Obituary - Tom Baistow

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Tom Baistow, who has died aged 85, was deputy editor and anchorman of the New Statesman for much of the 1960s and 1970s.

He was Glaswegian by birth, and a proud Scot who spoke Gaelic (as well as four other languages), though his Scottishness was never obtrusive. He cut his journalistic teeth on the Scottish Daily Express as a copy boy, and climbed steadily up the editorial ladder until he became foreign editor of the News Chronicle, then in the final phase of its distinguished but fragile life.

When I took over the editorship of the New Statesman at the end of 1964, I eagerly recruited Tom for the editorial staff and soon he was appointed my deputy. He brought to the paper a wealth of experience, of journalism, of politics, of the world, and of men and women. He was an expert sub-editor, a crafty contriver of editorial attitudes, a perceptive talent-spotter and a reliable judge of journalistic decorum.

He brought to the paper a professional touch which was needed and soon set his mark on every department of each issue. I knew that I could go away without the slightest fear of a serious misjudgement being perpetrated in my absence: Tom was a model of sobriety, discretion, balance and common sense. He was loyalty personified, an oasis of calm in any storm, and a wise counsellor in whom you could confide with confidence. He was kind and helpful to all the young people on the paper, and in return they loved and trusted him.

I am tempted to say he reminds me of what Sherlock Holmes said of the Doctor - "Watson, you are the one fixed point in a changing world" - but that, though true, would be to underrate Tom's originality and imaginative powers. A master of clear prose, he wrote a sharp and witty column on the media for many years, but he also turned his hand to poetry, which he read to privileged intimates.

He was old Labour (he had been father of the chapel on the Chronicle) but he was always open to new ideas and never allowed party politics to interfere with friendship. In a trade that is sometimes spiteful, envious and brutal, Tom was a model colleague: gentle and modest, the soul of decency and honest dealing, entirely lacking in malice. I doubt if he had an enemy in the world, and I salute the passing of a fine journalist, a warm friend and a good man.

Paul Johnson

This article appears in the 12 March 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Yanks go home . . . but not just yet