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Take Five: Nigel Pickover

Each week HTFP asks a leading regional press figure five set questions about their career – including how it started, their best story or headline, and which other journalists and publications they most admire.

This week:  Ipswich Evening Star editor Nigel Pickover.

 

What was your first job in journalism?

When I was 17, I was lucky enough to enter journalism school at Richmond College, Sheffield …on a wild and windy campus in the challenging suburbs to the east of England’s finest city.

I had been sponsored on a nine-month-long pre-entry course by The Star, Sheffield, but some of my first assignments were on the Richmond Reporter, which we were thrilled to call Britain’s smallest newspaper.

This was an A5 publication – but in the halls of Richmond, where the journalism centre flourished under the leadership of Ron Eyley and Gerry Kreibich, there was nothing small about the reputation of the Reporter.

We broke some fabulous stories – and kept a questioning pressure on the college authorities, just as good regional newspapers do in their corridors of power to this day.

The Reporter was published weekly, and everyone, journalism students and others alike, waited for Thursday and Reporter day. We sold our own copies of the college-printed newspaper – giving us an early insight into the finances of a print product.

To this day I can recall the thrill of publication day – and watching lecturers buy copies to see if they had been caught out in a misdeed!

That “print electricity” carried through to my starting as a reporter in a busy Star newsroom in York Street, in 1973.

I worked for the Sheffield daily for two years before I got a byline … but loved every minute of it, dashing here and there as The Star’s busy-bee and not-to-be-beaten reporter.

At the same time I was given a local football column on The Star’s Green ’Un sports paper, working under a brilliant, if largely humourless, veteran called Reg Whittaker.

Reg, tiny in stature but large in bark, knew his sport inside out.

Then, one day, he was my utter hero. I had written a feature on a team playing in Sheffield’s oddly-named Bible Class league – and had written up a live report from a Saturday afternoon match for that night’s paper, printed on green paper.

I waited for 20 frosty December minutes outside a newsagents in Loundsley Green, Chesterfield, until the Green’Un van arrived.

Dear old Reg had given me the first of thousands of career bylines … and that night I went home and slept as a proud and happy young journalist.

Who or what inspired you to go into journalism?

The place that inspired me to go in to newspapers was The Daily Express building in Ancoats, Manchester.

With a family home in Saddleworth, on the Yorkshire/Lancashire border, we often travelled through central Manchester on the way to a favourite aunty’s home near Warrington.

On the return journey, newspaper headlines were chasing round a billboard in Piccadilly Gardens … and nearby the mighty Express, selling four and five million copies, was being printed in a glass-fronted building where all could see the workings of the Press.

There and then I wanted to be a journalist.

Can you imagine a young man’s delight, some 20 years later, when I returned to the same building to be a sub-editor on the famous Daily Express.

Who inspired me? One Peter Goodman, Assistant Editor, of The Star, Sheffield, who came to a career convention at Chesterfield School.

I knew the second I met him that journalism was for me – and months later he was the man who came down to meet me when I applied to be a journalist on his title and scraped an interview.

What would you rate as your best story, headline or picture?

In Sheffield I loved getting to some crime scenes before detectives, even beating them to a bank gang’s getaway car on one occasion.

One one occasion it took a week to find the name of a victim of Lassa Fever – I got it after prowling many estates for days on end!

When working on The Daily Express in Manchester, I chased fire engines and ambulances 10 miles from my home in Buxton … and came across a train crash in Chinley, Derbyshire, where several had been injured.

From a stinking telephone box I alerted legendary Stan Blenkinsop, on the newsdesk, and although I was a sub-editor he asked me to do the story! What an honour.

I raced to the nearest pub looking for passengers … and found a Daily Express colleague, Dave Fenney, sat at the bar sipping a pint of Robinson’s. He had been on a Sheffield to Manchester Express when it collided with a stone train … and although uninjured his first priority had been to order a calming drink!

Who would you rate as the best journalist you have worked either with or for?

Sheffield Star – the late Ron Roland, magnificent writer and raconteur. Also Sheffield, News Editor David Mastin, the meanest newsman on the block and the man who didn’t give me a by-line for two years, remains the best I have worked with.

Daily Express – chief sub in Manchester was John Honeywell and calmness personified. He polished copy effortlessly and never screamed abuse. He later went on to the Mirror Group and is eased into later years by becoming a freelance cruise writer under the nickname of Captain Greybeard.

Yorkshire Evening Press – Robert Beaumont and great editor David Nicholson.

Evening Star – too many brilliant team members to mention. Legends one and all.

Apart from your own title, which regional or national newspaper do you most admire and why?

National: I love to hate The Daily Mail. I hate to love The Guardian.

Regional: The Gazette, Middlesbrough still captivates, and I have always admired The Express and Echo, Exeter.

Local: The brilliance and determination of weekly papers never ceases to amaze. Look no further than Nicola Megson’s Derbsyhire Times in Chesterfield for a power-packed product brought out beautifully on shoestring resources against all odds.

3 comments

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  • August 23, 2011 at 2:35 pm
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    Ex-ed’s note: This lean, mean (see above!) word machine has mellowed with age but thanks for the memories Nigel – you were one of Sheffield’s best.

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  • August 23, 2011 at 8:26 pm
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    Nigel – you’re too kind. I’m delighted if my inspirational (?) leadership helped with your own successful career. If only I could have won half the awards you have collected. I never realised back then in Ancoats Street that calmness and absence of abuse (and there were times when voices WERE raised, I promise you) would lead to years as managing editor at Today, the Express and the Mirror before I finally ran away to sea.

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  • September 5, 2011 at 1:46 pm
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    Why is nobody asking Nigel why the circulation of his paper has gone off the edge of a cliff

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