Former Press and Journal and Grampian TV news editor dies aged 70
Bert Ovenstone, the former head of news and current affairs at Grampian Television, was diagnosed with motor neurone disease last year. But sadly, the ex-Press and Journal night news editor succumbed to the effects of the degenerative illness passing away on Wednesday 10 November.
Fife born Robert Burns Ovenstone – known as Bert – was born on April 14, 1951, in Craigtoun Hospital just outside St Andrews. He was the son of shop worker Anne and Josiah, who worked for a bus company. The eldest of three boys, he and brothers Bill and David, were raised in Cupar. However, Bert’s father died when he was still a teenager.
Dealing with grief but taking his responsibilities very seriously, he stepped into the role of ‘man of the house’. After primary school Bert attended Bell Baxter High School not too far from where the family lived on the Bonnygate.
A love of golf began in his youth, and it continued throughout his life with an eventual single figure handicap. He also enjoyed football – both watching and playing – and later became a referee at junior level. As he got older, he took up badminton and ran marathons. And he made an annual pilgrimage to wherever the golf Open was being staged in the UK that year.His real passion was for the news. He secured a job with the Fife Herald as a trainee reporter straight from school. In the early 1970s Bert moved to Aberdeen for a job at The Press and Journal as senior reporter. He loved his time at the newspaper and was an instinctive and natural journalist. He was fortunate to work with a group of colleagues that he described as some of the smartest and most quick-witted people in the business.
Bert enjoyed the culture and comradery of the time, where reporters socialised outside of the newsroom and made friends for life. During his time reporting in Aberdeen Bert was involved in covering multiple serious events. He reported on the murders of Dr Brenda Page, toddler Julie King, taxi driver George Murdoch and Buchan postmistress Dorothy Park. He also interviewed spree killer Robert Mone from Dundee, at HM Aberdeen Prison, then called Craiginches. And during the 1970s covering the annual Gaelic Mod.
Bert was known for his eye for detail and technical information. This skill aided him when he and Mitch Reid were designated reporters covering the fatal accident enquiry into the 1986 chinook crash which claimed 45 lives. The inquiry lasted for weeks, and he was exhausted because of the amount of very detailed information being discussed. But it was important to Bert that the findings into such a tragic accident were reported accurately.
Bert was also proud to be an official within the National Union of Journalists Chapel at Aberdeen Journals Ltd.
Bert met his wife, Susan, within the newsroom at the Press and Journal and the couple went on to have three sons before later divorcing. Paul who is now 40 and married to Inga, Nicol who sadly died in infancy, and Ross, 35, who is married to Catriona. Bert was looking forward to the arrival of his first grandchild – Ross and Catriona’s baby – due in February.
In January 1988 Bert left his newspaper role to join Grampian television’s news desk. Working behind the scenes, organising and allocating stories he later became head of news and current affairs. He also spent a brief time in PR for Grampian TV, and with STV, before returning to the Press and Journal as night news editor. He retired five years ago at 65.
A year ago he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease. However, his journalistic legacy remains. During Bert’s career he was instrumental in helping take his newsrooms through changes in practice and technology. Rebecca Buchan, who heads up the City and Aberdeenshire news team at The Press and Journal said:
“Bert was a wonderfully talented and patient news editor who spent many an evening helping me improve my copy. The wisdom and kindness he showed me, and all other trainees who were keen to learn, was invaluable. I can honestly say I would not be the journalist I am today without his teachings.”
It’s a sentiment shared by former Press and Journal staff.
This obituary was published in the Press and Journal