A DISEMBODIED voice floated over the filing cabinets strategically placed behind my desk to stop anyone sneaking up behind me. "Would you be interested in writing The Diary?"

I turned to see the head of editor Harry Reid hovering behind the cabinets. At that time The Diary, or as everyone knew it, Tom Shields' Diary, appeared in the Herald twice a week and was eagerly anticipated by readers. Harry had a plan to increase this to five days a week, although critics argued that it would be too much of a good thing and would be killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

I, though, had had my fill of writing about politics, the death of Scottish industry, and murder trials. Goodness, I had even been a witness in one murder trial where I shared a witness room with enough Glasgow so-called Godfathers to fill a Mario Puzo novel. I was happy to sign up as goose killer.

It was only when I mentioned it to colleagues later in The Press Bar and one of them asked about my pay rise that I realised I had not thought to ask for one. I raced back upstairs and collared managing editor Bob Jeffrey and mentioned I had taken a job without discussing money. He shook his head and said he would see what he could do. Editors shaking their heads has been a regular motif in my career.

Different times, of course. I reckon I was the last Herald reporter to claim for a dinner suit on expenses as invitations to awards events at hotels such as the Albany, the Hilton and whatever The Thistle hotel was called that week, rained in on us. It was a younger man's game then. Drinks in the bar went on into the small hours. I was once walking home down Byres Road in my dinner suit at seven in the morning thinking it was an odd way to earn a living.

But as I say, I wasn't always a dilettante. "One of my boulevardiers" as editor Arnold Kemp once described me, not unkindly I hoped. I had moved in my early twenties from weekly newspapers to the Evening Times newsroom where typewriters were still used, copy takers took your calls from the office radio car, and you were in deadly competition to file your story before the Evening Citizen.

No mobile phones, of course, and in areas where phone boxes were merely stench-filled public toilets with broken handsets, you would knock on someone's door, announce you were a member of Her Majesty's Press, and a wee wifey would graciously allow you to use her phone, planked on a table in the hall. If you were lucky she would even go away and make you a cup of tea while you were phoning. We had a better reputation back then.

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There was no internet to glean information. Instead, you would chap doors, stop folk in the street, and quiz imbibers in local boozers. Back at the Albion Street office you would then take your break next door in The Press Bar. It was originally the Express Bar, but when the Express pulled out of Glasgow, owner Tom McEntee simply got a ladder out and unscrewed the E and the X. Not just a pub though. Cheques were cashed there in the days before ATMs, money was even borrowed, and advice was given by fellow journalists with much more experience. I once asked Des McEntee if he ever had to throw out a journalist for fighting. "Just the one," he said. "Magnus Magnusson." What? The mild-mannered gentleman of Mastermind fame? Yes indeed – but someone had insulted his wife, a fellow journalist, and he had gamely thrown a punch before being guided out the door.

I don't want to romanticise drinking – it took away too many colleagues at an early age – but many of the most colourful, outrageous, and yes regrettable, events in my life began with a drink in Tom's as we then called it. I didn't get into a fight there but I do recall being sent to interview Billy Connolly before he caught the ferry to Rothesay to perform at a charity gig. Unbeknown to me, our Women's Editor had that day lambasted Billy in print for giving his daughters the odd names – well odd for Glasgow back then – of Scarlett and Daisy. When I introduced myself he blew up and threatened to throw me in the Clyde if I followed him on the ferry. I scurried off and phoned my news editor who imperiously announced: "The Evening Times will not be dictated to by a banjo player. Get on that ferry."

Other stories were utterly bleak. I reported every day of the lengthy Ice Cream Wars murder trial of TC Campbell and Joe Steele accused of killing six members of the Doyle family – a decent family targeted merely because a son drove an ice cream van. It was turning over the stone as the worst of Glasgow came crawling out.

I then became an industrial reporter, met some of the most helpful, committed trade unionists around, but slowly realised I was overseeing the death of heavy industry in Scotland. It won me press awards as I went behind the employment numbers and reported on the human cost of jobs lost, families on poverty benefits, and workers left with little hope of working again.

I once pursued the Caterpillar dispute shop stewards at a meeting off Clyde Street in Glasgow. I had to take them for a drink. Dark rum was the tipple. I eventually staggered out to sit slumped on a bench overlooking the Clyde, thinking I was about to throw up – dark rum is not a drink to be treated lightly. A passing jakie carrying a can of Special Brew was so concerned he stopped to ask if I was alright. That's how glamorous it was at times. When the Ravenscraig workers marched to Downing Street my editor sent me with them, and of course I had to do my share of walking. I still have a statue of a foundry worker cast to mark the 11-day march on my desk. Lost a bit of weight mind you, which the hotel dinners later overcame.

So I moved from the Evening Times to the then Glasgow Herald as I fancied the idea of using bigger words and longer sentences. I was mainly reporting still on industry but also on politics. There was a fresh-faced young leader of the SNP, an Alex Salmond, who talked of gaining power, but no one took him that seriously.

And then came the move to the Diary to help Tom who eventually decided on his own move to other journalistic outlets. The paper had trundled from Albion Street to Cowcaddens, and using The Press Bar as a second office was no more. It was probably a good thing for my health. Fortunately David Belcher helped me with the Diary before he too left me to it.

I was there on my own the day Sean Connery phoned from the Bahamas. He read the Diary online and he couldn't get the drift of one of the stories and could I please explain. The accent is so well-known I was looking around to see if someone in the office was doing an impression. But no it was Sean. Didn't give me any stories though.

And now it is my turn to leave and pass the Diary baton on. The dinner suit had its final journalistic outing at the Scottish Bar Awards at The Hilton last week. Fortunately I was tucked up at home well before seven in the morning. To Diary readers my heartfelt thanks in providing thousands of stories over the years. I didn't write the Diary, I was merely the conduit for the funny, observant and literate readers out there who took the time to fuel the column every day. I have a huge debt of gratitude.

Before social media, readers expressed their criticism more in The Herald's letters pages. I still have the cutting when a reader wrote: "Ken Smith in his Diary piece on Keir Hardie aims presumably at wit: what he achieves is smart-aleckry at its most crass." Thank you, dear readers, for putting up with my crass smart-aleckry over all these years, and play nice with the new boy.

Ken's last Diary will appear this Saturday. But never fear, Lorne Jackson, who has provided holiday cover for Ken, will be taking over.


Receiving a press award from Princess Anne, although on reflection I think I went into a too detailed explanation of relative house prices when she simply asked me if I had thought of moving to a London newspaper.


Standing in the falling snow outside a Springburn tenement on Christmas Day trying to interview a family about their son murdered on Christmas Eve while their menacing neighbour, quite rightly, threatened to batter me into the New Year if I approached their door again.


Jimmy Airlie, not Jimmy Reid, was actually the inspiring orator from the Clyde shipyard work-in days, and could hold a crowd in his hand with his powerful speeches, but Tommy Brennan, leader of the Ravenscraig workers, was a stand-out for his admirable integrity and ability to argue the steelworks' case with quiet logic and determination.


You kidding? Well, if pushed I would say John Smith: erudite, visionary and actually likeable. I know this will sound trite, but I always regretted buying him sausage and chips for lunch in Airdrie one day, but healthy eating was not a thing back then.


Don't worry. There will still be a Diary book out this Christmas, although am still in discussions with the publishers Black and White over what cute animal will be on the cover. For those who wonder if I can write anything longer than a few paragraphs, my crime novel Bible Johnny is on Amazon Kindle.


A marketing manager at Scottish Opera once told me that singers can have quite fragile egos so when they asked her what she thought of their performance, if it was really bad, she would simply say "Memorable" and they would take it as a compliment. It's been a handy tool over the years.


"If you get on that f****** boat I'll f****** throw you in the f****** Clyde" – Sir Billy Connolly.

"I was wondering if you could explain the Diary shtory about chicken tikka" – Sir Sean Connery.

"You'd make a fantastic fiction writer" – various news editors countersigning my expenses claims.

"Memorable" – editor Arnold Kemp on my detailed story on the pelagic fish reserves off the coast of Scotland.