Robert Millar

Born: August 9, 1934;

Died: April 12, 2024

ROBERT (Bob) Millar, who has died aged 89, was a colourful and multi-talented journalist whose early career saw him work at the then Glasgow Herald and its sister paper, the Evening Times. In 1967, having decided that the future of news lay with television, he joined the news operation at BBC Scotland, in Glasgow.

He was surprised to have been appointed as a senior sub-editor there, having by his own admission made some caustic references to the quality (or lack thereof) of television output in his capacity as Evening Times TV critic. When the nightly news programme, Reporting Scotland, was launched on April 1, 1968, three months after the arrival of Alasdair Milne as Controller, Scotland, Bob was one of its senior figures.

The early days of Reporting Scotland did not always go smoothly, Bob recalling much later that the team “struggled through crises and near-disasters… We were pushing a system that wasn’t up to it, challenging a corporate mindset that seemed to resent change. We cajoled and harangued engineers and studio staff who didn’t believe in what we were trying to do or how we were going about it. And the studio didn’t make things any easier.”

One incident in particular remained with him. “The turret cameras were far from flexible,” he wrote. “Once you had lined up a shot on an interviewee’s face, the only way you could change the size was to move the camera back or forward. There was no room in Studio B for that kind of sophistication so the director was stuck with the shot he’d first decided on.

“One night we were doing a live interview with George Middleton, a former STUC official who was now chairman of the Herring Industry Board. As old George got more expansive he leaned back and put his feet up on the desk. His head, now out of focus, was all but hidden by the soles of his very large shoes. All we could do was carry on until the camera covering Mary Marquis could sidle round to give an unrehearsed shot that overlapped the edge of the studio set. Now, of course, we had no camera on our presenter, and as the third one was locked off and inaccessible on the weather map and our card captions, we were close to disaster again.”

But the team learned fast. George Sinclair and Ross Anderson were the programme’s full-time producers, with Bob and Bill Gilchrist the directors and, effectively, assistant producers. They began to attract such journalists as David Scott, John Milne, Ken Bryson and Paddy Christie to an ever-growing roster.

Among the Scottish disasters covered by Reporting Scotland in its first years were the Ibrox Disaster and the Clarkston gas explosion, both in 1971. Among the many later stories that Bob, as editor, oversaw coverage of was Lockerbie, in December 1988; “a terrible 48 hours of little sleep and one appalling disclosure after another,” as he later described it.

There were many lighter moments, however, such as the time a BBC news executive in London, seeing reports of snow chaos across England one May, flatly refused to believe Bob when he said that Scotland was, in fact, enjoying glorious weather at the time – only to change his mind when Bob sent him “arty shots of azaleas, rhododendrons, and office girls sunbathing en dishabille on the grass”.

His surviving family – his children Gordon, Susan and Graham – recall him “returning home buzzing after Reporting Scotland had aired, still high on adrenalin whether he was director, subsequently, editor”. As a lifelong newsman he was, however, displeased when News was subsumed by Current Affairs when the two operations were merged.

He spent 12 years on Reporting Scotland and ended his 24-year-long BBC career as Scottish news editor and London’s first point of contact for major Scottish news stories. Before he retired in 1992 he played a major part in creating a computerised BBC news-gathering system for Scottish news, part of a nationwide effort to streamline news-gathering.

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Robert Hamilton Millar was born on Clifford Street, Ibrox, in August 1934 to Thomas (Tommy) Millar and Wilhelmina (Ina), nee Graham. They moved to Paisley shortly afterwards. Though never a brilliant scholar he raised his sights when he became a regular member of Paisley Grammar’s rugby team and was twice chosen by Glasgow in the annual Inter-City match against Edinburgh. He graduated from Glasgow University with an Honours degree in English. He also discovered a love of the sea, and spent his summers crewing with the Clyde herring fleet and sailing yachts of every shape and size.

Joining The Herald’s graduate training scheme, he learned the basics at the paper’s Aberdeen office. Back in the Glasgow office in Mitchell Street, his experience of yachting persuaded the paper’s then editor, James Holburn, that he was the young journalist best-placed to record, with accuracy, the British challenge, with a Clyde-built yacht called Sceptre, for the America’s Cup.

This led to five happy years on the paper’s Foreign, Home and Sports desks before he moved to the Evening Times as a leader writer and features writer. He became a well-known TV reviewer, once observing that “the tiniest slip [in his column] is latched onto in triumphant, gloating joy by an army of viewer-correspondents. They write at every opportunity to say you are careless or stupid.”

He was devoted to his family – his wife Ann, who died in 2021, and his children and grandchildren. He took his young family on seaside holidays, at first to Galloway and Kintyre, and latterly to Cornwall, when he would happily cram two adults, three children and a dog into the family car, with a dinghy in tow, for a 500-mile overnight journey. In retirement he revelled in the pleasures of his garden and his grandchildren, Angus and Sula.