Journalist and former letters editor of The Herald

Born: March 18, 1940;

Died: January 24, 2018

ANDREW Hood, who has died aged 77, was for many years the letters editor at The Herald, with a special skill in choosing offbeat or often controversial letters likely to provoke ongoing debate.

He had previously done the same job at The Scotsman, where he rose to become the paper’s assistant editor. Always living in Edinburgh, even after he moved to The Herald, he was also a well-known and much-loved member of the capital’s gay community.

He was born in the Queen Mary Nursing Home in Edinburgh, the same building, later known as the Queen Mary Maternity Home, where Tony Blair would be born in 1953. His father worked for RBS in Edinburgh and one of his earliest memories was of his mother taking him regularly to the cinema where he first became fascinated by the Pathé newsreels. They had no TV at home and he recalled being moved, at the age of only five, by film of the allies liberating Nazi concentration camps.

He attended Daniel Stewart’s College (now Stewart’s Melville College) in Queensferry Road, Edinburgh, before studying at St Andrews.

At the time, many if not most journalists joined newspapers “at the bottom” as copy boys etc, but Mr Hood was one of the first to be hired as part of a graduate trainee scheme by The Scotsman. He was also an avid reader of the Manchester Guardian and later The Guardian, as well as books on history, notably the Second World War.

At The Scotsman, while living in Eglinton Crescent, Edinburgh, he became a sub-editor, carefully cross-checking reporters’ articles for factual or spelling errors, and later chief leader (editorial) writer and eventually assistant editor to Magnus Linklater.

In 1989, after 27 years at The Scotsman, Mr Hood was controversially sacked for “gross misconduct” after refusing Mr Linklater’s request that he become The Scotsman’s obituaries editor, which Mr Hood considered a “gross” demotion. Mr Linklater asked him to prepare a list of 100 prominent Scots “approaching their dotage”.

“I felt it was a dangerous job. I believe it was a nasty job, a job that didn’t suit me. I felt it was an insulting job for someone of my status in the paper,’’ Mr Hood said. He added that he did not often read obituaries and regarded them as “a dead arm of the paper”.

He said he felt that he was not qualified to write obituaries of “people I know nothing about. If you get an obituary wrong, people get terribly upset”.

Mr Hood had also been editor of The Scotsman’s letters pages – he often said the leaders and the letters pages were the intellectual brain of the paper. At the time of his sacking, colleagues said there had long been an “animus” against him, some suggested perhaps because he was active in the capital’s gay circles. By then, many top Scotsman journalists had joined a mass exodus to The Herald and its sister papers, which paid more money, and Mr Hood followed them.

He commuted to Glasgow daily to work in The Herald’s offices, at the time in Albion Street in what had formerly been the Scottish Daily Express building.

One of The Herald’s greatest writers, the late Colm Brogan, although two generations older than Mr Hood, had already become one of his closest friends.

At The Herald, Mr Hood took over the letters pages and set about making them a must-read. “He was a shy, very eccentric man but he had a good eye for publishing letters that would spark correspondence,” said Harry Reid, a former editor of The Herald who had first worked with Mr Hood at The Scotsman.

“He was a backroom, behind-the-scenes type, never high-profile.” Ironically, Mr Hood went on to write some of The Herald’s obituaries, wrote them well and rarely upset anyone.

Lillian McDowall, who worked with Mr Hood at The Herald, said: “Andrew worked six days a week as letters editor to ensure the debates and themes were accurately and evenly attributed. This was his passion and he was uncompromising in his attention to detail. When his editor tried to make him take a holiday, his answer was always ‘yes, later.’

“He was a very loyal friend. When he finally retired at the age of 67, his years of experience and great knowledge was a huge loss, as evidenced by the number of letter writers – in addition to his colleagues – who congregated at his leaving party. He was deeply dismayed by politics of late and in particular the vote on the EU referendum, which he felt could only be utterly disastrous.”

Andrew Hood’s brother predeceased him. He is survived by a nephew and a niece.