John Ritchie Remembered

Submitted by webmaster on Wed, 12 Mar '14 7.50pm

John Ritchie, editor at Edinburgh Guide, died Saturday 8th March 2014. The funeral will be held on Friday, 14th March 2014 at 1.30pm at Rosslyn Chapel.

Robert Alstead, Owner/Content Editor

It was with shock and sadness that I heard of the sudden death of John Ritchie on Saturday 8th March. He was 67.

It will be 20 years this August since I first met John. I’d just splashed out on an expensive “prosumer” video camera and I was documenting events at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in 1994 with my friend Frances Anderson.

John, as John did, came up and started chatting. A shaggy haired, wild-eyed Scot with quixotic facial hair, he was covering the festival for Reuters television. He was keen to exchange notes about our project and to get my take on my mint new camera. He had a similar model. Thought the image quality was tremendous. He was using it for his own video archive.

I was immediately struck by John’s enthusiasm and a burning desire to share his knowledge whether it be on doing Edinburgh’s festivals or video-making. He tactfully pointed out that I needed a better microphone, higher quality videotape, and a tripod. All good advice.

As we bumped into each other throughout the festival, we continued to exchange intelligence and lifts in the car. He ended up giving me a tripod. It was a little stiff but much better than what I had before (nothing). And I still have that tripod, sitting within reach of me as I write this.

I can’t remember how many years on the Edinburgh festival John had done at that stage, but he could recall seeing Billy Connolly when he was mainly a banjo-player. John had a knotted bunch of media passes from past festivals, attached to his bag, like kills painted on the side of a fighter plane, and it was a matter of great pride each year that he was back covering the “greatest arts festival in the world”. John thrived on the pandemonium of the festival.

John was an easy conversationalist. He seemed genuinely interested in people’s stories, and took delight in sharing his own, especially ones poking fun at pompousness or tomfoolery. He enjoyed a blether (his word) with practically anyone from artistic directors to receptionists. He was canny too. He told me on more than one occasion, with a twinkle in his eye, that hotel doormen gave him some of his best stories.

He was the social networker par excellence before “social networking” was a buzz phrase. I was often surprised by the range of John’s friends and acquaintances from computer hackers to city officials. If everyone in the world has six degrees of Kevin Bacon then everyone in Edinburgh probably had two degrees of John Ritchie.

Ever since I knew him, John was keenly aware of the importance of how technology was changing the media landscape. Technology brought us together. Not just the technology itself but trying to get the technology to work for us. I can remember exasperating hours in the mid-Nineties where we struggled at his home in Gorebridge with a prototype PC video editing system. When things looked impossible, John remained resolutely upbeat, determined to find a way to make it work. We did so. Eventually. We were one of the first producers in Scotland to post video online, at a time when video was viewed in small matchbox-sized windows.

A shared interest in video production, was followed by a partnership on at the turn of the century. A year or so after I’d launched the site, John approached me about doing a section covering all Edinburgh’s summer festivals. I balked at the idea. It was a huge undertaking, and I was more focused on another web project at the time. John was undaunted and talked me into it. He came on as a junior partner and drew on his network of friends and connections to help provide coverage of the full spectrum of Edinburgh’s arts jamboree in 2000. It was a mark of the affection that John was held in that many professional journalists donated their work.

At times irascible and stubborn, John was not always the easiest person to work with, but he was an essential, energising force. The team’s achievement was all the more impressive given the limitations of the web back then, when we needed several volunteers just to upload and code content into HTML pages each day. John bolstered the youngsters and encouraged everyone with his vision for the site. Faced with budget limitations, John found ways to reward contributors for their efforts by pulling strings and tapping his network for favours to ensure that even the boys in the back room tasted the champagne.

He wasn’t the only one running at full tilt - but he led by example. He was a constant promoter of Edinburgh Guide. He was also protective, ready to give someone a piece of his mind if he felt the site or a team member had been slighted, especially in the early days where it was difficult to get PRs to take ezines seriously. “It’s time tae to put the big boots on,” he’d say, when he felt matters had crossed a line. His style could be abrasive, but after the thunder the air usually cleared.

Latterly, as John threw his energies into establishing Black Diamond FM, I joined him for a presentation at the Scottish parliament on developing a network of Scottish community radio stations. It was good to see that project grow into fruition and this being John there were natural cross-fertilisations between Edinburgh Guide (and sister site and the radio station. As part of his ongoing efforts to nurture local talent, John also pushed for the introduction of the Scottish Fringe Theatre Award between and the Scottish Arts Club.

John was also an archivist and historian. One of his abiding passions was the mystical Rosslyn Chapel near his home. As well as co-authoring two books Rosslyn Revealed: A Library in Stone and Roslyn Decoded with Alan Butler, he was regularly on hand to field questions from the media on the chapel’s fascinating and often controversial history, and its links with the Scottish Knights Templar. It’s not a side of him that I knew well, although I remember him chuckling after having just ended a phone interview where, with dark sarcasm, he’d told a hapless reporter that they like to drink blood out of skulls.

Another thing John and I shared in common was that we had both walked the Camino de Santiago de Compostela - the Spanish pilgrim trail. He had walked with his partner Catriona, and I met my wife on the trail. That was 20 years ago this Autumn, the same amount of time I’ve known John.

I will remember him as a good friend, mentor, and fellow traveller.

Vivien Devlin, Contributor

I first met John in the mid 1980s when I was a young, inexperienced BBC radio researcher working on Festival review programmes. At EIF press conferences he was so friendly and helpful and with his profound knowledge of the Edinburgh Festival, assisted me with information and introductions (and gossip!), for securing behind-the-scenes stories and great interviews. He advised me to carry with me always my Sony Recorder as you never knew whom you might meet by chance at a theatre or media event.

Over the past decade or more, it has been wonderful to be part of the EG arts review team. With my BBC background, John also invited me to contribute to the Black Diamond Festival shows, broadcast live from Bristo Square. On a few occasions, I would arrive at the Studio tent rushing direct from, say, a 5 star Fringe play, with a director, actor or writer in tow to put them on air. All great fun.

Ken and I have been reminiscing about all the lively Festival & Hogmanay parties over the years, where we chatted to John and Catriona into the wee sma' hours. My goodness, it's going to be very strange not seeing John at the EIF programme launch soon, Fringe media bash, Book Festival parties and around and about the city in August.

John was so inspirational with his passion for Scottish arts, culture, history, heritage - and especially the Edinburgh Festivals. His most valuable video/film Archive of Festival programmes must be preserved as a lasting memorial to his Broadcasting and Editorial work.

Gordon Clayton, Musicals Reviewer EG & BlackDiamond FM

I have known John for the last 10 years, he attended the first meeting to discuss the possibility of setting up a community radio station in Midlothian. John was soon Chair of the steering committee and we started conversing and planning on a daily basis. John gave generously of his time and brought a range of contacts and an amazing knowledge and expertise to the project. It was a long drawn out process with delays and more than a few setbacks along the way. Eventually, the licence came through and John took on a multitude of roles deciding that everyone being a volunteer was the way ahead.

As a result, the station has survived and prospered and its continuation will be part of his legacy.

John was very good at getting people to do things despite their reservations and that is how he decided that he could involve me in Edinburgh Guide and actually get me to talk ‘on air’.

The carrot was the opportunity to be a reviewer and he persuaded me that there was a gap in his team to cover musicals. It has been a good experience and I benefited from his encouragement when we shared Saturday sessions at Black Diamond FM. John was a big personality, not always the easiest to work with as he enjoyed knocking down any windmills that got in his way.

One of our colleagues reminded John that ‘No man is an island’----He replied ‘I am’, but in reality he was Earth to a complex planet system involving many people. He will be sadly missed.

Bill Dunlop, Contributor

When this reviewer began contributing over ten years ago, John was a seemingly indefatigable presence, always encouraging to a comparative beginner. His personal qualities of professionalism, passionate interest in all aspects of Edinburgh’s Festivals, coupled with a very ‘can do’ attitude were truly inspirational.

If he could hold tenaciously to his own interpretation of some matters, or on occasion was not above cloaking a small degree of moral blackmail beneath his considerable charm, that simply rounded out his CV as a member of the human family.

That many will miss his presence is to state the obvious; but his professionalism coupled with his readiness to applaud effort and merit leave those of us who remain an example and a legacy we should cherish as we continue to work in the ways he always encouraged us to.

John Ritchie, editor at Edinburgh Guide, died Saturday 8th March 2014, aged 67. The funeral will be held on Friday, 14th March 2014 at 1.30pm at Rosslyn Chapel.

Allan Alstead, Contributor/company director

I have known John Ritchie for some twenty years, from the time that he first became interested in the work that our sons Robert and Jonathan were doing and he encouraged Robert to expand, which was closely followed by The fact that both these sites are still running and are still popular, says a great deal for the great enthusiasm that John always showed for the Edinburgh Festivals and for all cultural events in general throughout Scotland. I always recall his great desire for to cover not just the Hogmanay events in Edinburgh, but throughout the whole of the rest of Scotland. This was achieved and his vision was years ahead of any of the official web sites at that time. We had many discussions in the run up to the Hogmanay festivities when John would come round and bring with him fresh ideas and new concepts for the web site. To have him with you was to experience his boundless knowledge and enthusiasm for any project which caught his interest. He was a joy to be with.

We used to have gatherings in the summer - when the weather was kind in the garden of our house - to bring together the key personalities of and some of those who contributed to where John, often with Catriona and sometimes with his daughter Hynde, would become the life and soul of the party and delight his audience with stories and anecdotes. We shall greatly miss his presence and his great humour, but he has left a legacy which we will all treasure, one of enjoyment and of commitment.

John, as we all know, loved the Edinburgh Festivals and it was he who encouraged me to become accredited and to review many of the events at the International Book Festival. Without his encouragement and his introductions it would not have happened; I shall miss him for this. Everywhere he went in Edinburgh, and indeed in Scotland, he was a well kent figure among the media world through his work on Black Diamond FM and the web sites. He was a passionate supporter of local community radio and he will long be remembered for his invaluable contribution in this field.

We shall all miss that wonderfully attractive and friendly personalty that was John Ritchie. We shall miss his humour and his perceptive questions about anything and everything; he was indeed 'a true journalist' and that is perhaps the best accolade of which he himself would have approved.

The Scotsman obituary posted 13/03/2014.