Alastair Borthwick: a Journalist for the 20th Century

The extraordinary Alastair Borthwick was born in Ruthergren in 1913. As a youth, his spirit pushed him out of school and into journalism in nearby Glasgow. He wrote on numerous topics including hiking which was taking Scotland by storm; the pastime’s economy and simplicity appealed to many throughout Europe. But Borthwick’s creativity was stifled by written journalism. This led him to radio where his personality did him in good stead and his first broadcast revealed to everyone his natural way with the microphone; he was a breath of fresh air in a formalized environment. In 1939 and spurred by a recommendation from T.S. Eliot, Borthwick published his first book, Always a Little Further, largely based on his earlier writings on the outdoors. It remains an important commentary on a social transformation.

The arrival of the Second World War swept Alastair Borthwick up. Working in intelligence, he saw action on numerous fronts from North Africa to Europe. Following the war, he was given the assignment of writing on his own wartime experiences. This resulted in his next book Sans Peur, first published in 1946 and reissued in 1994 under the title Battalion. The work chronicled the development of his team of comrades from inexperienced cadets to hardened soldiers, including a nighttime mission sneaking behind German lines in Holland.

Following the war, Borthwick and his wife Anne moved north to the islands of Jura and Islay for a change of scenery. However, the invention of television put a dampener on his radio-based work; he was forced to reckon with this new wave of broadcasting technology. Adapt he did, and throughout 1960’s and the following decades he delivered some 150 television broadcasts on a wide range of topics from 19th century Irish dance to the McCarthy trials.

Alastair Borthwick’s time in broadcasting spanned his whole professional life. Before passing away in 2003, Borthwick modestly appraised his career; he expressed the satisfaction of having been a reliable and readable journalist.

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