This month marks the second anniversary of the barely recorded death of Nathan Goldberg in Glasgow, despite the fact that, at its zenith, his career deeply influenced UK journalism and public sector policy.
Goldberg took over the reins of the ill-fated Scottish Daily News only weeks before its closure in November 1975, after having been Father of the Chapel for the National Union of Journalists there for many months.
The paper produced a two-year convulsion in Scottish newspaper publishing that sent shockwaves throughout the UK when the staff bought it from the Express newspaper group and ran it themselves.
But the hopes of a generation of Scottish journalists were dashed when both Robert Maxwell, then proprietor of the Daily Mirror, and the Labour government of the mid-1970s, declined to provide any further funding.
As Ron McKay and Brian Barr put it in their account (The Story of the Scottish Daily News, Canongate, 1976): “Never perhaps in British newspaper history have journalists been given unbridled freedom to come up with exactly the kind of newspaper they believed in, written in a style to suit them rather than a proprietor or a national admass reader.”
The reasons for its collapse are diverse and complicated, though judging from a post mortem I shared late at night in the Glasgow Press Club between Goldberg and one-time night edition solicitor John Smith (later Labour Party leader), the editorial direction early on might have been a little under par.
In the paper’s dying throes, when Maxwell, who had been closely entwined in its fate, abandoned it, Goldberg took over, comparing himself to the captain of the Titanic.
According to McKay and Barr “from then on he was known as Captain Iceberg.” I met him when, still shell-shocked, he moved to London,with his wife Ros and three children and took to beating me regularly at chess, a game at which he more than excelled.
He was probably one of the most complex, fascinating, loveable and yet in many ways deeply flawed men imaginable.
I only began to get his measure when he’d been appointed editor of the Health and Social Services Journal and he took me on as a reporter. I had the unique pleasure of working with him closely for three years there, and a further five years as his deputy on Social Work Today, then a successful weekly owned and published by the British Association of Social Workers.
His editorial style was punishing and inspiring. Fresh from the trenches of the Scottish Daily News he simply made mincemeat of publishers and staff.
At HSSJ he ensured he was a full-time member of the NUJ Chapel thus making one father of the chapel, me, extremely unhappy when it came to negotiating the purchase of HSSJ by Macmillan Publishers Ltd in the late 1970s.
It was a move he opposed all the way, knowing that he would be the first casualty.
But despite this controversial style – or because of it – a generation of health and social care managers throughout the 1970s and 1980s were outraged, educated and uplifted by the range of writers and ideas his editorship encouraged.
What finally brought him down wasn’t publisher IPC’s attempt, through New Society editor Paul Barker, to combine that magazine’s editorial with SWT’s advertising.
Nor was it the Association of Director of Social Services who made his dismissal a condition of their backing SWT editorially in return for some of its advertising revenue, nor the staff and the NUJ Chapel who ultimately voted no confidence in him.
It was his love of chess.
He had struck up a friendship with English Grandmaster Nigel Short, and decided to launch a chess magazine of his own – Chess Express. It was the debt that enterprise led him into, along with the refusal of Robert Maxwell again to back him, and the subsequent steps he took to bail himself out, that wrought his final downfall.
He left SWT under a cloud in May 1985 and after that he pretty well passed out of our health and social work lives forever. He returned to Glasgow in 2011 and died in a care home, in his sleep, in March 2017.
Pictures: Drew Clode