HE shuffled into a life as a writer, shoulders hunched, eyes low, as if he was protecting himself against the brilliance that was in front of him.

Ian Bell’s march on Glasgow in the 1980s was but the setting of the preparatory ground where he waged his war on lies, greed, avarice, political opportunism and corporate crime. He was propelled by principle. He arrived at the Glasgow Herald, gravitating towards a desk where the sub-editors laboured in a cigarette smog that carried a heavy hint of alcohol, because he could not work at The Scotsman. A labour dispute, long forgotten by most, had prompted Ian to state with typical elegance and with unwavering purpose that he had to find other employers.

Born and educated in Edinburgh, it was a hugely difficult decision for a journalist in his twenties and with the responsibilities of both family and the lure of glittering prospects. He was the wunderkind of the East with all manner of success lying in front of him if only he could come to an accommodation with those he believed had behaved badly. He could not. He left for an uncertain future.

This was the mark of the man. Ian Bell wrote of the need for principle, ethics, and integrity. He lived it, too.

His arrival at the Glasgow Herald was merely the opening of the door to a career that glistened with prizes but, more importantly, was accompanied by a respect that was held strongly by his colleagues and fervently and constantly by his readers.

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The news sub-editors’ desk could not hold him. He was a casually brilliant editor, divining the nub of a story and honing the words to a shining precision. He took these traits into his life as a writer for The Herald, The Sunday Herald, The Scotsman, the Daily Record and the TLS. He was an innovative and dedicated Scottish editor of the Observer, producing a supplement that was independent of mind and boundless in its vision. He had a familiarity with greatness that went beyond personal experience. He recognised it, nurtured it. His obscenely early death follows closely on that of Willie McIlvanney, his friend and kindred spirit, who illuminated Ian’s Observer pages and provided a friendship that never bowed to any inclination that agreement was mandatory as to its survival.

His gifts as an editor were substantial but it was as a writer that Ian insinuated himself, without vanity and with an absence of obsequiousness, into the hearts and mind of the Scottish public. He left no doubt where he stood and he was loved by those who took their place alongside him, those for whom he articulated rage or crystallised argument. He was, though, admired by those on the other side of any argument. An oft-heard mantra in newsroom, howff or political arena was the appreciation of the eloquence and forensic accuracy of a Bell column from those he was indicting or by those who held the opposite view. It was this clearness of thought, lucidity of prose and precise presentation of argument that brought Ian so many columnist of the year prizes and the George Orwell Prize for Journalism.

His pre-eminence in this field was inarguable but it was only part of his armoury as a writer. He was a brilliant biographer of both Robert Louis Stevenson and Bob Dylan and could summon a column from his prodigious hinterland on any subject. He was a passionate writer on sport with his resilience to the difficulties of life being proved by his allegiance to Hibernian.

He will be remembered, of course, by the wider world for his writing. But this was part of the man. This facility for prose did not just come unbidden from a mighty brain but was informed by experience, belief even an inexhaustible instinct that demanded that the powerful be scrutinised and the weak protected.

This characteristic extended far beyond the constraints of a column. It shaped his life, peppered his conversation, marked his relationships with others. It was an exquisite pleasure to wait at times for the expiration of his stutter to discover his view on the political moment of the day, the favourite line in a novel, the best centre-forward never to have played for Scotland. This was never presented as a statement of fact but rather as an invitation to gentle, stimulating argument. It made him the best of colleagues, the most constant of friends. He had a generosity of spirit that was warm and sustaining.

He was a loving, devoted husband to Mandy and a quietly but unmistakeably proud father of Sean. The awful prematureness of his death is illustrated by his being survived by his parents.

His character can be accurately gauged by the tone and humanity of his columns. But if it was a joy to read him, it was a blessing to know him. He was a great writer and a good man.