IT’S hard to believe, but The Herald Diary is within sight of its 50th birthday.

The popular daily column was launched in January 1975, part of ambitious plans by the new editor, Iain Lindsay-Smith, to overhaul The Glasgow Herald, as the paper was then known.

He provided more space for news, analysis, features and arts coverage. In an introductory article he wrote: “We also introduce The Herald Diary, a daily column about the people who are making, or are about to make, the news in Scotland and the World, a column which reflects the activity, industry, and optimism of Scotland, 1975”.

The paper had previously experimented with such a daily column. On or about January 1, 1930 it launched An Editorial Diary – Jottings from Day to Day, a collection of observations and snippets.

The new addition – its title was later shortened to An Editorial Diary – ran for more than four decades. Observant, well-written, and varying considerably in subject, for years it did not carry the names of its authors; later, however, it bore the signatures of such distinguished contributors as Alastair Phillips, a Herald assistant editor; George Blake, the novelist, journalist and broadcaster; and Robert Kemp, the playwright and father of Arnold Kemp, who edited the paper between 1981 and 1994.

Humorous and offbeat, The Herald Diary that was launched in January 1975 was a hit with readers. Introducing the concept, Colm Brogan, its very first editor (or ‘compiler’), conceded that a newspaper diary was “about as intellectually definable as a meal of mashed potato and sturgeon’s roe, but not, one hopes, as indefensible as that”.

Brogan would share Diary duties with such staffers as Murray Ritchie (later our European Editor and Scottish Political Editor), Anne Donaldson, Andrew Young and William Hunter. The column is remembered for many things, including the time when Walter McCorrisken won its competition to find the world’s worst poet. The Diary was eventually transformed by Tom Shields, who compiled it for 22 years. Even now, 20 years after he left The Herald, many readers associate his name with the Diary column into which he injected so much humour and wry observation.

Tom latterly ran the column with Ken Smith. Ken then compiled the Diary first with David Belcher then on his own. He carried on until September 2019, giving way to the current occupant, Lorne Jackson.

More than anyone, Lorne is familiar with the history of the column he now oversees. “I remember when I was at university, I and a few friends would sit in the QM Union and there would always be a copy of The Herald there. One of us would be reading Tom’s column at any given moment. There was always a kind of Scottish flavour to the Diary’s humour but it was very much Tom’s voice. He created a sort of character. I’ve always liked that kind of thing in newspapers.

“I remember reading the Beachcomber column in the Daily Express, and the Peter Simple column in the Telegraph… they were quirky and idiosyncratic, and I think Tom gave something of that to The Herald. His Diary had a distinct flavour of Glasgow and Scotland, with the humour running through it”.

“The Diary acted as a snapshot of the times, of the smaller aspects of life and the humorous, throwaway moments that people tend to remember.”

This Christmas, there will be not one but two Diary books – the usual annual best-of as well as Laughter Lines: A Herald Diary Joke Book.

Introducing the latter, Lorne writes: “Because the world is such a miserable place, The Herald long ago took the inspired decision to cheer its readers up with a daily Diary, which I have the good fortune to edit. Though, in truth, it’s the readers who do most of the merrymaking, as they continuously bombard our newspaper with a barrage of bonkers jokes, a selection of which are collected in this book.”

There’s a good point here, in that not only is the Diary the first thing that many Herald readers turn to each day, but it’s the readers who make it what it is. Scotland and the world have changed a great deal in last half-century, but the Diary has remained a warm, witty, reassuring, constant presence.