Published in Scottish Field, November 2012.
By Sam Khan-McIntyre
Book by Jackie Kemp
Neil Wilson Publishing
In a comprehensive, and diverse collection of the work of this charismatic journalist, Scotland’s recent past and its development come to life in this compilation by his daughter Jackie, also a journalist. The stories covered encompass his life, and trace his influences, beginning with his grandfather’s anti-fascist speeches of
Princess Margaret’s famous put-down at the palace: ‘I say’, she said, ‘would you mind fetching me an ashtray?’ on which Kemp dined out for many years.
WWI, to his father’s recollections as aa WWII reporter. This leads to his own recollections of beginning at the Scotsman in 1959 through to his editorship at the Herald. The book is indispersed with political debates and personal stories, on Scotland’s future in which he took an active part. Especially in the halfway House and Doric Taverns at lunchtime with his colleagues. Subjects include de-industrialisation, and the economic changes of the 1980s, Thatcher and Scotland, devolution and the creation of the Scottish Parliamnent. The more personal stories include thoughts on music, poetry, literature, and his childhood. These include the anecdote about Princess Margaret’s famous put-down at the palace when he had asked to speak to her: ‘I say’. she said, ‘would you mind fetching me an ashtray?’ on which Kemp dined out for many years.
The language of this wordsmith is full of panach and liveliness, which renders it an absorbing read, and the journalism is imbued with a sense of immediacy due to his closeness to his sources. Kemp was a journalism purist, and for him, integrity was extremely important. He believed in truth to power as journalism’s purpose, ‘to reveal to the powerless what the powerful would rather keep secret’. Therefore, during his editorship, was not in favour of inteference into the paper of a commercial and political nature. Although he remained a royalist, he was strongly supportive of Scottish devolution, and his daughter regards his legacy as a strong national press in which journalism’s aims of truth to power is more than ever required with regards to the upcoming independence struggle.
This book succeeds in its aim of providing a comprehensive and enjoyable account of the state of the nation and politics in recent history through Kemp’s eyes, as well as of his unique and interesting personal world. Although he died prematurely, he will for a long time through his important contribution to the Scottish press.