Former NUJ general treasurer John Devine writes: ALAN BOTT, once chairman of the NUJ Finance committee, was a clear thinker who believed that a bankrupt union was of no benefit to its members and he tried to do something about it.
Not given to intellectual arthritis, he also believed that because computer technology existed it would have profound implications for the way journalists worked. And so he became an early expert in digital lay-out and picture handling technology, developing perhaps the UK’s first, short-lived digital newspaper in 1987.
In the early 1980s Alan was part of a team - mainly built around the Finance Committee of the NUJ - that backed union treasurer John Devine’s plan to overhaul the union’s ailing finances. At that time the Co-Operative Bank – the NUJ’s traditional banker – would lend no more money to the union, which was also considerably indebted to other banks and had outstanding loans from at least one of the Scandinavian journalist unions.
By implementing what was then a controversial system of budget allocations at head office and for the activities of the NEC and its committees, sufficient savings were made to enable the bank debts to be cleared in an 18-month period.
At that time too, the NEC took the decision to clear its mortgage with the Transport and General Workers Union, becoming the outright owners of Acorn House and still with substantial cash in the bank.
Alan Bott, along with Eddie Barrett, Ray McGuigan and Harry Conroy, was at the core of an NUJ executive that, among other things, was central to the development of a two-year financial plan. This was presented to the same ADM as the proposal to merge the NUJ with the National Graphical Society. The merger was rejected as was the financial plan, which would have seen a biennial ADM introduced many years before it was accepted.
Alan was at the centre of Finance Committee and NEC debates about ways and means that NUJ assets could be made safe from sequestration by the courts if found to be in breach of Thatcher’s anti-trade union legislation, which even gave the courts powers to put in administrators to run the unions found to have breached this law.
From these discussions the NUJ commissioned the only original piece of legal research ever to be conducted to find the answers to Thatcher’s threat to unions and their assets.
A team of lawyers –from Dublin and Copenhagen – researched the possibilities on how assets could be made safe from the courts. Much of the complex research concerned spreading the weight of ownership – a sort of international co-operative of asset ownership across several nations, including Denmark and Sweden.
The core impediment to the recommendations being considered under international law was that the changes of ownership could only be made if the NUJ could act before it was under legal threat. That would have required a very lengthy and prolonged consultative process. Since the NUJ had a strike going on at Dimbleby publications in Richmond, London, at that time, which posed a very present threat, and because of disputes developing elsewhere which meant that what was required by law would not have been observed by the union, it was deemed that the recommendations made by the lawyers could not be met.
Their report was then given to the TUC in case other unions, whose assets were similarly at risk, might wish to explore the recommendations or develop the ideas of international refuge further.
Alan Bott, who went to Manchester Central Grammar School for Boys, was English Schools Athletics Association national champion when he was 15. He also excelled in sports as diverse as putting the shot, long jump and discus. He also played rugby and football, and continued with the latter informally when he was a journalist, especially in editorial football teams such as that at the Lancashire Evening Post in Preston.
He started in journalism when he left school, joining the Ashton-under-Lyne Reporter as a reporter. It was at the Ashton Reporter that he became interested in the work of the National Union of Journalists. From Ashton, he went to the Stockport Advertiser and gained his NCTJ Proficiency Certificate in Journalism.
One of Alan’s early jobs as a reporter was to cover the Moors murders committed by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley.
At the end of the 1960s, he joined the Lancashire Evening Post as a sub-editor where in a short time he became a match for the toughest of stonehands. Once, when sharply reprimanded by a particular stonehand for sending down a layout with a story that did not fit, he responded: “My story fits. You must have made it up wrongly.”
In the mid-1970s, he moved across the Pennines to the Yorkshire Post and, having taken an Open University Arts Foundation Course, then enrolled full time at Leeds University to study politics, psychology and philosophy. He achieved 98% in his psychology exam at the end of his first year, but resisted psychology department attempts to persuade him to switch to psychology as a single focus of study.
He wanted to do politics, not just study politics and, after a few months’ stint as a reporter on the Wakefield Express, went to London where he was reporter on News Line, the newspaper of the Workers’ Revolutionary Party.
Alan remained in London until the start of the 1980s, when he returned to Preston and the Lancashire Evening Post as a sub-editor.
In 1983, his then editor Chris Oakley wrote Alan a letter of recommendation in which he said: ‘I hired him as a features sub at the Lancashire Evening Post and he quickly became chief features sub. He is now assistant chief sub.
‘I have always found him to be a conscientious, accurate sub with that rare ingredient of flair. He also cares about newspapers and the image they present in the widest possible way. His lively mind stimulates those around him.’
After his return to Preston, Alan’s work with the NUJ included becoming a regional dynamo for the North West, a member of the National Executive Council and chairman of the Finance Committee.
In the mid-1980s, he became business editor and industrial correspondent at the Lancashire Evening Post.
Alan foresaw that the future of newspaper production was digital and taught himself to be an expert user of Mac computers. In 1986, he devised what is thought to be the first desktop published newspaper in the country, Business Briefing, which appeared at the start of 1987. It was short-lived.
In 1990, Alan moved to the Birmingham Post and Mail, and for the next decade was involved in the group’s IT development, such as developing the first Macintosh IT classified department, the first Mackintosh IT editorial department, the first digital colour department, and developing Mac technology throughout the company. He revolutionized the handling of colour pictures at the Post and Mail group.
His boss there, Chris Oakley, also once said that “Shareholdings and company cars were against Alan’s principles – so he could only square his conscience if his company car was a Mini.”
In 2006, four days before his 59th birthday, Alan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He bore this illness without complaint, with fortitude, patience and graciousness.
In March 2011, he was further diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He died on November 27 2011.
Alan was married twice, first to Lynda in the 1960s and in 1984 to Anne, who survives him. In between, his partner was Sue, with whom he had a daughter, Helen, in 1979.