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Derek Webster, the man who coloured the world's newspapers, dies at 87

Derek Webster: Welcome to colour in newspapers! Derek Webster: Welcome to colour in newspapers!

Derek Webster, under whose editorship the Scottish Daily Record became the world leader in newspaper technology, bringing full colour to the world’s newspapers, has died from a heart attack at his home in Glasgow.

Derek, who retired as chairman of the Daily Record and Sunday Mail shortly after Robert Maxwell took over in 1984, was 87.

Born in Margate, Derek, a former Daily Mirror chief sub in London and later northern editor in Manchester, was appointed editor of the Record in 1967. He had also worked for the Mirror group in Africa.

In Glasgow, he brought a new design-led slickness to the Record, then battling to overtake the 600,000 selling Scottish Daily Express.

I had met Derek when I was a trialist sub-editor at the Daily Mirror in 1963. The Mirror was a 5m selling newspaper, but there was little hint of drama on the editorial floor at Holborn Circus. Chief sub Derek worked quietly away with Larry Lamb at his side and Geoff Pinnington on the back bench. Gaitskell dead? That was the big story one night. You’ve no idea how smoothly the Mirror changed gear.

The Mirror was nothing if not well-staffed with, on some days, the early shift subs going home early to make space available for the late team.

The Mirror was later to “let me go” (surprise!) and I went to work on the Sketch before returning to the Record in Glasgow. There, as the one of the few Scots who had worked with Derek, I was able to reassure my colleagues in 1967 about the high credentials of the man who was to be their new boss. But even I had no idea what was in store.

The Record was then being produced with hot metal typesetting and clapped out presses at its old HQ, 67 Hope Street in Glasgow. Much more was needed to crunch the Express. The Mirror management boldly decided to replace the lot with a brand new printing plant at Anderston Quay with full colour web-offset printing and computer typesetting.

Cynics scoffed that a print run in excess of 700,000 was far larger than had ever been contemplated before with web offset.

But with Fleet Street still bedevilled by union restrictions, the Scots workforce moved to full colour, along with computer typesetting (punched tapes used to produce bromides for news page paste-ups).

This was before photocopiers were around. The Anderston quay team had to build a mini-printing press to produce proofs of the news stories.

Envious printers from around the world, including a team from Asahi Shimbun in Japan, visited the Glasgow plant as it showed just what it could do.

As well as foreign admirers, the success at the Record is also said to have inspired Robert Maxwell to move the Mirror itself into colour well before the Sun.

With a royal opening by Princess Anne in 1971, the Sunday Mail produced its last letterpress edition in Hope Street. Then that Sunday the Record produced its web-offset Monday edition out of the new plant a mile away on the banks of the Clyde.

There were no colour pics in the first weeks but soon regular news colour was flowing from the Record presses. And as the Record circulation climbed, the Express fell behind.

Derek was appointed editor-in-chief of both the Daily Record and Sunday Mail later that year and the titles became Scotland's best-selling daily and Sunday newspapers, with all-time high circulations eventually reaching over 5.5m copies in the seven days of publication.

Derek later became chairman of Mirror Group Newspapers in Scotland and joint chairman of the Press Council. He received a CBE for services to journalism in the early eighties.

Derek is survived by his wife Dorothy, a journalist he met in Manchester, and their three children Andrew, Nick, and Susie, all in the media business.

With Derek’s achievements at Anderston Quay well noted, it might have been thought he might have been tempted to go back to London. But no, "he loved Glasgow," his family tell me. And that is where they stayed, with the Daily Record the proud carrier of the accolade, “The paper that showed the rest of the world the way.”

Derek’s funeral is at 11am on 7 January at Clydebank crematorium.

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