Former Guardian political editor Ian Aitkin has died aged 90.
The paper’s former deputy editor, David McKie, who worked with Aitkin, has described him as one of the “most perceptive of 20th Century British reporters” in an obituary in the Guardian.
Aitkin, who studied at Oxford and LSE, became a journalist in 1953 when he joined weekly left-wing magazine the Tribune as its industrial correspondent following a brief stint as a factory inspector.
A year later he joined the Daily Express as a foreign correspondent. There, he notably secured a “world exclusive” interview with Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, according to The Guardian.
He then became the newspaper’s political editor, working on the Profumo scandal at a time when the paper’s circulation was well above that of the Mail and Sun.
He left the job in 1964 to join The Guardian as deputy to Francis Boyd. It was a move that, according to former Guardian deputy editor David McKie, “occasioned amazement in Fleet Street – but this was his natural home”.
Serving as Boyd’s deputy for almost a decade, he eventually became the paper’s political editor in 1975.
Writing Aitkin’s obit in the Guardian, McKie said: “The occasional outburst of bad temper, often arising from frustration with the newsdesk, would be followed by extravagant contrition.
“He would cover every political story of any importance, from the fall of Ted Heath, through two Harold Wilson governments, the embattled minority regime of Callaghan, the triumph of Thatcher, the Falklands war, and the leaderships of Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock.”
Aitkin stopped being political editor at The Guardian in 1990 and took up a column.
According to McKie: “After years of news reporting, it took a while for his columns to settle – some found them too full of history, too uniformly old Labour.
“Others, perhaps especially those who had shared his political journey, found them irresistible, and gradually they established themselves as a firm Guardian attraction.”
Aitkin left the Guardian in 1995, becoming a columnist and contributing editor for the New Statesman before rejoining the Tribune as a fortnightly contributor.
He went on writing for the paper until he retired in 2014, saying: “Old age has finally caught up with me.”
He is survived by his daughters, Susie and Jane, and four grandchildren.
Picture: Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett