A wet, grey Edinburgh afternoon at Mortonhall Crematorium was the fitting setting for the send off of one of Scotland’s greatest ever journalists. Editors, writers and FoCs past and present were there in abundance to mark their respects for Ian Mackay Bell. His ex-colleagues from The Herald and Scotsman stables mingled with his family and a mix of union activists along with avid readers of his leader articles and columns to share memories and common appreciation of the man.
Surprisingly there was a marked absence of serving politicians, but maybe that was because they appreciated Ian’s penchant for keeping even his favourite politicians (at least) at arms length. He never courted the powers that be but was strikingly focussed in his critical analysis giving credit where due but particularly scathing with the shortcomings and failure to act by our elected members.
Richard Holloway had been invited by the family to compere the event introducing three speakers in between some of Ian’s favourite songs relevant to the occasion. Pertinently it started with Elvis Costello’s “Everyday I Write the Book” before Barclay McBain of The Herald gave an emotional insight from his perspective of working closely with Ian almost on a daily basis for many years, highlighting his many qualities. Barclay (a St Mirren fan) recalled Ian’s craic about the ups and downs of their respective football teams. He told the assembly of his dream of Ian (a Hibs fan) standing out as a leader of the thousands of the working class throng on the Anfield Kop, as an inspiration to the people.
Such a send off would not have met with Ian’s critical, cultural assessment without the inclusion of a Bob Dylan song. A suitably scratchy version of the classic “He Was A Friend of Mine” preceded a well-crafted tribute from a long time friend and colleague Robbie Dinwoodie. Interspersed with lyrical references to their “Glory Days” at The Scotsman and The Herald, Robbie talked about union battles with TRN, with lock outs and bustling strike committees along the way before they both ended up at The Herald camp.
Richard Holloway introduced a tune by Nick Drake before Sean Bell eulogised his praise and pride in his father as a man of influence and inspiration among a long list of attributes. He urged those present to look on his father’s history and passing as a source of inspiration to raise the level of debate towards making Scotland a better place for everyone.
Suitably it was Robert Burns’ “A Man’s A Man for A’ That.” chosen for the final musical accompaniment to the commitment of Ian’s coffin.
There was a common theme before, during and after the event that Ian Mackay Bell will be sorely missed but his work will be held up for many years to come as a glowing example of what all journalists should aspire to. Humanity and journalism have both suffered a great loss with this passing.