It was in the early evening of a quiet news day in the late 1980s that my editor at the Press and Journal (now renamed as the P&J), Harry Roulston, approached the newsdesk somewhat tentatively – trailing behind him a fresh-faced, bespectacled young fellow. Roulston was not in the habit of somewhat tentatively approaching his newsdesk executives with whom he had a very good rapport. My antenna alerted me to the fact that something interesting was up.
Aberdeen's two newspapers, the P&J and Evening Express, were owned at that time by Canadian newspaper magnate Lord Thomson and were recognised by the newspaper industry as the finest training ground for journalists in the UK – hiring both school-leavers and graduates from an extremely large number of high-quality applicants.
The young man to whom Roulston introduced us was a graduate with very impressive school and university credentials. Although understandably nervous, he came across to me as a very eager, earnest, intelligent and extremely well-mannered, if ever-so-slightly gauche, young man, with very good connections. As well as my newsdesk duties, I was responsible for overseeing the P&J's trainee reporters, and I wondered how best to mould this youngster's early career once he returned from a six-month stint at our training centre in Newcastle.
We were always resigned to losing the cream of our trainees, come time, to the national newspapers and the BBC and ITV. Among our trainees who have gone on to successful broadcasting careers are James Naughtie, formerly one of Radio Four's illustrious 'Today' programme team, and Brian Taylor, the current political editor of BBC Scotland. Aberdeen-trained journalists held then, and still do, top jobs across the UK – both in editorial and senior management.
That evening Harry Roulson drew me into a corner and confided: 'We are hearing great things about this fellow Gove. There are some people predicting that he could well become prime minister one day'.
Well Harry, I heard it from you first should that prediction come to pass within the next few weeks. The young man in question was Michael Gove, the government minister vying with about a dozen others to be elected as the Conservative party's new leader (and automatically prime minister), who has confessed to the Daily Mail to taking the Class A drug cocaine 'on several occasions at social events more than 20 years ago'. Gove, 51, maintains that his drug-taking occurred while he was still a young journalist and before he entered politics, and contends: 'Yes, it was a mistake. But I don't believe that past mistakes disqualify you'.
Edinburgh-born but adopted at four months old by an Aberdeen couple, Gove had won a scholarship to the elite Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen and progressed to Oxford University where he became president of the famed Oxford Union and gained an upper second-class degree in English.
I never did get that opportunity to have a decisive influence on Gove's early career. Not long after he returned from the training centre, Aberdeen's two newspapers became involved in the longest, bitterest-ever strike by the National Union of Journalists, which ended in 120 journalists being sacked, Gove included.
I lost track of Gove until I read, in 1996, that he had been hired as a leader writer on the London Times, fairly rapidly rising to be news editor and then an assistant editor. However, I wasn't at all surprised when he relinquished a career in journalism for politics and was elected as an MP at the second attempt in 2005.
It is common-knowledge in media and political circles that Gove's wife, Sarah, a former journalist on the Times, who now writes an acerbic weekly column for the Daily Mail under her maiden name, Sarah Vine, is the member of the Gove family who most wants her husband to occupy 10 Downing Street. Her weekly column in the Daily Mail was enlarged to a two-page spread on 5 June with the top half of its front page emblazoned with the headline: 'My Cinderella date with Donald at the palace'. The sub-heading, 'Sarah Vine's wicked dispatch from the State banquet', followed, alongside a picture of Mrs Gove in the dress she wore at the banquet.
It was all rather nice PR in her husband's bid to be prime minister. Inside, she wrote:
Thank God for Jeremy Corbyn. It's not a phrase that springs easily to the lips, but on Monday, as I gazed at the glittering chandeliers of Buckingham Palace, a glass of Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1990 at my elbow, I was, on a personal level level at least, rather grateful for the Leader of the Opposition's opportunistic virtue signalling. If he and other members of the Shadow Cabinet had not decided to boycott the banquet in honour of Donald Trump, I would never have made the cut. As it is, there was I, sat between the chairman of HSBC and the man who runs the Duke of Cambridge's private office enjoying what, by any standards, was the experience of a lifetime.
Making her way to her table, she explained, she had 'bumped' into President Trump's youngest daughter Tiffany. 'We chatted for a few minutes (she had recently been to the Cannes film festival).' Subsequently, she explained, that at the drinks reception her husband was 'whisked off to meet The Donald and his delegation. I looked for someone to latch on to. My eyes alighted on Melania, flanked by the wife of the US ambassador. "Oh, what the hell," I thought, and approached... Observing my husband's Dress Gordon tartan kilt, we speculated that perhaps next time, The Donald, being of Scottish heritage, should also attempt the tartan. I complimented her on her dress, she on mine'.
She summed up the evening: 'Whatever one's feeling about Donald Trump, only a fool would turn down the opportunity of such an extraordinary adventure'. Somehow, I feel that Mrs Gove did not appreciate the unintended irony in her final remark.
The circulation of three of Scotland's leading newspapers – the Daily Record, Sunday Mail and Sunday Post – continued to fall in April on a year-to-year basis. According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), the heaviest loser was the Sunday Post which, compared to April 2018, was down 16% to a circulation of 99,507. The Sunday Mail dropped by 13% to sales of 117,328, and the Daily Record was down 10% to 117,094. These three are the only Scottish daily or Sunday newspapers whose circulation figures are currently reported by ABC.
The circulation of other Scottish-produced daily and Sunday newspapers are reported in various other ways. National newspaper circulations continued to fall across the board in April, according to the ABC figures. The smallest declines were seen at free titles the Metro (-3% to 1,427,219) and the London Evening Standard (-2% to 855,033), followed by the Sunday Times which dipped by only 4% to a circulation of 707,597. The Sunday Mirror and Sunday People both saw the largest drops – falling 17% each to 403,175 and 157,640 respectively.
Of the other quality dailies, the Times was down 6% to a circulation in April of 406,279, the Daily Telegraph dropped 11% to 403,175, the Guardian 5% to 134,567, and the Financial Times 8% to 168,548. The City AM free newspaper fell by 6% to 85,758.
In the quality Sunday market, the Sunday Times dropped only 4% to 707,597 copies, the Sunday Telegraph 10% to 262,781, and the Observer by 6% to 159,765. Of the mid-market dailies, the Daily Mail dropped 7% to 1,199,764 copies sold while the Daily Express fell 10% to 312,775. The Mail on Sunday fell by 7% to 997,551 and the Sunday Express by 10% to 268,045.
Two weeks ago, acting on an impulse, I bought a copy of the Radio Times (Scotland/Border edition) – initially attracted by a front cover carrying a very powerful historical photograph of troops landing on a beach in Normandy on D-Day on 6 June 1944. It was the first time I had bought a copy of the RT in years. There was a time, when it was still owned by BBC Magazines, a division of the commercial arm of the BBC, that I contributed articles on pending BBC TV programmes with a north-east Scotland angle or input, which, in addition to paying well, were rather enjoyable to research and write.
Nowadays, I am inured to the Daily Mail's Saturday 'Weekend' colour magazine for providing me with most of my needs for TV and radio listings. However, I was really taken aback and very impressed by the sheer volume of information which is contained in the current A4-sized Radio Times. There were 88 pages of comprehensive TV and radio listings (in very small type) within the 164-page issue. With another 53 pages of good quality editorial articles and features (and only 23 full pages of advertising), the RT, which will notch up its centenary in four years, is a pretty good buy at just £3 – considering a large latte sets you back £3.20 in Starbucks.
The RT was launched in 1923 by Lord Reith on behalf the British Broadcasting Company which, in 1937, became the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). In 1955, it had reached a circulation of 8.8 million copies – making it the best-selling magazine in Europe. Now its weekly circulation is around 580,000 copies and it is owned by Immediate Media Company after being initially sold by the BBC to Exponent Private Equity in 2011.