Our Robin was good-hearted, generous and supportive. His bright sense of humour mixed with an equal measure of mischief, were qualities that equally endeared him to friends and the profession he loved.
He was a seasoned hack of the old school. Like many journalists of his era, he started his career while at school; submitting soccer and cricket reports to the Blackpool Gazette. After leaving school he briefly joined the staff at the Gazette before seeking a more permanent position on a trainee scheme.
His close and life-long friend Alan Chester heard of a vacant position on the Barnsley Chronicle and wrote in Robin’s name applying for the role. Neither friend could recall the content of the letter, nor the journalistic licence applied to Robin’s qualifications, but it was clearly good enough to get an interview; and Robin’s performance on the day good enough to formally start him out on his career. A career to which he would dedicate a lifetime.
After leaving the Chronicle, Robin briefly freelanced for a national news agency before joining the staff of the Yorkshire Post in 1963. He became the paper’s Industrial Correspondent in 1968 and later the Business Correspondent, a position he held until his retirement in 1997.
Robin made a name for himself during the miners’ strike, often dodging bricks to get the story and, in the process, wracking up so much time off in lieu that he hardly had to use his actual holiday entitlement.
Former colleagues at the Post remember him as the consummate professional and archetypical ‘old school’ journalist; happiest with a fag in one hand and a pint in the other. He could be asked to knock out a page lead with minutes to go before the deadline and it would be there on time.
Such was his dedication that on one occasion he was driving home, on the evening of December 21 1988, when he heard the news of a Pan-Am Boeing airliner exploding and crashing into the town of Lockerbie. He promptly turned the car round and drove up to Scotland to file first hand accounts from the scene of the disaster.
On another occasion, Robin stepped up to “host” a Russian journalist for a couple of weeks when his then boss, Simon Mountford, who had agreed to the gig, found himself too busy. The lady was, of course, Raisa and after the visit ended Robin stayed in touch and the rest, as they say, is history.
He built up a vast network of contacts – most of whom owed him at least one favour, which he had no hesitation calling in when he needed something, such as a new mattress or a suit length. These contacts were an immense help to him when, as President of the IoJ, he hosted the Institute’s annual conference in Leeds, with great success – even getting Sir Bernard Ingam to give the keynote speech.
Robin’s commitment to the profession went beyond his dedication to the Post. He joined the Chartered Institute of Journalists in 1979 and quickly took up a position defending the rights and working practices of journalists.
When he became President in 1993, he dedicated his term of office to encouraging quality journalism and prophetically wrote a piece about standards in the press, following Lord Calcutt’s report in 1990.
He wrote that the vast majority of journalists worked for magazines, broadcast outlets and local newspapers; committed to informing and entertaining the public. Seldom did these sources treat news in a manner that raises public alarm – it was a handful of nationals, locked in a vicious circulation war, where every extreme seemed acceptable to their publishers.
He went on to point out that the local newspapers fought the same circulation battles without recourse to sensationalism and trash treatment of news.
Twenty years later he would repeat many of his arguments in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal and the subsequent inquiry by Lord Leveson.
Robin’s generosity and kindness endeared him to friends and colleagues alike. This was never demonstrated better than when, on hearing of the death of a former colleague, he learnt that the family needed support. He arranged that support through the Institute, but didn’t stop there. He gave generously of his time in order to ease the burden of the tragedy and maintain the connection with the family.
Robin was a man of many jackets – most as bright and colourful as his character – whose hospitality was the stuff of legend. Often entertaining friends over banquets of three, five and even seven courses.
At Institute conferences he would always bring an ample supply of gin and whisky, and following the evening meal he would invite a gaggle of colleagues back to his room for a night cap…or three!
On one such occasion, at our Guernsey conference, he and Robert Benson had rented an apartment rather than stay at the conference hotel. Quite late into the evening, a bunch of British squaddies knocked on the door and got the shock of their lives when Robin opened it…they had got the wrong apartment. They were looking for some women in the same block and didn’t fancy Robin or Robert!
Looking back I wonder if it was his generous or mischievous side at work when he encouraged me to stay on with the immortal words: “Have another one, lad.” He, of course, did not necessarily have to attend the following morning’s business session, but knew that I did. And mid-morning he would stroll in at the back of the room, fresh as a daisy, courteously nodding to me at the front as I bravely wrestled with the day’s order while in the middle of a thick fog.
His friends, journalism and the Institute meant a lot to Robin, and in equal measure, if not more, he meant a lot to us all. He will be sadly missed.