Former Northcliffe editor Barrie Williams has lifted the lid on his controversial exit from the company in his new book, Ink in the Blood.
The story behind his departure as editor of the multi-award winning Western Morning News is highlighted along with many other key moments in a forthright book, to be published at the end of this month.
His departure came about as a result of a reshuffle of Northcliffe editors in the south-west, when an editor-in-chief was appointed to take charge of the Bristol Evening Post and the Western Daily Press. Post editor Mike Lowe quit, and WDP editor Terry Manners left soon after.
Barrie returned from holiday to be told the same thing was to happen in Plymouth, home to the Herald and the Western Morning News, where Alan Qualtrough was to become editor-in-chief.
Barrie wrote: “Alan was the editor of the Plymouth Evening Herald, a former Daily Express man and a good editor who did a more then competent job on the evening paper but he had only been in the chair for about three years and he had nothing like my own vast experience and incomparable achievement record in our regional industry. In fact, nobody had!
“Now I was not only severely shocked – but badly hurt.
“I knew that it would have nothing to do with my ability and performance as an editor or as a journalist and everything to do with that infernal bloody bottom line.
“I told myself that if they were going to get rid of the best editor in the regional business to save money that was their problem, not mine.
“I had no wish to continue working for them. There would be no shouting match. I was not going to demean myself. I would retain my composure and my dignity – even though I was inwardly seething with anger and indignation.”
Far from being unable to cope with cost-cutting measures Barrie had in fact reduced the running costs he inherited when he became editor by many thousands of pounds.
Barrie explains to readers that, privately, he was worried that no one would have been able to understand and develop what had become his newspaper, later realising that there had been ten editors of the successful title – and that no one was indispensable.
In the end, he agreed to the financial settlement on offer, despite being advised that he would win a tribunal if he felt he needed to prove a point.
It was the end of his third editorship, the Kent Evening Post coming before Nottingham and the WMN, and he became less angry as the departure day approached.
And he wrote: “I told my staff… that there would be no fuss.
“In 1961, as a boy, I had walked into the Shrewsbury Chronicle alone and unnoticed. In 2005, as a man of 60, I walked out of the Western Morning News alone and unnoticed.”
Many more highs and lows are covered in the 316-page paperback, which tells how he grew up in a council house to start in journalism at 16, working his way through the ranks to become a respected editor who worked alongside Prince Charles, lunched with the Queen and rubbed shoulders with prime-ministers, multi-millionaire businessmen and the stars of showbiz and sport.
Tales of Brian Clough, the re-birth of Notts County legend Tommy Lawton and the launch of a neighbourhood news team, where a group of youngsters out of school were taken on to be groomed as future journalists in the Williams mould, are also covered.
There are moving insights into the 1984 miners’ strike, and the foot and mouth disaster in 2001, as well as behind-the-scenes glimpses of boardroom battles and management conflict.
Ink in the Blood is also a history of the newspaper industry, in which Barrie describes the rise of technology, changes in manpower and the way that newspapers work in an industry that has changed beyond recognition.