On that November day in 1928 when Lord Beaverbrook returned to his roots and launched the Scottish Daily Express, 15-year-old Jack Campbell from Glasgow took up a position as the very first copy boy.
It was the beginning of an astonishing career in which he would not only become editor of two Beaverbrook newspapers in Scotland, but survive into the 21st century as the sole living witness to the entire 75-year story of the Express north of the border.
He died in an Ayr hospital last week, after a short illness, at the age of 90.
Jack was born in London of Scots parents, who then returned to his father’s native Glasgow district of Govan. His father died young, leaving his wife and six children.
After attending Copland Road and Govan High schools, Jack left without any thoughts of entering journalism.
But Beaverbrook was on his way. His Presbyterian father, the Reverend William Aitken, had emigrated from Torphichen, near Edinburgh, feeling that he had “a word for Canada”.
When his son, the future Lord Beaverbrook, returned to Britain and bought the Daily Express in London, he didn’t rest until he came back home with “a word for Scotland”.
Appropriately, when Jack was persuaded to write the history of the Scottish Daily Express in 1998, he chose that title for his book.
Having worked in the black glass building in Albion Street, Glasgow, from the start, he could chart the whole dramatic story from humble beginnings to a hive of journalistic activity in the Sixties, when there were no fewer than 2,000 employees and a daily circulation topping the 640,000 mark.
The Express was the paper every red-blooded newspaperman wanted to work for. It was journalism at its best, with feature writers scouring the world from Glasgow, fearing nothing from the reputations of Fleet Street.
In this context, Jack rose through the ranks to become editor of the Evening Citizen and then the Scottish Sunday Express, as well as associate editor of the Scottish Daily Express.
On the way, he would find himself outside Glamis Castle in Perthshire in 1930, as the Queen Mother awaited the birth of Princess Margaret, and pursuing the Glasgow girl who was nursemaid to the Lindbergh baby in the kidnapping that shocked the world in 1932.
On the sub-editors’ desk he handled news of everything from the abdication of Edward VIII and the launch of the Queen Mary to the triumphs and tragedies of Benny Lynch, Scotland’s greatest boxer.
Jack was a witness to another historic moment in the life of the Express in 1965 when it signed up Muhammad Ali to write a series of articles. The big man not only came to Glasgow but took over the editors’ conference, with hilarious results.
Along with his surviving colleague and close friend, Ian McColl, Jack was a major contributor to the success of the Scottish Daily Express, in an era that would turn out to be a golden age of print journalism.
Jack had his own dramas during the war, when he became commander of one of the Navy’s rescue tugs before resuming the daily excitement of the newspaper world.
He lived in High Burnside, near the home of William Watt, the Glasgow baker who was charged with the murders of his wife, daughter and sister-in-law.
Of course, it was all a mistake. The real murderer was Scotland’s most prolific serial killer, Peter Manuel. But Jack had gained Watt’s confidence and was waiting at the gates of Barlinnie Prison when he was released. The Express had the man’s exclusive story.
So it went on. Jack was so often the quiet man in the background, but always a sure and guiding hand in times of crisis.
There was no bigger crisis than the union troubles of 1974, which brought an end to printing in Glasgow. He survived the troubles and retired in 1978.
Jack’s first wife, Doris, died in the Fifties. He later married Margaret, with whom he eventually moved from Glasgow to live in Prestwick.
He and Margaret were accomplished ballroom dancers, which helped him retain the youthful appearance which belied his years.
Jack is survived by Margaret, his daughter, Gail, and his grandchildren, Susan and Donald, who is editor of the Evening Express in Aberdeen.