Tom Steele, who became a leading journalist, was the son of a Labour MP for Dunbartonshire.
By Bill Heaney
Tributes have been paid this week to journalist Tom Steele, who became the first ever reporter to be taken on to the staff of Radio Clyde in Clydebank, was the son of the late Tom Steele, the popular Labour MP for Dunbartonshire in the 1950s.
Tom, who has died after a long illness, started out in local newspapers on the Dumfries and Galloway Standard and went on to become a reporter on the Scottish Daily Mail and subsequently managing director of Radio Forth in Edinburgh until 1999 when serious illness forced him to retire.
His former colleague, Glasgow Herald journalist Murray Ritchie, said today: “Tommy and I were good pals for 60 years. He was my best man when I got married in Dumfries in 1966 and we were reporters on the Dumfries Standard.
“I will remember him as a wonderful optimist who never let his rheumatoid problems drag him down. His dealing with almost lifelong pain was nothing short of heroic.
“I remember his dad, who was a minister in Attlee’s 1945 government. Lovely man who was kind to me in my younger days when Tommy and I knocked about together.
“We did not see as much of each other as we would have liked while I was working abroad for some years but when we retired we got together for family occasions – our two golden wedding celebrations were memorable – and lunches and dinners and gossip.
“He told me he was terminally ill but I did not expect him to go so soon. It comes as a shock. Farewell old pal.”
Mr Steele senior was a political hero in Dunbartonshire where he fought and won the fight against Rachmanism, which involved unscrupulous landlords charging outrageous rents for slums such as Milton Terrace in Jamestown, which was eventually demolished.
A local landlord sued him for defamation when he was exposed by Steele but his scathing comments about the conditions of some family homes were covered by parliamentary privilege. Tom was rightly proud of him.
Retired radio and newspaper veteran Bill Greig said: “Today I lost a very dear friend Tom Steele. I worked with Tom for 10 years and we never had a cross word. He trusted my judgement. He was my shield.A part of me has gone with him. Together we helped independent radio news take its early steps as we built Radio Forth in Edinburgh.
“Tom was a brilliant journalist who asked me to gamble and become the station’s news editor. I never regretted it and had the best years of my life.I knew he knew the end was coming but he bore his illness with a courage which humbled me.I miss him. He was my pal.”
Tom was one of the leading figures of the Scottish radio industry. He will be remembered especially in Dunbartonshire as the first employee at Radio Clyde in 1973, when he was appointed by Jimmy Gordon, later Lord Gordon, to set up and lead their news team.
Just two years later, Steele moved to Edinburgh as head of news at Radio Forth to drive the new station’s launch.
He always considered himself a reporter, and once said: “It’s what goes on in between the records that makes a station unique.
“It’s all about what’s going on in the area, cementing your roots in the community, with something for everyone and telling them you’re doing it.”
Tom went on to become programme director, overseeing the creation of Forth 1 on FM and Forth 2 on AM, before taking over as managing director, but retired through ill health in 1999.
It was as a reporter that I knew him and worked on a number of stories with him. He was based at the Daily Mail office in York Street, Glasgow, with the likes of Eric Montford, Tom Sheerin, Jim Taylor, Andy Young, Jimmy Grylles and photographer Andy Keegans.
Luisa Cairns, then the newsroom secretary at Radio Forth, said: “I’m really shocked. I have too many memories of him to think of only one.
“Probably, like most others’ recollections of him, I would say simply that he was a very big character, kind, fair, meticulous and funny.”
John Collins wrote on Facebook: “RIP Tom Steele. One of the ILR originals who launched Clyde and then Forth. He was a man who was a bit mad, a bit scary and a bit perfect in equal measure. He convinced me it was OK to take a 33% pay cut to join Forth. He was a risk taker and a legend.”
Graham Bryce, chief operating officer of Bauer Media, which now owns Forth, said: “Tom was one of the driving forces behind Radio Forth as he was passionate about radio and doing the best for our listeners and the local area.
“Local radio was very new in the UK at the time and Tom was at the forefront of the industry which was recognised by the many awards and accolades he won over the years.”
“I too have found memories of Tom Steele, who gave me my break in broadcasting at Radio Forth in the late 70s.
“Margaret Thatcher became prime minister in 1979 and was doing a round of media interviews in Edinburgh. I had been working in newspapers and was used to being suited and booted for work.
“However, I was only a few months into my first radio job and he sent me to interview Thatcher … because I was the only person wearing a tie.
He was perhaps the biggest influence on my career.”