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Derek Webster

Journalist and newspaper executive.

Born: March 24, 1927; Died: December 28, 2013.

DEREK Webster, who has died aged 87, was one of Scotland's most successful tabloid editors and the man credited with bringing colour into the nation's newspapers.

Under his stewardship in the 1970s, the Glasgow-based Daily Record and its sister paper the Sunday Mail enjoyed unparalleled success with circulations approaching one million copies a day. Figures of that magnitude would never again be reached.

When he was appointed editor at the Record in 1967, the newspaper, which at the time was based in the city's Hope Street, was badly in need of modernisation. Its office space was cramped and the paper was produced with hot metal typesetting and ageing presses.

Mr Webster soldiered on, making the best of what facilities were available to him in the battle to overtake the Record's then arch-rival the Scottish Daily Express. An accomplished and talented production journalist, he re-designed the newspaper, creating a more modern, slick and accessible look.

However, the real breakthrough came in 1971 when the company moved to a new purpose-built printing plant at Anderston Quay. With state-of-the-art offset presses and computer typesetting, the Record and Mail became Europe's first full colour daily newspapers - and Mr Webster was appointed editor of both of them. It marked the beginning of a golden era for the titles.

He was eventually appointed chairman and editorial director of Mirror Group Newspapers in Scotland. He was also made a Commander of the British Empire in Jim Callaghan's resignation honours list of 1979.

His retirement in 1984 came shortly after the infamous Robert Maxwell's takeover of the newspaper group. Mr Webster had suffered a stroke and, although he recovered well, friends said that the pressure of working for the arrogant and bullying Maxwell had greatly contributed to his illness.

Derek Alexander Webster was born in Margate, Kent, and educated at St Peter's School, Bournemouth. He always wanted to be a journalist and joined the staff of the Western Morning News in Plymouth as a junior reporter in 1943. He was 16 years old.

The following year he received his call-up papers, serving in the Royal Navy until 1948. On his return to civilian life, he headed for Fleet Street. He first joined the Daily Mail before taking a job with the Daily Mirror in 1952. He would remain with Mirror Group newspapers for the rest of his working life.

In 1964, by then the Mirror's chief sub, he was appointed to the post of Northern Editor, based in Manchester, and then in 1967 he headed for Glasgow and the editorship of the Daily Record.

Affectionately known as "the wee man", his first priority was to make the Record look more like its senior stablemate in the south. Armed with a thick china graph clutch pencil - he called it his "thunderstick" - he would scrawl page designs over a newspaper make-up pad as he chewed on a thick cigar.

Although he was often sharp-tongued and was known for his lack of patience with those who could not grasp his intentions, he successfully dragged what was regarded as a parochial paper into the tabloid age. Respect for him grew in direct proportion to the steady increase in circulation.

When the Record and Mail moved to Anderston Quay, many cynics scoffed at the ambitious targets the papers set themselves.

A print run of more than 700,000 was far larger than had ever been contemplated before with the still relatively new web offset system.

However, with Fleet Street still bedevilled by union restrictions, the Scottish workforce moved to full colour, along with computer typesetting (punched tapes used to produce bromides for news page paste-ups).

Although there were no colour pictures in the first weeks, regular news colour was soon flowing from the Record presses. The move served its purpose well. Readers were attracted to colour and, as the Record's circulation climbed, the Express fell.

The Daily Record and Sunday Mail were soon firmly established as Scotland's best-selling daily and Sunday newspapers, with all-time high circulations eventually reaching over 5.5 million copies in the seven days of publication.

Derek Webster died suddenly at home in Glasgow of a heart attack. He is survived by his wife Dorothy, a talented journalist in her own right whom he married in 1967, his sons Andrew and Nicholas, his daughter Susan and five grandchildren.

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