Fife Free Press foundations:: Responsible leadership and staff loyalty

The success and longevity of the Fife Free Press is down to the people at its very heart.

By Allan Crow
Thursday, 4th February 2021, 12:19 pm
Fife Free Press -  in the advertising departmen at Mitchelston in 1999: George Thomson, Lorna Hickman, Bill Williamson (standing) with John Mackay, and Jim McCallum
Fife Free Press - in the advertising departmen at Mitchelston in 1999: George Thomson, Lorna Hickman, Bill Williamson (standing) with John Mackay, and Jim McCallum

A huge number of staff members gave a lifetime of service.

The newspaper’s centenary edition, published in 1971, said responsible leadership and staff loyalty were the “twin columns upon which the success of the Fife Free Press has been built”.

Those at the top displayed “an intense interest in the life and well-being of the community, and its wide range of activities”, and were active members of a wide range of organisations; from church to Rotary to sport.

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The Fife Free Press after moving into their new office in Carlyle House (Pic: Fife Photo Agency)

Noted the Press: “To their initiative and enterprise must be added the co-operation and loyalty of the staff in helping to win for The Press the high reputation for long held in Kirkcaldy and in the wider area in which it now circulates.”

Entire careers were forged across all departments, with long service of 30, 40 and even 50 years common place.

There was undoubtedly something special about Kirk Wynd and Mitchelston.

Fife Free Press winners of the 2001 2001 Scottish Weekly Newspaper of the Year award. Back: Jack Sneddon, Ian Moir, Cheryl Wood, Neil Reid, Eleanor Pattison, Lynsey Quinn, Isa Milne, Tanya Scoon, George Wilson (Company Secretary), Sharon Muir (Group Advertising Manager) Front: Richard Bell (managing director), Colin (editor), Iain Muirhead (deputy editor)

Lifelong friendships were forged, and the pride people took in the Press was evident to anyone who stepped through the doors.

A snapshot of the personnel records highlights those who gave unstinting service, starting with co-founder James Strachan who clocked 50 years.

Dysart man, George Buist Sen, began as a compositor in 1892 and ended it as managing director and editor in 1956. A Kirkcaldy Rotarian – one of many senior figures from the company to be part of that august organisation – his son, also George, succeeded him as editor, having joined as a reporter.

During World War II he championed the cause of Poland which led to a medal from the Polish Government.

Fife Free Press - the retiral of Margaret Gavin, head of accounts (centre) with Stuart McPherson, then managing director, and colleagues

Mr Buist became a director in 1942, and then joint managing director before his untimely death in 1959.

William Livingston was joint managing director with Mr Buist, and succeeded him as editor

He also served as a sports reporter, and, after war service, he returned to take the midweek Kirkcaldy Times in a completely different direction, switching it from news to a lively sports medium. It ceased printing in 1959.

Mr Livingston, who also gave 30 years service, became a director in 1942, and, 20 years later launched the Glenrothes Gazette, Leslie and Markinch News.

Harold Livingston joined in 1935 and experienced life in the newsroom and editorial either side of national service.

While his brother concentrated on Raith Rovers, Harold was to be found rinkside reporting on Fife Flyers for a long number of years.

After war service he switched to advertising, and, by 1951, held the post of advertising manager and, two years later, director.

In 1967 he became joint MD with his brother and, the following year became the first Scotsman to be elected to the board of the Weekly Newspaper Advertising Bureau of Great Britain.

The roll call of weel kent, and much loved names from the Press include:Sandy Clark, editor 1967, and Albert Crichton, sub editor, plus Robert Jack who was news editor.

Malcolm Burness rose to the post of editor, while John Ramsay was deputy chief reporter and sports editor before going on to become PR man for Kirkcaldy District Council.

The newsroom then also included Andrew Skinner who gave 30 years service and, was the last of the local reporters to act as official shorthand writer at the sheriff court.

Many people across the town will recall Jack Innes, advertising manager, who joined in 1955, as well as two renowned local golfers, George Watson, advertising manager; and George Wilson, company secretary;

Miss Elizabeth Struthers was group cashier and confidential secretary; and works managers Robert Ritchie – the first appointee as the company widened its scope across Fife – Andrew Forrester who succeeded him, Jack Henderson and James Hepburn, who joined as a compositor and linotype operator in 1947.

Mr Ritchie had 54 years service - just one of a core of staff who were loyal to the company for their entire careers.

The roll call includes stalwarts such as John Mackay, Bob Provan, Margaret Gavin, Julia Crombie, John Penman, Dave Patrick, Eric Fraser and a host of production people whose skills ensured the papers hit the streets every single week – there are so many, it is impossible to list them all without the risk of grave omissions.

And the golden jubilee club includes many more.

A snapshot recalls names such as John Wallace, 54 years service as foreman compositor; Robert More, 52 years service, linotype; Robert Sinclair, 56 years service linotype operator retired; John Latto, 51 years machine room staff, retired 1958; and Arthur Brown, 50 years, retired 1961.

That lineage continued up until 2019 with the retiral of George Duncan.

He started as an apprentice compositor in 1969, worked across our production department and then moved into IT as ‘new’ technology introduced computers, websites, social media and smart phones.

He, almost certainly, will be the last member of the ‘golden jubilee’ club.

It is impossible to think of anyone ever coming close to such service ever again, but all who serve – whether for five years or 50 – have made an important contribution to a newspaper like no other.

Many journalists and photographers have gone on to enjoy great careers at the very highest level, grateful for the opportunity they got to learn their craft at Kirk Wynd.

As the Press noted in 1971: “It has been a continuous process through succeeding generations, through good times and bad, and it is their triumph that the Press celebrates in a flourishing state.”