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Plaudits paid to north-east journalist Jack Webster who interviewed everybody from Chaplin to Muhammad Ali

Jack Webster interviewed Charlie Chaplin in 1970 in Aberdeen.
Jack Webster interviewed Charlie Chaplin in 1970 in Aberdeen.

A north-east journalist who ghosted a newspaper column for the legendary Muhammad Ali and was friends with Bing Crosby has died.

Jack Webster was told early in his life after being diagnosed with a leaking heart valve that he should settle for a job as a bank clerk of cashier.

But the Maud-born farmer’s son proved the doctors wrong and spent the next 60 years defying obstacles – from overcoming a stammer to be crowned UK Speaker of the Year in 1996, to trumping his press rivals by gaining access to all manner of international figures, including Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Ginger Rodgers, Pele and George Best.

He also landed himself a world exclusive with Charlie Chaplin at the Tivoli Theatre in Aberdeen by booking into the same hotel as him.

Mr Webster’s journalistic career, honed on a passion for Sunset Song author, Lewis Grassic Gibbon, started at the Turriff Advertiser before 10 years at the Press and Journal. He then moved to Glasgow and joined the Daily Express.

While there, he became the Scottish equivalent of Michael Parkinson, securing interviews with many of the biggest stars of stage and screen.

Last night, son Geoff said: “Dad was given a roving role and he managed to set up some remarkable meetings with the likes of Chaplin and Ali.

“He learned that the former – who had refused to speak to journalists after being hounded out of America – was staying in Banchory. So he checked into the same hotel, got talking to the great man and asked if he would like to revisit the Tivoli, where Chaplin has performed early in his career. He said yes and that was a huge scoop.

“When Muhammad Ali came to Britain to fight Henry Cooper (in 1966), Dad became the ghost writer of his columns in the build-up to the fight and there’s a lovely picture of the two of them sitting together.”

Father-of-three Mr Webster had many interests and occupations. He wrote 18 books, including a comprehensive history of Aberdeen FC for their centenary in 2003, and the club paid tribute to him yesterday.

A spokesman said: “Jack was a great friend over many years and, of course, he was a massive Dons fan.

“His book on AFC is regarded as the definitive history of that era and is frequently referenced for historical articles. A true gentleman, Jack will be sorely missed.”

He also produced works on footballer Gordon Strachan, novelist Alistair MacLean and hotelier Sir Reo Stakis, and created award-winning TV documentaries.

Despite describing himself as a “wee boy from Maud”, his love of journalism lasted a lifetime and was inherited by his three sons, Geoff, Keith, and Martin.

He received a honorary degree from Aberdeen University in 2000 and an honorary doctorate from RGU in 2009. He was also received a BEM for services to journalism in 2012.

Mr Webster died yesterday, aged 88. His wide, Eden, predeceased him by more than 30 years.

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