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Tributes to former P&J editor who met with Thatcher and drove with Jackie Stewart during decades in the newsroom

Mr Peter Watson at the launch of the papers Business Journal supplement in 1984.
Mr Peter Watson at the launch of the papers Business Journal supplement in 1984.

When former P&J editor Peter Watson was given a journal by his granchildren he decided to jot down some of the highlights of his 45-year career – but ordered his family not to read it until he was gone.

His daughters, who were told where it was kept, have now gained a deeper appreciation for their dad’s whirlwind life at the heart of the north news industry following his death at the age of 94.

Born in Buckie, the second of Bill and Rachel Watson’s four children, Mr Watson was later raised and educated in Torry after the family moved when his father was injured in a fishing boat accident in 1932.

It was his dad’s death which spurred the young student to leave school, aged 14, and take his first job with Aberdeen Journals as a copy boy.

Following his national service with the Royal Armoured Corps in Egypt, Palestine and Cyprus, Mr Watson returned to work in the wires room.

He married Moira Reid in 1950 and the couple welcomed daughters Pam, in 1951, and Hazel, two years later.

He joined the P&J editorial staff from the Weekly Journal newspaper in 1956, later serving as a sub-editor, motoring correspondent, features editor, assistant editor and deputy editor. He took the editor’s chair in July 1975, succeeding James C Grant.

Former editor Peter Watson crowning the “Mormond Lass”, Debbie Murray in 1985.

His daughter Pam Snape recently opened his memoirs for the first time.

She said: “As copy boy he gained a healthy respect for the craftsmanship that was employed by all members of the newspaper production team.

“He always felt this knowledge stood him in very good stead as he progressed up the ladder in the editorial side of the newspaper.”

Other highlights noted include meeting former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, and driving with racing legend Jackie Stewart during his time as motoring correspondent.

His job also gave him the chance to travel the world, and his journal mentions trips to Bulgaria, where he represented “the west”, a trip to Berlin and a visit behind the Iron Curtin, as a guest of the RAF.

Peter Watson with daughters Hazel, left, and Pam on his 90th birthday. Supplied by Pamela Snape

“He was a proud Aberdonian and was extremely proud to having been the editor of the Press and Journal. There were 11 editions of the paper then and he enjoyed representing the city at press events,” Mrs Snape added.

After his retirement, aged 60,  in 1987, Mr Watson spent many days at Deeside Golf Club where he enjoyed the camaraderie, something especially important to him after the death of his wife in 2000.

He was still teeing off until three years ago, aged 91, and was also a keen hill walker, reader, music fan, history-lover and follower of current affairs.

Peter Watson with his family on the occasion of his 90th birthday. Supplied by Pamela SnapeFamily, though, was always his priority and he reveled in the company of daughters Pam Snape and Hazel Gaskell, his five grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

Mrs Snape said: “People remember him as having easy charm, being an excellent raconteur, and being good fun.

“He was very interested in people of all ages and the stories of their lives. He had many life-long friends.”

Mr Watson wrote in his journal: “Family…to me the word means the people I love and who, I think, care for me, as well as each other.

“Family, the smallest and possibly the strongest possible unit of a society or even a nation, gives me a feeling of belonging, even though I am by far the oldest member. For that, I am grateful to them all and the ones who went before.”

Mr Waston died at home in Aberdeen’s Grove Crescent on Saturday evening.

His family say one entry in the journal best describes what he loved about his job.

It states: “Words…I love them. I just wish I knew more of them and knew better how to use them. Presented properly they tell their own story, directly to the reader in the way the writer wished.”

Tributes to the legendary newsman have poured in from as far afield as France and America.

Hamish Mackay, a former deputy news editor of the Press and Journal, and long-time colleague of Mr Watson between 1968 and 1990, is among those who has fond memories of his time at the helm.

Mr Mackay said: “As a north-east man who rose through the P&J’s ranks to the top job, Peter brought to the paper, as editor, the priceless asset of really knowing the grass roots of its circulation area.

“This was reflected in how he steadily built upon the already extensive local news output while also substantially expanding the paper’s features and sports coverage.

“One of the highlights of his career was being in the editor’s chair that unforgettable evening in 1983 when Aberdeen FC beat the legendary Real Madrid 2-1 in Gothenburg to lift the European Cup-Winners Cup.

“Peter made damned sure that the readers were treated to page upon page of triumphal stories and pictures from the Swedish city.

“Debonair, urbane, very courteous and well-mannered, and much at ease with the good and the great, Peter excelled in a public relations capacity for the P&J and, indeed, Aberdeen Journals.

“He was an accomplished public speaker and conversationalist, with a fine turn of phrase, and very, very good company in any social setting.

“He was also a pretty good golfer – a decidedly helpful attribute for a journalist in a part of the world with so many splendid courses.”

During his decade at the helm of the paper, Mr Watson not only met the likes of racing driver Jackie Stewart and then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, but also oversaw the training of dozens of young writers, many of whom remember him as a “supportive” and “encouraging” boss.

Mr Mackay added: “Peter was also a kindly, empathetic man who will be remembered with much gratitude and affection by all the young journalists in whose training and welfare he took such a keen, invaluable, career-furthering interest, and was delighted to follow the progress of many of them in subsequently very successful careers on the national newspapers and broadcasting stage.”

A short tribute post shared on social media by Mr Mackay has garnered comments and kind words from former colleagues from as far afield as France and California.

Sandy Bremner, former P&J reporter and head of the BBC in Aberdeen, said: ” Very sad news. He gave me my start and backed me to the hilt every time anyone went to court to prevent publication or made threats. I owe him a lot.”

Barry Young, former reporter and now a Glasgow-based bookshop owner, added: “He was a sound man, and very supportive when there was pressure on.”

Ex-sub editor for the P&J, Ken Seaton, sent his condolences from France.

He added: “Gave me a schooling in union etiquette. He taught me a lot.”

Current Inverness-based P&J journalist John Ross added: “Very sad. A very decent man who encouraged young reporters.”

Iain Lundy, ex P&J reporter, latterly of the Glasgow Evening Times and now retired in California, added: “That’s a shame, he was a very decent and caring guy.”

Bill Mackintosh, now in Glasgow, added:  “I had a great deal of respect for him when the NUJ chapel were negotiating the house agreement.”