Born:August 30, 1927;

Died: November 30, 2022.

WILLIAM (Bill) McAteer MBE, who has died aged 95, was a newspaper editor, university lecturer and historian of the Seychelles, who travelled far from his Glasgow roots.

At the start of this year he received an MBE in the late Queen’s New Year’s Honours, for his services to Seychelles history. He researched and authored the history of the islands, from discovery to modern day, from original source material. His work is published in five books, the result of over 40 years of research.

His work in recording the history of the former British colony was just the final chapter of a life jam-packed full of adventure. A life with many twists and turns, where a combination of chance and wanderlust resulted in many good tales to tell.

McAteer was born to a Scots-Irish father and Aberdeenshire mother and his childhood was spent on a council estate in Possil. His parents could just afford a fee-paying school, Allan Glen’s, where he showed an aptitude for languages. (He vied for top spot in his English class with Ian Hamilton, of Stone of Scone fame.)

At 17 he joined the Glasgow Herald as a copy boy; working on the phone, noting in shorthand the news as it was called in, and making cups of tea for the sub-editors. It was hardly glamorous work, but he thrived, earning extra money at weekends by reporting on lower-league football.

He was conscripted in September 1945 – luckily for him, one week after the war ended. Deciding that he wanted to be an officer; he was commissioned in the Highland Light Infantry as a 2nd Lieutenant. He was stationed in Thessalonica, Northern Greece (post-war, the British were helping fight a communist insurgency.)

Mixing with a different social class in the officers’ mess sparked an interest in university. After he was demobbed, despite his father’s disapproval, he studied at Glasgow University, graduating with an MA Hons in History and Economics. From there he returned to the Glasgow Herald as a fully-fledged sub-editor.

His time in the army had ignited an interest in travel. As a student, he travelled by ship to Helsinki, and spent time working at the Handelsbanken in Stockholm. He volunteered for a war rebuilding project in the badly bombed city of Rouen, France. Consequently, he developed a life-long passion for languages; he was fluent in French, and studied Swahili, Arabic, Swedish, and Italian (although his children comment that his Swedish passion might have had more to do with the attractive blonde teacher.)

His love of adventure, and willingness to meet life head on, with a relative absence of caution, were some of his most defining characteristics. He was, it seems, determined to escape the confines of post-war Glasgow.

In 1955 he accepted a post as sub-editor at the East African Standard in Nairobi. His father was not pleased, concerned at news of the Mau Mau rebellion. Typically stubborn, Bill ignored him. His journey to Africa, by the standards of the day, was rapid. By plane, a Constellation, it took a week. Due to engine trouble, there was a lengthy stopover in Nice; then on to Benghazi, overnight in Khartoum and then Kampala, and a final leg to Nairobi.

After a few months in Nairobi, he was advised he was due a holiday. Asking colleagues in the newspaper for suggestions, someone mentioned the Seychelles, some 1,000 miles off the Kenya coast.

He set off by cargo ship from Mombasa to Seychelles in late 1955. The visit to the tropical paradise was only three days long, but this is where he met his wife-to-be Juliette Mellon, a schoolteacher, the Seychelloise-French daughter of a coconut planter. Thus one random suggestion, combined with Bill’s spontaneous and curious nature, led to a life-changing connection with the Seychelles. A roll of the die had set his destiny.

He married Juliette in 1958 and spent the next 20 plus years working on newspapers throughout East Africa. He was Editor of the Mombasa Times and the Uganda Argus. In 1972, working with the support of the British Overseas Aid scheme, he set up the first School of Journalism in sub-Saharan Africa, at the University of Nairobi, where he served as a senior lecturer. He was director of the school, which trained young Africans in the skills of journalism and printing – important work in post-colonial Africa. He also worked as a stringer for the BBC, worked for the Agence France Presse in Paris, and had spells with Reuters and the Portsmouth News.

From 1984 he worked as Deputy Editor of the Gulf Times in Qatar, before retiring with his wife to a home in the Seychelles in 1994.

Bill was the quintessential old-school newspaper journalist, never more at home than bashing away on a typewriter, taking notes in Pitman’s shorthand or ruthlessly editing bloated copy. He was always eager for a scoop, and a dab hand with his Rolleiflex camera. He was equally at ease in a dark room, or with the typesetters on a hot-metal press, or at a press conference. His was a style of journalism that has long gone; when truth and objectivity mattered, when ‘off the record’ meant ‘off the record’, and where you had to be at the scene to be able to report.

His time in East Africa coincided with the end of Empire, a time of momentous change. He interviewed many of the key players and personalities of the time; Julius Nyerere, Milton Obote, Idi Amin, Abdul Nasser, Yasser Arafat, Albert René, Billy Graham, Mohammed Amin, John Stonehouse and many others.

He was first to the Colito Barracks after the Royal Marines snuffed out the 1963 Tanganyika Mutiny, despite the considerable personal risk; he reported on the Obote assassination attempt of 1967; questioned Idi Amin at the scene of the Kabaka’s Palace storming in Kampala in 1968; and he saw first-hand the carnage of the 1977 Lufthansa 747 crash in Nairobi.

He was escorted by Presidential guards to Obote’s home at 2am in the morning and advised gently by the President to change the front-page story of the Uganda Argus, well after the paper had already gone to press. And he was embroiled as a key witness in the strange Lea Affair of 1969 whilst Editor of the Argus.

His adventures weren’t confined to his work. He climbed Kilimanjaro in 1965; was a keen horseman; restored boats; taught himself to sail; played tennis; and learned to ski aged 55. In his youth he was also a keen cyclist; once cycling from Glasgow to Birmingham just to meet a girl he fancied (Unsuccessfully, as it turned out).

In retirement he dedicated his time in researching, writing and publishing a history of the Seychelles islands. Ultimately this is his legacy. His five books are Rivals in Eden (1742-1810), Hard Times in Paradise (1827-1919), To be a Nation (1920-1976), Another Story (1976-2020) and Echoes of Eden, a collection of historical essays. His work took him to La Reunion, Mauritius, Paris, the British Library, Kew Gardens, Somerset House, the Boston Whaling Museum, the French Naval Archives in Toulon, the archives in Seychelles, and many other places.

His research involved review of many thousands of documents, maps, and reports, as well as examination of UK government papers, CIA reports and interviews with former politicians and civil servants.

A UK citizen, he was naturalised as a Seychellois in 2016. He passed away at his care home in Seychelles on November 30. He had been unwell since an emergency operation in June 2020. He leaves three children; Ian, Jean and Brigitte; as well as eight grandchildren. His wife Juliette passed away in 2011.

To his family and friends, it will be his love of adventure, together with his sense of humour, warm personality, and quiet determination, that he will be remembered for.