get beyond a narrow London-based perspective, and patronised Scots to a degree that was often quite offensive.

    More seriously, the paper’s referendum news reporting was thoroughly compromised by propaganda. Any story negative to Yes would be given prominence – never mind whether there was an obvious question, or qualifying context that a reasonable journalist should have included. Every other day some piece of “news” would be a “hammer blow to the SNP” or “disaster for Salmond”. And the personification of the campaign with Alex Salmond was so persistent that it’s hard to imagine it being accidental.

    One might think that a broadsheet that took itself seriously might have felt obliged to limit the spin in direct news reporting, and make a more open-minded analysis of some important issues – for example the currency question, or EU membership prospects – but no sign of that. Whatever may have been Angus Macleod’s personal qualities as a colleague, as Scottish editor of The Times, he presided over degraded standards of journalisic integrity.

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