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From binman to journalist

Journalists come from a wider variety of backgrounds and enter the job through different channels – but few followed the route of Mick King. He was a dustman for 10 years before joining the reporting staff of the Leighton Buzzard Observer. Eleven years on, Mick is the paper’s chief reporter, a font of local knowledge with a vast array of contacts in an area where he grew up and has spent all his life.

Mick King (54) was born in the village of Heath and Reach, a few miles from the offices of the Leighton Buzzard Observer. He failed his 11-plus, left school at 15 without qualifications and did whatever manual jobs came up and paid the best. He drove an excavator for building contractors, worked in a bakery, had a spell as a sewer man and drove a locomotive at the local sandpits.

He also worked as a postman before going “on the bins”. It was physically demanding but did little to tax the brain and the gangs had often finished their rounds by 11am. So with time on his hands, Mick enrolled at evening classes and studied O-level English language, reviving an interest in writing that had budded in his early teens and had spawned a string of unsuccessful efforts to get his work published in magazines such as Reader’s Digest.

Biology was his next subject and he found himself in the same class as the Observer’s chief reporter at the time, Sally Lambourne. They got talking and she suggested that he submit an article to the paper.

Mick wrote a then-and-now piece about a local park and it was published, followed by several more articles, all unpaid. His big break was to come after he enrolled for A-level English literature. The tutor was a friend of the then editor, Andy Wallis, and put a word in for him. Mick bumped into him in the street one day and was asked if he’d like to write a column for the paper.

“I said: ‘What about?’ said Mick. “He said: ‘Anything you like.'”

Mick seized the challenge, drawing on his wide experience of local life to produce a column that brought him a regular lineage cheque on top of his dustman’s wages.

As time went on, he got to know the Observer staff better and became accepted in the office. When the paper was short of staff, Mick used one of his holiday weeks to help out with captions, press releases and other bread-and-butter reporting.

His perseverance finally paid off when one of the reporters emigrated and Mick was taken on . He admits it was “a real culture shock” in the early days and says that even now there are times when the misses the outdoor life.

He has had to learn completely on the job and says there have been some painful lessons. But he has learned to cope with all that a local newspaper demands and now heads a four-strong reporting team.

His editor, Nick Wormley, describes him as “solidly consistent, dependable and reliable” and says his contacts are often of enormous help in a small community.

Mike has developed a passion for court reporting – though he’s often found himself covering cases against people he knew. Another down side of so much local knowledge is that he occasionally has to write obituaries for people he has grown up with.

Mick’s favourite reporting job was a case at the Old Bailey. He had covered the story of the hammer murder of an insurance agent through to crown court trial and, when the mother of the victim’s stepdaughter was charged with conspiracy, the trial took place at Britain’s most famous court.

“That was a really big thrill,” he says. “I walked up the old stone steps and sat in the old waiting room and thought of all the big names that had been there, and I thought ‘here’s an old boy from Heath rubbing shoulders with some of the best reporters in the country’.”

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