John Vass

The Highland journalist who became a distinguished Fleet street reporter and later the central figure in a printing revolution centred on Inverness has died aged 82.

John Vass was born in Edinburgh but began his journalistic career as a trainee reporter with the Inverness Courier in 1947. After National Service he was appointed North of Scotland reporter with the Daily Express.

John later moved to Edinburgh with the paper and then to its London office as a news reporter where he covered stories across the world and won a place on the Express teams that covered some of the biggest stories in Britain in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

The John Vass byline appeared on the Profumo Affair as well as the Thalidomide baby scandal. He also wrote the main background piece on the spy John Vassall story which led to the Government setting up the Vassall Tribunal. At that tribunal John was singled out by Lord Radcliffe, then Lord of Appeal and senior judge at the tribunal for his “honesty and competence.”

In 1970 he was appointed press and public relations officer for Beaverbrook Newspapers where he launched a series of major promotional events, many of which continue today. About this time, in no small measure due to the interest shown by Express supremo and former fighter pilot Sir Max Aitken, John became involved  in nurturing and promoting  the concept of the hovercraft, the land and sea-going craft that operates on a cushion of high pressure air and is now in use throughout the world.  John built and raced hovercraft and was the first life member of the Hovercraft Club of Great Britain.

A contemporary said: 'It’s safe to say John’s work on a mass circulation – then over 3,000,000 – newspaper did a great deal to popularise the hovercraft but he never got the recognition he deserved.'

In 1978 John returned to Inverness to launch Northpress an independent printing house he set up with assistance from the old Highlands and Islands Development Board. The Express Group was an early backer. 

Former colleague Tom Brown said: 'The move to Inverness was part of Express Newspapers' grand strategy to have regional print centres all over Britain, and the Highland operation was to have been a high-speed web offset operation, then in its infancy. The long term project also involved taking over or contract printing local newspapers, including setting up new local titles.' 

But there was powerful opposition from the unions and a change of priorities within the Express Group and after a two-year struggle the project was abandoned and the machinery was sold off.

John thereafter joined the Edinburgh News as a feature writer and in 1990 returned to the Highlands as a reporter with the Press and Journal where he remained until he retired in 1995. At a farewell dinner the then P and J managing editor Duncan MacRae praised John’s 'sheer professionalism and expertise' while another colleague said: 'John’s work in promotion and entrepreneurship stemmed directly from his qualities as a journalist – reliability, a lively curiosity and unstinting attention to detail.'

John, who lived at Conon Bridge, near Inverness, lost his wife  Evelyn four years ago. He is survived by a son in Kuwait, two grandsons, and a great grandson. 

 

 

© 2005-2017 Alastair McIntyre