Fun-loving Tom, an expert in the business of mischief making

tom mcghie

INSPIRING: Tom McGhie made journalism fun

RUTH SUNDERLAND pays tribute to her old mentor, former Daily Express City Editor Tom McGhie who has died aged 66

I’ve been lucky enough to have had several inspiring mentors in my career, but I learned the most important lesson of all from my first national newspaper City Editor, the late Tom McGhie.

Quite simply, it is this: Journalism is fun.

I doubt I will ever forget my first encounter with Tom, arriving at the Express’ Blackfriars headquarters for a job interview in my best new red coat, knees knocking with nerves.

He seemed like a formidable and frightening figure, an impression that was not dispelled on my first day, when he informed me, in a menacing tone, that he had hired me purely because I was the only candidate who brought her own notebook and pencil.

He was disgusted, and didn’t see why he should have to provide them from his stationery cupboard. "What kind of reporter doesn’t have their own notebook?" he thundered. To this day, I still try to carry these items about my person at all times.

But, as I soon learned, first impressions can be deceptive. Tom was a stickler for good journalism – hence the diktat about the notebook – but far from being a tyrant, he was, in the very best sense, a mischief-maker, an agent provocateur and a weapons grade s*** stirrer. 

All qualities, I’m sure we agree, that can make for some excellent journalism and good laughs (though uncomfortable to be on the receiving end, as his colleagues, bosses and underlings all at some point were.)

One of my favourite memories is the time he went into news conference  and gravely informed his fellow section heads there had been a run on the Scottish pound on the foreign exchanges, and that Royal Bank of Scotland and Bank of Scotland were in serious trouble. This was in the early Nineties, so quite prescient in a way.

It took a few minutes for the date at the top of the schedule – April 1 – to sink in.

Another is the time the then Editor sauntered past Tom’s desk. Our hero was looking at his Stock Exchange screen, where the share price of United Business Media, then the owner of the Express, was displayed.

 Alongside it was a small letter ‘x’, meaning the shares were being traded excluding the right to the dividend.

 "What does that ‘x’ mean?" inquired Sir Nick Lloyd, for it was he. ‘Ex editor,’ replied Tom, without missing a beat.

One of Tom’s favourite sayings was: "We’re all reporters." He meant that however high you might climb up the newspaper executive ladder and however grand you think you are, in the end it’s about those timeless talents: Observation, accuracy, speed, clear writing and getting scoops. 

Tom’s obvious love of journalism bubbled up irrepressibly. 

My time working with him when he ran the Express City desk along with Julia Finch, Nick Fletcher and Steve Kahn from 1992 to 1996, when we still waited for proofs from the Poppins pub inside the building, was one of the best in my professional life. 

I know my colleagues from then, Sally Hamilton, Virginia Blackburn and Andrew Moody, feel the same.

We’re all desperately sad about Tom’s death but it has at the same time brought back some lovely memories of the days when we were just starting out.

It’s sometimes easy to forget that journalism is meant to be fun, particularly these days when print is under the shadow of the online axe, and colleagues are losing their jobs.

But in spite of everything, it is still the best job in the world, and from his new perch in the Great News Room in the Sky, Tom would want us to remember that.

Ruth Sunderland is a former Personal Finance Editor of the Daily Express and presently Associate City Editor of the Daily Mail.


 

© 2005-2019 Alastair McIntyre