Willie Robertson: Fleet Street chief sub and Times assistant editor

Journalist Willie Robertson, born in Edinburgh in 1930, died peacefully at his home in Cavers, Hawick, in the Scottish Borders region on 17 March.

He entered journalism as a reporter on the Edinburgh Evening News in 1947.

After a successful period working in many areas of this regional evening, Robertson moved to London in 1953, when he began a long and distinguished career as a Fleet Street journalist.

During the next 17-year fierce circulation war when staff were continually poached, Robertson was much sought after. He was chief sub-editor on the Evening News, Evening Standard, Daily Sketch, Daily Express, Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph.

During his spell at the Evening Standard in London he was responsible for handling coverage of the John Profumo Affair and the assassination of President Kennedy. While at the Daily Express he was responsible for creating numerous front pages, including the “Going, Going, Gone” headline that recalled the death of speed record-breaker Donald Campbell.

Robertson was appointed night editor/assistant editor of The Times’s Business News in 1971. He was responsible for the production of this, the biggest section of The Times, and for the handling and projection of copy submitted by some of the best-known economics writers of the day.

When Rupert Murdoch took over of The Times in 1981, Charles Douglas-Home, the deputy editor, approached Robertson on behalf of the Aga Khan, owner of The Nation, the largest group of newspapers in East Africa. He was asked to be editorial director and executive editor of the group in Nairobi. He steered the editorial along the path acceptable to a one-party state and secured the release of three senior journalists who had been detained for writing political material.

He also pioneered new technology at Nation Newspapers, setting up a twinning agreement with Jack Lake’s St Petersburg Times, which was the most advanced electronic newspaper in the world.

The Nation’s circulation broke the enviable 100,000 circulation mark and beyond – to 150,000.

Robertson, who lived in Kenya for four years, was proud of his role in advising the Aga Khan on political problems threatening his expanding newspaper empire. On his return to Britain in 1984 he advised Drum magazine founder Jim Bailey, one of the leading and most respected publishers in Africa.

Robertson returned to his native Scotland in 1994 where he edited the Carrick Gazette series of newspapers and the Sornaway Gazette until ill-health forced him into semi-retirement in 2001.

On moving back to his beloved Borders, where he grew up in Stow, Robertson launched various internet projects and, in an indication of his love for journalism and business, launched Anastay Ltd, which is involved in the electronic storage of information.

Educated at Orwell Place and George Heriots School, 72-year-old Robertson was a much-loved father and grandfather. He leaves nine children and 17 grandchildren.

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