Ian Morrison, in his prime the best, most concise and occasionally acerbic agricultural journalist in Britain, has died aged 72.
The greatest sadness is not the unexpectedly sudden end of his life, but that the past three years saw the dimming of one of the sharpest brains in our business and the disappearance from the farming pages of Scottish newspapers of some of the best introductions ever written.
Those opening paragraphs, the prized ‘good intros’ of the trade, did not come easily. The legendary Morrison hunch over his keyboard, wrapped in a smoky silence that defied whatever chaos might be going on around at sale, show or conference, was known and respected — if you knew what was good for you. It would end when, having worked out precisely what was wanted in his mind, rather than in a snowfall of torn-out copy paper or deletions like his colleagues, he would pound away.
His career took him from his first job as a copy boy to his prime — agricultural editor of the then Glasgow Herald for more than 20 years. He had moved up a gear from straight reporting of farming, based on a fast, neat and tiny shorthand note and pointed questions, to become an excellent and pungent commentator — a style that won him the Netherthorpe Award, the top UK prize for agricultural writers, in 1988. It was only one of a number of recognitions by his peers. He is the only person to have been chairman of the Guild of Agricultural Journalists twice, in 1974 and 1981, and was Guild president in 1987, when Britain hosted the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists’ conference.
That recognition and affection were reaffirmed in 1997, when he was made a senior fellow of the 600-member Guild, one of only five in its history.
Inverness-born Ian’s first job was as a copy boy — the office ‘gopher’ — on The Scotsman. In the 1950s, that job was still the potential first rung on a career ladder and he stepped up to become a sub-editor on the home pages and then deputy agricultural editor to Robert Urquhart.
After a record spell as Urquhart’s "halfback" before a year on the Scottish Daily Express, he became agricultural editor on The Press and Journal, Aberdeen, in 1966.
In 1969, he was lured to Glasgow by IPC to edit the failing Farming News, a magazine he did not get the time or resources to turn round in spite of his editing skills, before it closed in the autumn of 1970.
The briefest of stints followed on Farmers’ Weekly before he returned to daily journalism, succeeding Alex Yeaman as agricultural editor of the Glasgow Herald.
That was where he flourished, not only with his Monday-morning comment pieces that brought home-truths for farmers to a fine art, but also in regular appearances on BBC Radio Scotland and contributions to television programmes. He had the advantage of not having an agricultural background.
He looked afresh and from the outside at the small world of Scottish farming and said what he thought.
In his final article before retiring, he said he had enjoyed his time with the paper. He meant it, though those of us who had watched the birth-pangs of his intros and a legion of press-conference speakers halted in mid-flow by his exasperated groan, head-in-hand, and a tart "what do you actually mean by that?”
might doubt it.
What we all knew was the quality of report or comment he would produce.
No journalist could sum up an event more concisely. Ian Morrison’s report was the benchmark. We, his colleagues on other papers, wish it and his dry, pawky asides, still were.
He is survived by his wife Elspeth, four children and six grandchildren.