There I was, rummaging through the shelves of WH Smith in Stratford-upon-Avon, trying to spot a Christmas week local paper worth reviewing, when I was almost slapped across the face by a trout.
Yep, a foot-long trout with a fag stuck in its mouth, its body firmly strapped across a battered hat worn by an old chap with a red nose, blacked-up face and snowy white beard.
There may well have been the Coventry Telegraph, the Banbury Guardian and the Stratford-upon-Avon Herald to choose from, but once I saw that image I just had to discard the other papers and buy the Evesham Journal.
Especially when I turned to the full page of pictures that was promised on page 25 of the 29 December edition.
Where else but in Middle England would you find 30 grown men with blacked-up faces and fancy gear dancing to a din of accordions, banjos and clashing sticks? And what else but a local weekly newspaper would dedicate an entire page to eight pictures portraying this strange spectacle?
It was only a shame that the Journal didn’t put more effort into explaining the background of what sounded like a popular annual event. Yes, a short standfirst told us these were the Original Welsh Border Morris dancers who descended on the Worcestershire market town of Pershore on Christmas Eve as part of a ‘Madcap tour’.
But that was it: there was no more detail and no captions answering the many questions the page prompted me to ask. Who the hell were these guys? Where were they from? How long had they been together? Did they get ever any criticism from the politically correct for their minstrel-like appearance? Where and when were they appearing next? And what, for heaven’s sake, was the story behind the chap with a trout on his head?
I can only assume that Journal readers know the answers to all these questions and, if they don’t, that editor Peter John asks his team to make sure they provide them next time the dancers appear.
My other criticism was that the Journal didn’t use the wonderful looking ‘trout man’ as the main picture on page one – surely better than the non-descript picture of Evesham town centre that was used.
‘It’s official! Our town is so special’ was the splash that went with this dull town centre picture, a deskbound report on a survey from a bank that described the Evesham area as one of the most desirable places to live in Britain.
This would have been a passable splash for Christmas week, but only if there was nothing better to lead on which I did not think was the case. ‘Tribute paid to tragic Scott’ placed as the second lead was to my mind a much better-selling story, describing the sudden and mystery death of a local school pupil.
But at least this was on the front, and there were several other enjoyable stories inside, including:
- ‘Cannabis? No, it’s just my moss phlox that you can smell’ leading page two, the peculiar tale of a local plagued by would-be druggies and the police because of a cannabis-smelling plant growing in his garden.
- ‘River dredging will open the Avon to bigger boats’ leading page three, detailing the £26,000 project that will help develop Evesham’s tourism.
- ‘Councillors kiss and make up after woodland courting jest’ leading page five – a funny story you’d have to read in full to understand, but basically resulting in a randy politician grabbing a kiss under the mistletoe during a full council meeting.
- ‘Farmer’s daughter is a good start to 2012’ leading page seven, which may sound mundane but certainly wasn’t with its nude picture of a local girl appearing in the raunchy 2012 Lady Farmers Calendar – see here for details.
There were 116 stories and 49 pictures on 20 news and features pages, with another 18 reports and 13 pictures on two sports pages – not the highest count, but not bad for a slim, 40-page Christmas edition. And I was impressed to see that the Cotswold edition of the Journal had its own front and back pages with another three page changes inside.
The reason for this effort was obvious from the Journal’s latest ABC certificate: its biggest-selling area is the Cotswolds where 3,246 readers pay 55p for their local edition, whereas only 2,741 buy the paper in Evesham, with 15,233 copies delivered free.
Another 6,809 copies are read in Pershore – just 158 of them sold – which brings the Journal’s total circulation to 28,209, with 22pc of these purchased.
It’s a complicated structure, but perhaps one that is needed for the two editions that span a wide geography across the four counties that cover the north Cotswolds and the Vale of Evesham.
First launched in 1860, the Newsquest-owned Journal has had its fair share of change to deal with in recent months, announcing the closure of its Evesham office last April and then the loss of its own dedicated editor in October.
But if its Christmas week editions are anything to go by, the Journal’s editorial staff are putting in a tremendous effort to keep things as local as possible, even if they now have to do this from a Worcester base.
I just hope that one of them emails me with more details about that man in the trout hat…