Bernard Vickers: Brilliant editor who increased sales of Daily Record 15 years in a row

“A good editor is like tinsel to a Christmas Tree…they add the perfect amount of sparkle without being gaudy.”

The words of contemporary American writer Bobbi Romans could have been written for Bernard Vickers (pictured above, Daily Record) one of Scotland’s most successful post war newspaper editors who died in August.

While he inherited the name from the saintly French scholar St Bernard, he certainly didn’t inherit his monastic life style.

Bernard, who was born in Prestwich, Manchester, added sparkle to editorial floors, a colourful character who spoke of himself in the third person, referring to himself as, ‘T’editor’ and increased the circulation of the Daily Record, then Scotland’s biggest selling newspaper, every year of his 15-year editorship.

Bernard’s newspaper years came before the technological revolution swept through the UK. New technology to Bernard was the Biro pen and he used his Biro like a conductor’s baton as he barked out instruction to news editors and picture editors. He surrounded himself with a stunning pool of talented writers insisting that his title would indeed ‘record’ the news but also inform, enlighten and edify his readers.

He had the magic art of touching the pulse of a nation; he had great instinct of what angered the people of Scotland, what made them smile, what made them sad. He could see fads and fashions change and reflected the changes in the pages of his paper. He was one of the first editors to see the power and impact of television on the life of his readers. His newspaper became the peoples’ champion.

When Torvill and Dean captivated the nation with their dance routine at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo to the haunting sounds of Ravel’s Bolero Bernard asked one of his many talented features writers to tell the story of Ravel and the origins of the music, not what you might have considered the typical fare of a tabloid paper, but ‘T’editor’ was proved correct when Bolero ruled the airwaves and every factory and office worker from Berwick to Lerwick were whistling the tune.

Bernard became the confidant of Prime Ministers, Chancellors and politicians of different political tribes and his visits to party conferences became legendary.

When that arch rogue Robert Maxwell bought Mirror Group grown men shook like jellies at the appearance of Captain Bob. Bernard was one of the few who stood up to him. It was Maxwell who cut short his reign at the Record and brought Bernard down to the Mirror’s London HQ to become assistant publisher only to cast him adrift after a matter of months. Bernard had seen the writing on the wall in 1986 when Maxwell ordered the Glasgow offices of the Record and Sunday Mail to be encircled with barbed wire and 220 journalists and 600 print workers sacked. Bernard found the emotion of being forced to sack friends and colleagues all too much.

‘T’editor’ was a legend in his own lunchtime. A gin and tonic or two and a bottle, or two, of white Corvo, a Sicilian dry, accompanied lunch with his executives. In those bygone days as the Corvo flowed newspapers were designed on the back of napkins and opinion columns drafted on the back of restaurant receipts.

He joined the Daily Record after spells in Fleet Street and Manchester, firstly on the Daily Herald, a left wing newspaper owned by the TUC, before it was sold to Odhams Press, then International Publishing Corporation before being rebranded as The Sun under the editorship of Sydney Jacobson.  Bernard became Northern Editor of the broadsheet Sun before it was eventually sold to Rupert Murdoch’s News International in the late sixties.

On the Herald back-bench Bernard forged friendships with some of the newspaper giants of the era, Tony Boram, Geoffrey Goodman, Jon Akass and Ernie Burrington.  Indeed Ernie attended Bernard’s funeral service as did a number of former Record journalists and Murdoch MacLennan the Telegraph Media Group’s CEO who worked with Bernard in Glasgow.

The metamorphosis of the Herald into the Sun persuaded Bernard to find a more comfortable home to develop his career and new home was Glasgow’s Hope Street where the Record was then published; he joined Record in the 1970s and leaving in 1988, having taken the paper to unprecedented circulation and profits.

Although proud of his Manchester roots, where as a youngster he had won a scholarship to the influential St Bede’s Independent College, he made sure the Record reflected its readers’ left-wing Scottish views, and one review of the politics of the time credited and praised: “Bernie Vickers, the eccentric but fitfully brilliant editor of the Record for keeping the flame of devolution burning.”

Bernard had a great love for Scotland and the Scots, although he was flummoxed when Maxwell referred to him as ‘Jock’. He would have been in his element over the last few years as Scotland prepared to vote on independence and decide on its future.

The author Val McDermid, who worked for Bernard as a reporter on the Daily Record, perhaps described him best of all. She said in a recent interview, ‘the great Bernard Vickers was my editor.”

Bernard Vickers-born 1932, died 2014. He is survived by his wife Mary and daughters Suzanne and Tina.

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