Derek Bateman, journalist and broadcaster.
Born: May 10, 1951.
Died: December 16, 2022, aged 71
DEREK Bateman made a huge sacrifice for the cause of Scottish independence. In 2013, the year before the indyref, he quietly quit the job he loved as a current affairs radio presenter with BBC Scotland to campaign freely for a Yes vote.
That was quite a tear. Not just because Derek worked for Aunty for two decades. Not just because the job was relatively well-paid and thus useful for a man who’d become a dad all over again in his mid-50s. But mostly because Derek was born to broadcast – well-briefed, tenacious, widely read, able to listen (like a hawk) and utterly incapable of tolerating hypocrisy or evasion, from anyone.
He was one of the “heavyweights” who lent authority, a pawky sense of humour and a great deal of gravitas to Radio Scotland in those heady days in the mid-1990s when it won Sony Station of the Year for excellence in speech broadcasting.
In 1997 Derek began a 10-year stint as co-presenter of Good Morning Scotland with fellow broadcasters including John Milne, Jane Franchi, Isabel Fraser, Mhairi Stuart and Gillian Marles. Derek was regarded by them all as a very generous co-presenter who gave less experienced broadcasters ammunition for interviews, advice on best approaches – if they wanted it – and he didn’t try to hog the big interviews for himself.
Good Morning Scotland with Derek in the presenter pair was as sharp, knowing and relevant as any duo on London-based network programmes who were backed by larger research teams and far better funding.
Some of that acuity came from a background in newspapers. Derek was virtually born into the trade, growing up in Selkirk during the 1960s when his father Graham was a compositor for a local paper covering Borders stories for national papers and filing rugby reports for The Scotsman. Derek’s mum Nancy ran a mill shop.
His dad’s rugby reports led to Derek’s first job in journalism. Graham would dispatch his young son “to run like a winger to the nearest phone box, coin in hand, to ring the copytakers and dictate his piece down the line”.
Derek got his own first job in journalism at the age of 17, alerted to The Scotsman’s training scheme by his piano teacher. This allowed him to zip through various roles at North Bridge and the Glasgow office, working for the Evening News and the Scotsman.
In 1972 he married his childhood sweetheart, Alison Edgar. They were both 21 and lived in a cottage near Pencaitland, where their two girls Eilidh and Lucy remember an idyllic rural childhood with snowed-in winters.
Derek shifted papers to work for The Scotsman’s great rival, The Herald – in its Edinburgh office at York Place and, maddened by the 1986 Commonwealth Games – supposedly “saved” by Robert Maxwell and boycotted by half the Commonwealth because of Thatcher’s refusal to agree to sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa – he co-wrote a book, Unfriendly Games: Boycotted and Broke, with colleague Derek Douglas.
When Scotland on Sunday launched in 1988, Derek became its political editor.
But broadcasting soon beckoned. As family friend and former head of Radio Scotland Maggie Cunningham recalls: “Derek reported on the handover of Hong Kong and managed to slip his government minders in mainland China for an unvarnished look at the place.
“He had fun doing a European Affairs series for STV with the late Margo MacDonald, involving many European trips with matching local wines. He visited Israel and the West Bank where he was so shocked by what he saw that he thereafter supported a charity concerned with the health and education of Palestinian children.”
After this, Derek contributed to just about every political show made at Queen Margaret Drive, particularly relishing the drama and intrigue of party conferences and elections, in Scotland and the United States.
No wonder Derek made such a formidable interviewer when he finally gave up roving to occupy the presenter’s chair. He already had such vast life experience. As his boss Maggie Cunningham often observed to BBC colleagues (including myself), here was a man with a vast hinterland. And it showed.
This is such terribly sad news. Derek was without doubt one of the finest journalists of his generation in Scotland, both broadcast and print. He had such a sharp, insightful intellect and a warm wit too. My condolences to his loved ones. https://t.co/KX2Xet39xU
Colleagues recall him as an interviewer always several steps ahead, playing cat-and-mouse games with interviewees before delivering killer questions they weren’t expecting.
But in May 2001, on the morning of his 50th birthday – Derek’s wife Alison died, prompting Derek to write a highly personal feature documenting how he and his daughters had helped nurse Alison at home through her last weeks of life. It appeared first in The Herald and was reproduced in support of several voluntary euthanasia campaigns.
In 2004, Derek married Judith Mackay, a formidable journalist in her own right and his editor on GMS. Their daughters Hannah and Clara were born in 2006 and 2008. So, Derek, in his 50s, was often seen pushing the double buggy around Glasgow’s west end in between presenting Newsnight Scotland, Politics Tonight or anchoring election coverage.
Maggie Cunningham recalls: “Derek loved to cook up a storm with a glass of Burgundy on the go and music up loud.
“Opera worked well for him in the kitchen as did a spot of Scottish country dance music from Radio Scotland’s Take the Floor on a Saturday evening.
“When they were wee, Hannah and Clara were often birled around the kitchen to a Gay Gordons or a Canadian barn dance.”
But it all changed professionally, when the date was set for the independence referendum. Derek left the BBC in 2013 to lend his weight to the Yes campaign, writing a forensically focused blog and weekly articles for Newsnet, and recording 27 podcasts with a passionate, partisan voice he could never use while working for the BBC.
Surprisingly to some, Derek had a fear of public speaking but overcame it to travel across the country speaking at town hall debates and Yes events. He was delighted Scots were becoming more politically informed and engaged and found podcasting a liberating medium because guests could discuss issues in real depth without terse talkback instructions in his ear to round up and go to the weather forecast.
Derek carried on podcasting well after the indyref, hanging up the headphones in 2018 because of ill health. Judith donated one of her kidneys so Derek could have a transplant.
On Twitter he said: “This woman brought light to my darkest hour, gave me two children and now gives me the gift of life itself – all you need is love.” Eloquent testimony to the strength of their love and mutual commitment.
Derek dealt with his health issues in exactly the way anyone who knew him would expect. He managed his own care and was not receptive to anyone who treated him as less than an extremely well-informed autonomous adult.
He lived with cancer for three years, with the emphasis on lived.
He was very private and refused to be defined by his illness, which is why so few friends even knew he was ill. The Herald’s former digital media editor Gordon Mack, who started his career in journalism with Derek in Edinburgh in 1968, observes that Derek was fortunate to have surrounded himself with strong women: first Alison, then Judith; his daughters Eilidh, Lucy, Hannah and Clara; and granddaughters Amaya and Bea.
“Perhaps he shielded himself a little behind their feminine characteristics of empathy, open affection and shared intimacy.”
In a column published by Bella Caledonia in 2014, Derek outlined some strangely prescient thinking about the afterlife: “I think you live on in the hearts and minds of those who knew and loved you. It’s not the same as breathing, I grant you, but it is a continuing existence.’
So, it was during his funeral at Mortonhall Crematorium in early January 2023, that Derek Bateman once again filled the room.
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Derek Bateman, journalist and broadcaster.