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The Guild remembers Fordyce Maxwell

By 23rd October 2022July 27th, 2023No Comments

With the death of Fordyce Maxwell, the world of journalism has lost a distinguished and highly-respected writer. He was 77 and had been suffering from prostate cancer, writes Arthur Anderson.

The eldest of a family of nine, the seed for Fordyce’s journalism sprang from the family farm at Cramond Hill, near Cornhill-on-Tweed, Northumberland, where his father Thomas Fordyce Maxwell combined farming life with regular columns for the Alnwick Gazette. Following studies at Harper Adams College in Shropshire Fordyce cut his journalistic teeth as a young reporter on the original Farming News based in Perth. His next step up the ladder was in the late 1960s as Assistant Agricultural Editor of The Scotsman in Edinburgh eventually succeeding the late Bob Urquhart in the Agricultural Editor’s chair in 1975.

After several years of making his mark in a demanding role, Fordyce found the pull of the land too strong to resist and he gave up his job on The Scotsman to return to put his shoulder to the wheel of practical farming with his brothers Angus and Donald at Cramond Hill. During the next decade or so he worked as an energetic farmer but also wrote freelance articles for newspapers including the Newcastle Journal, The Glasgow Herald and The Scottish Farmer.  For 35 years he also wrote a weekly Landlines column under the pseudonym of Halidon for The Berwick Advertiser, the Berwickshire News and the Southern Reporter.  He also wrote three books on the lighter side of farming life entitled A Farmer’s Lot, A Farmer’s Boy and Wild Oats and Wellingtons. In his retirement Fordyce was also a regular columnist in Farm North-East.

It was during the period back on the farm that Fordyce and his wife Liz suffered a family tragedy when their 11-year-old daughter Susan was abducted and murdered by a serial killer as she walked home over Coldstream Bridge after a game of tennis on July 30th, 1982. It was 12 years before Susan’s killer was jailed. Despite the sadness and the enduring sense of loss, Fordyce and Liz continued to farm and to pursue their journalistic challenges with Liz in a senior editorial role in the Berwick Advertiser group. Twenty years after Susan’s death, Fordyce wrote a moving article with the opening sentence: Life continues, but the pain of loss never fades.   

After more than a decade at the family farm, a vacancy occurred for the Agricultural Editor’s post on The Scotsman. Fordyce duly applied for his old post and got the job. This time around, however, his journalistic talent was in demand above and beyond his farming desk duties and included lengthy stints as a weekly columnist, the paper’s daily diarist and also the sketch writer covering the Scottish Parliament.

Other strings to Fordyce’s bow included a talent for broadcasting and for several years he had a regular Maxwell on Monday slot on BBC Radio Scotland’s Farm Journal programme.  Additionally, he was a gifted public speaker and was in constant demand for after-dinner engagements, any proceeds from which he donated to charity.

All his journalistic life, Fordyce was an enthusiastic member and supporter of the British Guild of Agricultural Journalists and was a winner of both the coveted Stuart Seaton and  Netherthorpe awards. In 1995 he received the MBE for his services to journalism and in 2007 was given the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Scottish Society of Newspaper Editors.

Fordyce was a generous supporter of rural charities and, as a keen hill walker, was a driving force in the Teesdale Way long-distance charity walk in 2000 in aid of the Guild’s Charitable trust and the 200-mile Southern Upland Way walks to raise funds for the RSABI farming charity in 1997 and 2018.

In his many years in journalism, Fordyce was a champion of a farming industry that he loved but that neither infringed upon nor weakened his journalistic objectivity and he was never afraid to tackle often contentious subjects with vigour.

Fordyce leaves behind his journalist wife Liz, daughter Jacqueline, son-in-law Nolan with grand-daughters Ebba and Isla and son Tom, daughter-in-law Jenna, grand-daughter Sabrina and grandson Thomas Fordyce.