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Bernard Vickers

Posted: August 25th, 2014

BERNARD VICKERS, legendary editor of the Daily Record, died on August 22 (2014) after a short illness. He was 82. He joined the paper as deputy editor in the 1970s and left in 1988, having taken the paper to unprecedented circulation and profits.

After a career in Manchester and London, including IPC, the Daily Herald and Mirror Newspapers, Vickers moved to the Daily Record as deputy to Derek Webster. In the 1980s and 90s in the heyday of Scottish newspapers, he drove the Record to a daily sale over three-quarters of a million. Its Scottish domination received recognition as having the highest market penetration of any newspaper in the world, with the possible exception of a Tokyo paper.

Vickers was one of the first to recognise the importance of TV in the daily lives of readers and, although he was criticised for splashing on story-lines from Coronation Street and Dallas, the tactic was justified by the results in sales and revenue. For years, the Record’s profits eclipsed the rest of the Mirror group.

But, while it was a bright and brash tabloid, under him the paper had its serious side. He had an uncanny knack of balancing every issue with news, celebrity interviews, human interest, politics, industry, competitions and sport.

Although from the north of England, he made sure the Record reflected its readers’ left-wing Scottish views, and one review of the politics of the time credited Arnold Kemp of The Herald and “Bernie Vickers, the eccentric but fitfully brilliant editor of the Record” for keeping the flame of devolution burning.

Vickers was also a shrewd team-builder who was fortunate enough to be given the resources to hire the journalists he wanted. A former director, in an article on the relationship between editorial and management, recalled the days when editors called the shots: “The legendary Daily Record editor, Bernard Vickers, in a moment of clarity, described the relationship between himself and his MD, Vic Horwood, thus: ‘Vic and I walk hand in hand, with him a respectful half step behind me.’”

Vickers steadied the ship and protected staff in the most of turbulent times, including the ferocious onslaught from the Scottish Sun and, worst of all, the Robert Maxwell era. Veterans of the time remember Vickers was almost in tears at the time of 1986 Daily Record and Sunday Mail strike – allegedly about defending the “Scottishness” of the Record but in fact about ending the four-day week. He recognised it was the end of an era and, in fact, he was not to last much longer under Maxwell

Part of his problem was that he was not the hard man he was supposed to be, and his soft centre created a unique relationship of exasperated loyalty from his staff. He had a habit of telling them “You’re fired” – and if he was really angry, “You’re fookin’ fired!”

The tributes that poured in after his death show how much his staff liked and admired him:

Sandra Ratcliffe, feature writer: “’T’editor’ as he called himself was our most successful for many years. He gave his all for all of us in what those who worked there remember as an historic and tumultuous period in the life and history of newspapers in Scotland.”

Jim Cassidy, deputy editor Daily Record and editor, Sunday Mail: “I respected Bernard as the most talented and charismatic editor I ever worked with.”

John Millar, show business writer: “Above all the anecdotes, strongest memory of all is of Bernard’s staggeringly brilliant ability to achieve a great balance in putting the Record together. ‘T’editor’ knew his readership and gave them a winning formula.”

Tom Mackay, news desk executive: “The best editor I ever worked for, but I’ve been trying to remember how many times he sacked me! One night in a row over the editorial car, he walked through the editorial floor and as he passed me told me ‘Tom you’re fired.’ He obviously thought I was not taking him seriously and a couple of minutes later he rang to the back door: ‘Tom, you’re not just fired – you’re fookin’ fired.’ Needless to say next day when I saw him he nodded and walked past me with a grin.”

Alastair Murray, features sub-editor: “He once walked past me when I was drawing a features spread and, without breaking stride, told me the bull pic was better on the left than the right. He was right. As usual.”

George McKechnie, former Record news editor and editor of The Herald: “The author Val McDermid, who worked for him as a reporter on the Daily Record, has described him as ‘the great Bernard Vickers.’”

Bernie’s Record was stuffed with outstanding columnists, feature writers, production journalists, news and sports reporters and photographers. His relationship with some of his editorial executives could be fiery. Terrific ideas, stories and spreads walked hand in hand with important egos. It was a richness Bernie relished and which, under his editorship, produced one of Scotland’s great newspapers.

Bernard Vickers is survived by his wife Mary and daughters Suzanne and Tina.

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