Meek: his writing reflected his life: brilliant,fearless and stylish
They say that the meek inherit the Earth, but Brian wasn’t always so sure. In his political life, Brian Alexander Meek was often mistaken on the doorstep by various members of the electorate for the gas man, a vet, a doctor or a double-glazing salesman.
He also recalled being met at the door of a house in Oxgangs by a small child who thrust a 20p coin into his hand and told him his mummy said to “Go away”.
As a forthright columnist, perceptive sports journalist and elegant features writer with a number of leading newspapers over the past 40 years or so, it’s a safe bet no reader ever made the same error. Witty and wise, warm and waspish, Brian Meek was one of the most talented and best-loved Scottish journalists of his generation.
When we spent a couple of hours together at his home in Morningside recently, I asked Brian what he thought was the distinguishing feature of his work. “Leave ’em laughing,” he replied. Whether it was those wonderfully down to earth and human political columns that earned him the accolade of columnist of the year no fewer than four times in the Bank of Scotland Press awards, or the keenly-observed sports reports that brought him two gongs as Sports Journalist of the Year, what set Brian apart from so many of his peers was the wish to lace information with entertainment.
Although it’s true he enjoyed a refreshment – “Not too heavy on the tonic, Mr Mikey” – the only addiction in Brian’s life was to laughter. As a pupil at the Royal High School in the Fifties, Brian discovered he had a gift for making others laugh when he attended a Scottish Schoolboys camp and his first stand-up turn went down a treat – even though most of the jokes were stolen from Max Bygraves.
On leaving the High School, Brian made the short trip from Calton Hill to North Bridge, where The Scotsman gave him his first job as a copy boy. It didn’t take long before he moved onto the sports desk with Ian Wood.
Brian was tempted away to the Evening Dispatch by the offer of a post as horse-racing correspondent.
Up until the final days of his life, Brian enjoyed a small wager and I know the last bet he ever placed was on a horse called Refuse to Bend. The horse didn’t win, but anyone who was fortunate enough to know Brian and spend time with him over the past five months as he fought the good fight with leukaemia, understood that the selection could hardly have been more appropriate.
Brian joined the Scottish Daily Express near the end of its heyday, when the paper was the most successful in Scotland and sold nearly 600,000 copies a day. In what was to prove the start of an extraordinarily versatile career, he wrote news features as well as items on rugby, golf and athletics for the sports pages.
He went on to become one of Scotland’s most accomplished afterdinner speakers – Jimmy Logan once told him: “I’m glad I don’t have to go on after you every night” – as well as a fine broadcaster and a director of a PR company.
It was probably just as well there was no end to Brian’s versatility when a long and productive period with the Express came to an end during a bitter round of redundancies in 1974.
He turned to freelance journalism when he wasn’t either running Lothian Region as convener in the early Eighties or dishing out justice as a magistrate.
Brian didn’t return to newspapers until Ian Wood offered him the chance to cover the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh as part of The Scotsman’s reporting team. After that, The Scotsman dithered and missed the chance to recruit him permanently.
The late Arnold Kemp, once deputy editor of The Scotsman but, by then, a notable editor of The Herald, swooped for what was the journalistic equivalent of signing Henrik Larsson. When Brian asked Arnold what he wanted him to write about, Arnold replied: “Anything you like.” Brian took him at his word and went on to pen a hugely popular column and the most perspicacious sports reports.
The notion that an Edinburgh Tory might become much loved in Glasgow would have been dismissed by most editors as fanciful. However, Brian’s decency, his willingness to fight a corner and unerring sense of humour won him a new constituency.
It was entirely fitting when one reader wrote to confess this week that, while he’d never voted Tory in his life, he would surely have voted for Brian if he’d lived in his ward.
What I admired about Brian as a fellow pro was that not only was he an incisive and amusing writer, but he was also quick. He found the process of filing award-winning copy almost as easy as making his colleagues rock with laughter. There was never any agonising over the creative process. He thought it was a good idea to get the work done as quickly as possible and repair for a glass of wine rather than fret over whether a semi-colon in the intro would have been more appropriate than a comma.
Brian was regarded with fondness by those in the sporting fields he covered.
During the recent Open at Royal Troon, leading golfer Colin Montgomerie took time out from a hectic schedule to hand me a card conveying his best wishes for Brian.
He remained a favourite with readers, too. One of Brian’s favourite stories was about being picked up by a taxi driver after an international at Murrayfield. The driver asked if he was Brian Meek, the sports writer.
Brian replied “Yes”. The man told him how much he enjoyed his work. “I’m glad it’s you,” he went on. “No yon other Brian Meek who’s a Tory councillor.
I cannae stand him…”
Brian was a journalist with political interests rather than a politician who dabbled in the media. His writing reflected his brilliant life – fearless, stylish and rewarding. Although he didn’t receive a formal university education, Brian could speak as eloquently as he wrote. He was, I suppose, a natural, and Scotland is a poorer place without him.
Mike Aitken, sports writer, The Scotsman