Requiem for a Heavyweight – The retiral of Hugh McIlvanney.

On Monday morning, I came across an article which proclaimed that strong writing was a skill to prioritise in 2016. The same article went on to bemoan the fact that many social media and digital editors failed to recognise the craft involved in being able to tell a story in an engaging fashion or to report simple facts or provide an opinion using words which were informative and which stuck in the mind.

Instead, the modern emphasis was on catchy by-lines, clickbait intrigue and innuendo, and modern sales techniques designed to provoke a reaction.

The sheer joy and simplicity of good writing was being ignored – and that was to be regretted.

“Well said” I thought and moved on only to come across the news that after 66 years the great Hugh McIlvanney was retiring from the field of journalism in general and sports journalism in particular.

If ever there was a better advert for good writing – and the effect good writing can have on the reader – than Hughie McIlvanney, then I am yet to see it or read it..

McIlvanney always regarded himself as a journalist first and foremost and apparently felt that he had a duty to impart the news and tell the story to the reader. However, his method of doing so was to employ the use of carefully crafted words which would not only describe the scene he was depicting, but which would entertain, inform and stick in the mind of the reader for ever more.

Further, as his face, and more importantly his voice, became more widely known throughout the world of television broadcasting, it became impossible not to hear that gravel laden voice in your head whenever you read one of his columns. In short, his writing became a piece of Hugh McIlvanney that somehow simply lived in your head and spoke the words on the page.

When the the call of academia passed him by he chose to learn to type and take shorthand when it was somewhat unfashionable for menfolk to have such skills. He served his apprenticeship in court and news reporting and learned the importance of meeting deadlines and getting the facts right.

These same skills, together with his ability to observe and turn a phrase, were to turn him into a world class journalist and a master wordsmith.

Commenting upon his retiral, Patrick Collins – no mean writer himself – said that to call McIlvanney a great writer was like saying that Muhammed Ali had been a useful heavyweight.

There is no doubt in my mind that McIlvanney is responsible for inspiring generations of journalists and now bloggers to record their observations and opinions by way of the written word.

He was voted as Sports Journalist of The Year on no less than six occasions by his peers and he is the only Sports Journalist to have been declared Journalist of the Year. His columns over the years on Football, Boxing, Horseracing and numerous others sports have contained some of the most vividly descriptive phrases ever written.

For example he once described Joe Bugner – the boxer – as having “the physique of a Greek Statue …. but fewer moves” and described Frank Bruno’s attempts when facing Mike Tyson as being “no more competitive than a sheep in an abattoir!”.

Comparing Ali’s defeat of George Foreman in Zaire to the resurrection of Christ, McIlvanney opined that Ali “having rolled away the rock, he hit George Foreman on the head with it!”

His collected columns on any subject matter should be compulsory reading for every English student as they demonstrate both the story tellers art and the news reporter’s pragmatism.

They also show the humanity of the man who is troubled by the notion of fat cats paying to watch two men knocking seven bells out of one another and by the passing of the mercurial George Best who lost his fight with the bottle ….. and himself.

However, away from Sports McIlvanney was and is a lover of the Theatre and I have no doubt that he would have made a world class, if perhaps reluctant, Theatre critic.

With his torpedo cigars, that sandpaper voice, his raincoat, pen and his notebook, the image I have of McIlvanney is of a man who has witnessed many an amazing event and who is sufficiently comfortable in his own skin to have the courage to record those events in his own words and in his own style for the benefit of others.

By doing so, over the past 66 years he has been able to put his own stamp on those same events merely by bearing witness and engaging the reader with his well crafted words.

However, the most important lesson to learn from the boy from Kilmarnock who did not go to University (unlike younger brother Willie) is that if you apply yourself to your job – and by that I mean the preparation and determination to be in the right place and the right time to do the job of work in the first place – and can speak and write good English to the extent that you are worth reading and listening to – then the world can be your oyster.

If I were ever to appear on Desert Island Discs and had to face the question about which person from history you would choose to be if you had the choice then I would be hard pushed to come up with a better and more pleasurable answer than Hugh McIlvanney.

No chatting at the back? That ‘ll cost you money!

Look at this photograph — what do you see ?


True or False? The website is old hat! It is a throwback to a bygone age, a digital relic and no longer essential.

Answers on a postcard!

How often have you heard it said that every business – whether it is a start up or a well established business – needs a website?

At one stage that was true but these days I believe that what is required is not a website at all but a digital presence – of which a website is just one element and in some cases not even an essential element at that.

Now, before all the web designers send me e-mails expressing outrage and indignation at my stupidity, let me stress that for most businesses a website is essential in my opinion.

However, in an age of ever advancing digital technology, the mere creation of a website is not nearly enough to advance the prospects and fully exploit the potential of many businesses which have access to and can use the internet to increase turnover, profits, market share and reputation.

Take the example of a company I know which has recently spent some money on developing a brand new website. It looks really classy, has nice photographs, and tells you what the company does, where it is and what’s on offer. The director in charge was very proud of it and told me it had received lots of visits since it replaced the old site.

“Good” says I ” And how’s business?”

“Dead average” came the reply – despite all the hits on the new website.

The problem with this business is that it has stuck to the old fashioned view that an attractive website was required and that was it.

There was no sign of a full, or even partial, digital campaign involving twitter, facebook or any of the other platforms where the company can be involved in what I describe as the “digital chat”.

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These days the mobile phone has ceased to be a phone – it is still a communication device but it is actually used more often to share video, photographs, location information and, most importantly, for digital “chat” mostly via twitter and facebook.

The greater the chat involving a specific company or business the greater the presence or digital footprint of that company becomes and so it comes up first or perhaps second when key words are fed into any search engine.


Some restaurants and bars are very digitally active and often encourage their clients to tweet or message from the premises giving it a mention and so increase their digital spread. Some even have a “selfie wall” where customers can take photos, showing where they are and send them out to friends and contacts.

The result? The word spreads, more customers come in, more selfie’s go out and on and on it goes.

Yes, the website gets looked at but it is the chat that matters!


Another business has no website whatsoever. It is an e-commerce business ran by a 70 plus year old man from his living room. The owner has built up a digital presence in his chosen sales area and forum and strategically advertises in that forum and via facebook.

With each order, he sends out a series of e-mails to his customers and at least one of these recommends that they try another one of his products which is then offered at a discount – if the customer provides an online review of the product which they originally purchased!

Result? Increased reviews leading to increased online presence which in turn generates increased sales and increased profits running to hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Strangely enough, this one man cottage industry run by a septuagenarian is phenomenally successful and earns more than the business I mentioned at the top of the page which has just spent a healthy sum on a new website but which failed to go the extra digital mile.

So, back to the question at the top of the page – what do you see in the photograph?

The answer is the most widely used means of advertising and promotion in the world today – digital chat – and if your business isn’t chatting it is not making the most of its potential!

Digital chat – everyone is doing it!




A man – or a woman – walks into a ….Restaurant



And the big question is what happens next?

Irrespective of whether or not you are the owner of the bar or restaurant, or the customer, or an employee of the establishment concerned – what happens next should be the same in every case time and time again.

At a time when Scotland’s food and drink industry has plenty to shout about in terms of quality, there is no doubt that bar and restaurant owners face fierce competition for customers and their hard earned cash.

The design and layout of any licensed premises is vitally important. Perhaps the place concerned is part of a chain or has a specific theme which hopes to attract customers. Perhaps the premises are “local” hoping to attract regular customers from the immediate neighbourhood as opposed to a destinational establishment which attracts people from far and wide?

Irrespective of what kind of establishment the man or woman has walked into, the first thing they should see when they come through the door is a smile – and they should see it sooner rather than later.

Clever designs, an appetising menu, a good location – all help to make a successful and profitable bar or diner, but it is at the sharp end of service that can really make for a great consumer experience and boost profits.

Owners and managers should see waiters and waitresses as a point of sale and train them accordingly. With the right training in terms of attitude and practice, waiters and waitresses can make a huge difference to the experience of the customer and success of the business concerned.

So here are a few basic tips for the budding waiter/waitress/manager or owner when it comes to meeting and greeting those who have chosen to walk into your bar or restaurant:

1.The newly arrived customer should be met with eye contact and a smile within a minimum 30 -45 seconds of arriving on the premises and should be shown to a seat within no more than a minute or two at most.

2. The newly arrived customers should be asked if they wish a drink at this stage  (sale 1).

3. Within 3 – 5 minutes, the waiter or waiterss should return to the table with the  drinks concerned and any menus. At this stage the waiter/waitress should  advise of any special offers or dishes (Potential sale 2)

4. After a few moments, the waiter/waitress should return and take any food order (sale 3) and should offer the customers any bread/breadsticks  dips or other available savouries while they wait for their main meal (sale 4)

5. The waiter/waitress should then ask if the party wish any wine or other drinks with the ordered  meal (sale 5) and then ask if the table would like some water (sale 6)


6. When delivering either food or drinks, or indeed dealing with any other enquiry the service should always be delivered with a smile and courtesy, with an eye being kept on the progress of the meal. The waiter or waitress should always sound positive and offer helpful suggestions in terms of drinks or dishes (upselling where possible).

7. At an appropriate time, the table should be asked if they would like any further drinks with appropriate suggestions being made.(sale 7).

8. Desserts should always be offered (sale 8) as should tea or coffee (sale 9)

9. Most importantly when presenting the final bill, the customer should always be presented with a business card representing the premises – so they can be reminded of their visit to the premises or to pass on to a friend or relative (this is sale 10).

Provided the chef has the food right, the owners and managers have their pricing right, this is how the humble waiter or waitress makes the maximum possible number of sales to the customers and helps boost the profits of the business.

Of course excellent service enhances the customer experience – and is likely to guarantee the waiter or waitresses gains that most prized possession — the maximum tip possible!


And finally — a little reverse psychology – here’s how not to do it!