NCE at 50 | Editors’ key moments: Alistair McLellan 1998-2000

My time as the editor of NCE lasted less than two years. I was the first and last not to have an engineering background and was keen not to overstay my welcome.

My predecessor, the late Mike Winney, lived and breathed civil engineering. He had a feel for the profession I could never hope to match.

But perhaps he had got a little too close to the subject and did not see the need for the magazine to change. The magazine’s management certainly thought so. 

I was then NCE’s deputy editor and had just been offered an editor’s job on another magazine. “Stay and we will make you editor” they said. So I did. Mike went and I had the hot seat.

A magazine which celebrated and challenged the profession

Given the controversial nature of my appointment in the eyes of many, I knew I had to get a move on. I felt ICE members deserved a magazine which celebrated and challenged the profession in equal measure. I got on with planning what was the magazine’s first fully fledged relaunch in its, then, 26 year history.

Most of all I wanted NCE to live up to the “new” in its name. With then NCE publisher Andrew Dowding I took to the road to sell my ideas. We visited most ICE regions, presented our ideas and listened to feedback.

Our general impression was that they felt that we had done our research well and should be left to get on with the job. I was very aware that an NCE subscription was – as I’m sure it is now – the most valued part of the ICE membership. I was humbled by and grateful for the members’ support.

We presented one last time at the national council and cleared the final hurdle.

The relaunch issue arrived – with an artist’s impression of the Metsovitikos Viaduct gracing its cover. One previously sceptical colleague (with a civil engineering background) grabbed a copy and leafed through it. After 10 minutes he declared “we’ve done it”. One down, 80,000-odd to go.

We waited for the letters to arrive from readers – no instant social media feedback then. They appeared and the majority were happy – phew.

There’s not much more to say. My two deputies, Antony Oliver – who followed me as editor – and the much missed Jackie Whitelaw were clearly the pair to lead NCE in the 21st century. I made my excuses and left – first to NCE’s website and then to my current role as editor of the Health Service Journal.

Hong Kong handover

I enjoyed my time at NCE where I was mentored by long standing NCE journalist and later managing director Simon Middelboe – arguably the most significant figure in the brand’s history after Sydney Lenssen. I appreciated the chance to report on stories like the Hong Kong handover and always felt a thrill when we scrambled to get a reporter on a plane to cover a bridge collapse or an earthquake. 

Two decades of reporting on healthcare has only reinforced the lesson I first learned at NCE – that failure teaches you valuable lessons.

I have one further reason to be thankful to NCE. Shortly after the relaunch we recruited a new reporter. Reader, nine years later, I married her.

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