Obituary - Stuart Maclure 1926-2011

24th June 2011 at 01:00

When former colleagues speak about Stuart Maclure, editor of The TES between 1969 and 1989, the two words that come up most often are "old school".

Mr Maclure was an intellectual heavyweight, a man fascinated by education policy and administration, whose thundering leaders could - and did - carry significant influence in Whitehall and beyond.

John Stuart Maclure was born in north London in August 1926, the youngest of four boys. With the outbreak of the Second World War, teenage Stuart decided to raise chickens in the back garden. He sold their eggs to, among others, his own mother. "Well, I have to pay for the feed," he said in his own defence.

During the war, his brother James was stationed in the Oxfordshire village of Burford. After church one Sunday, a local family invited James for lunch. When Stuart subsequently visited his brother for a weekend, he was also invited for lunch, and struck up a friendship with the family's daughter, Mary.

After school, he went on to Christ's College, Cambridge, where he was awarded a first-class degree in history. He served at the end of the war, as a naval minesweeper in the Mediterranean.

Initially, he considered a career in the civil service, achieving the highest score in the entry exams. But he decided that, actually, he would prefer a career in journalism. And so, in 1950, he took a job with The Times.

A year later, there were two significant developments in his life. He married Mary, his teenage sweetheart. And he began work as a reporter on The TES. He stayed in this job for three years, before being appointed editor of The TES's erstwhile competitor, Education magazine.

He quickly became part of the educational establishment: a group comprising top civil servants and senior local-government officials. Staff recall him forever rushing off to the Athenaeum private members' club, only to return with the received educational wisdom of the day.

He was, in many ways, like a civil servant himself. But he had a quietly rebellious streak: "I don't see why they should get away with this," he would say, before taking the government to task on something.

In 1969 he returned to The TES, this time as editor, becoming well known to - and, often, well feared by - every education secretary. In particular, he took pride in his run-ins with Margaret Thatcher. He would write a scathing editorial about her policies on Wednesday, then take her out for lunch on Thursday, in an attempt to placate her before the paper was published on Friday.

His was an era of thundering editorials, printed - as now - at the front of the paper. He was a natural thunderer, and his working week revolved around leader-writing. He also contributed education-related editorials to The Times.

And he was often a vocal advocate for change. For example, while others were hesitant about the introduction of city technology colleges and the national curriculum, he spoke out strongly in their favour.

He was a quick thinker, and expected others to keep up. He could, therefore, be a stickler for detail: on one occasion he took a reporter to task over an inability to distinguish between percentage increase and percentage points. But, while he could be irascible, he was not prone to rage. He was, in the words of one former education secretary, "a very genial, pleasant man".

But he was also a man of his era, conducting news meetings with his feet on the desk. He was slightly thrown, therefore, to find himself with two female deputies in succession. He could not always be counted on to remember which one was which.

He wrote and edited a number of books, some during the 1980s strikes that affected Murdoch-owned newspapers. His Educational Documents, England and Wales, 1816 to the Present Day is still a key text in teacher-training courses.

He retired from The TES in 1989, stating that he was "making room for a younger man". (He was succeeded by a woman.) But he continued to write books and to speak about education policy on radio and TV.

He remained physically active, playing golf into old age. He kept his mind similarly active: he was addicted to the Times crossword. And he enjoyed regular games of chess with his grandson, until the boy started beating him.

Stuart Maclure died on 15 June, after a short illness. He is survived by his wife, Mary, and his children Michael, Mary and Clare.

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