ARNOLD Kemp, considered by many to be the outstanding journalist of his generation in Scotland, has died. He was 63.
Kemp, who edited The Herald after being deputy editor of the Scotsman, was an influential and persuasive commentator in the turbulent and politically charged days of pre-devolution Scotland and beyond. Journalism ran in the Kemp family. His father, Robert Kemp, although best known as a playwright, began as a journalist on the Manchester Guardian, and for many years contributed an editorial diary to the Glasgow Herald. Arnold's brother, David, also made a career in newspapers and television.
Educated at Edinburgh
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Academy and Edinburgh University, Arnold Kemp entered journalism in 1959 at the age of 20, when he was taken on as a sub-editor by Alastair Dunnett, editor of the Scotsman which had recently been bought by Roy Thomson. It was a paper in drastic need of modernisation and revitalisation, which Arnold Kemp was instrumental in providing.
After three years, mostly spent as parliamentary sub-editor, he left for a three-year spell on the Guardian, returning to the Scotsman as production editor in 1965. Fortunately his duties, as third in editorial command, ranged far beyond mere production, which was a far from satisfactory affair in those days of increasingly clapped-out Linotype machinery and archaic printing presses.
After a two-year period (1970-72) as the paper's London editor, Kemp was then appointed deputy editor by Eric B Mackay, who succeeded Dunnett when he embarked on a new career in Roy Thomson's pioneering venture into North Sea oil.
The Mackay-Kemp partnership was a remarkably fruitful one for the paper, based on the contrasting strengths and characters of the laconic, cautious editor and his more adventurous and fluent deputy. It was a golden age for the paper, which had begun in 1968 when Dunnett decided to commit it to campaign for a federal form of home rule for Scotland.
This irritated a number of its traditional unionist readers, but since the editorial command made a point of giving fair coverage to all sides in this argument, the circulation rose rather than fell, and indeed by 1980, the year before Kemp left to join the Glasgow Herald, the Scotsman was selling a record-breaking 97,546 copies per day, tantalisingly close to the magic (in advertising-revenue terms) figure of 100,000, and almost twice as many as its 55,000 circulation when Dunnett took over in 1956.
Kemp's contribution to this editorial and commercial success story was crucial, for he was a wonderfully versatile journalist, a fluent writer, a skilful and fast editor of other people's work, and a generous welcomer of talent. But the golden age began to fade, starting in 1979 when the failure of the first devolution referendum left the Scotsman's high hopes dashed, its readership discontented with the political anticlimax, and Mackay and Kemp increasingly at odds with each other.
So it was with some pleasure that Mackay arrived back in Edinburgh one day early in 1981 after a meeting of the Scottish Daily Newspaper Society in Glasgow to give his now frustrated and discontented deputy editor the news that the Glasgow Herald needed a new editor, and Kemp was the man its management wanted. This was a paper that at that time had lagged behind the Scotsman in editorial modernisation, and gave Kemp the opportunity, soon accompanied by Harry Reid, the Scotsman's features editor, to lead the way to another golden age in another newspaper.
Kemp arrived as editor of the Glasgow Herald in 1981, as it was perceived to be suffering from a lurch downmarket and losing popularity. His remit
was to raise editorial quality and increase sales, perhaps the most difficult combination an editor can face. But he managed it, poaching some outstanding talents from the Scotsman and from south of the border.
His style came as something of a culture shock to Herald staff. Scotland was a different place then, where values which are now ridiculed sometimes dictated the direction of influential lives. He was asked his religion - a question he deeply resented - and when a reporter wrote a story about his appointment and he said he supported Hibernian, the copy was changed to ''he is a supporter of football'' - a piece of sub-editing on which he dined out for years.
One of his first acts was to take senior colleagues to a memorably jolly lunch at which he explained his editorial philosophy. It was beautifully simple. ''Just be happy,'' he ordered, to general mystification but some delight among journalists. They recognised a powerfully intellectual colleague with a sense of 1960s radicalism and a contempt for those whom he condemned
as the ''grey little men'', by which he meant management pennypinchers and those who suffered the ancient Scottish weakness of thinking small.
Arnold's vision for The Herald (and the Scotsman quickly took the hint) was that it should be outward-looking and politically and culturally individualistic. His era was that of Margaret Thatcher at her most powerful (he respected and disliked her) and he had the task of welcoming her to the boardroom of The Herald during the bi-centenary of the paper 19 years ago when she roundly denounced the lord provost of the day for suggest-
ing Adam Smith's views, as
she wrongly perceived them,
The celebrations at that time for what is the oldest national, morning newspaper in the English-speaking world, gave Arnold a sense of history. He would say that his overriding duty as editor was not just to sell papers or maintain standards; rather it was to hand the paper on to his successor when it was in sound health (which he did).
His regard for tradition was tested when he was persuaded, against much his own judgment, to allow the removal of ''Glasgow'' from the masthead. He went on Radio Scotland on the first day of publication of the rebranded ''The Herald'' and had a famously irritable exchange with an interviewer who, quite reasonably, asked if the paper was now abandoning Glasgow. Arnold was never good at losing arguments and his talent for advocacy was sorely frustrated by a decision in which he did not truly believe.
His editorial style was allowed to blossom in an age where managements were prepared to invest heavily in adventurous journalism. On his recommendation The Herald hired a series of correspondents around the capitals of the world and opened a staffed office in Brussels. Rival papers and BBC Scotland quickly followed. But the expense proved too alarming for subsequent managements who killed the idea to save money.
Arnold Kemp was a brave
editor. He would lecture his
writers to ''let it come up hot'' -
in other words never to have
second thoughts simply because an exciting story was legally
dangerous. His courage landed him in trouble several times. He once joked as another writ for
contempt landed on his desk that his ambition was to appear in
the dock of every court in the land.
After another appearance between police officers in the High Court in Glasgow, charged with contempt, his lawyer,
Alistair Bonnington, remarked: ''We've almost managed it.''
Politically Arnold Kemp was difficult to pigeonhole. He was defiantly defensive of the Scottish interest but probably not
a committed Nationalist. He
resisted the blandishments of
the Tory right and preferred the company of old-fashioned one-nation Tory toffs or leftist troublemakers. His editorial policies were basically liberal.
His embrace of devolution and its failure in 1979 led to disillusionment and he recollected those unhappy days by accusing Scottish journalists of writing then for themselves and not listening to the people. But, like many doubters, he came to salute the public will in 1999.
In 1993 he produced a book, The Hollow Drum, which dealt with Scotland's faltering political progress, and he railed indignantly at anyone with the nerve to poke fun at the title, querying if a drum could be anything other than hollow.
Arnold Kemp was famously argumentative, given to moments of spectacular euphoria and times when he was alarmingly down. His talents demanded respect from colleagues who learned
the hard way not to challenge him: in moments of editorial
tension he would simply dismiss those who complained that his demands were impossible by
saying he would do the job
himself. It never failed.
One of his devious tricks was tentatively to ask colleagues, as though begging a favour, to write an article, a man-management talent much more effective than barking orders; those who failed were made to feel they had betrayed a friend. Eventually, he was fired and later confessed that perhaps he had indeed stayed on too long as Herald editor. He quickly reinvented himself in London with a beautifully crafted column in the Observer.
Many of today's older journalists owe their success to Arnold Kemp and his personal encouragement. They will remember him with huge affection as an inspirational editor.
Arnold Kemp married Sandra Shand in 1963, but they later parted. He is survived by two daughters of this marriage,
Jackie and Susan, and his
partner, Anne Simpson.
and ANDREW HOOD