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Never a day off sick

Journalist Mick Jefferson, Scarborough born-and-bred, has notched up half a century working for the town’s Evening News. For 42 years he worked his way up from trainee reporter to acting editor – without even ONE day off sick. For the last eight years, since he officially retired, Mick has written three regular columns for the newspaper on a freelance basis. Feature writer Sharon Procter spoke to Mick about the 50-year career he stumbled into – almost by accident.

Mick Jefferson enjoyed his two years of National Service in East Africa so much he wanted to set up home there and never return to England.

He was offered a job with the Southern Rhodesian Army, but he had to come home for family reasons.

He reluctantly found himself back in Scarborough without a career to pursue and almost stumbled into journalism.

“Before I went out to Africa I had planned to go into teaching,” said Mick, now aged 70.

“But while I was in the Army one of the many jobs I had was teaching maths in an Army school.

“I realised I didn’t have the patience and knew I was completely and utterly unfit for a career in teaching.”

A 20-year-old Mick spotted an advert in the Evening News for a trainee reporter and decided to apply.

“I was also considering joining the Hong Kong Police but then I saw the advert and it seemed more interesting than most of the humdrum jobs about and I thought I would try for it.”

Two weeks later he was sitting at a desk with a notebook and pencil ready to start work.

“At 20 I was a relative latecomer, trainee reporters usually started out when they were 16,” he said.

“When I first started there was no formal training and you were taught on the job by the senior reporters.”

Within a few months of Mick joining the Evening News, moves were made to set up a national training scheme for junior journalists.

“It was the very first training scheme and I was one of the very first in the country to do it,” he said.

“It was run through the Newspaper Society and the editor Meredith Whittaker, whose family owned the newspaper, was very keen on it.

“All the training was done by correspondence over two years and I mainly taught myself shorthand from a book.”

The ever-dedicated Mick even sat a shorthand exam the day after he came back from his honeymoon with wife Lily, whom he met at the Evening News.

Lily was the general manager’s secretary and the couple now have two grown-up sons, Tim and Robin.

In his early days as a reporter, Mick helped to cover two huge stories which caused devastation and tragedy in the town.

In January 1953, Scarborough was hit by a violent storm, coupled with an enormous freak tide, which wreaked havoc on the seafront and caused £50,000 worth of damage.

“It was the worst seafront damage in living memory. Beach bungalows were pounded to matchwood, the Spa promenade was badly damaged and shops and cafes on the foreshore were wrecked with the mountainous seas,” said Mick.

In December the following year the sea claimed the lives of three crew members when the Scarborough lifeboat, the ECJR, overturned in the South Bay.

“It was on its way back home after a service call and wasn’t far off the end of the East Pier when it was hit by two huge waves. It was a great tragedy,” said Mick.

After four years as a trainee reporter, Mick finally qualified as a senior.

“It was quite something to become a senior reporter. You really felt you had arrived and learnt the job,” he said.

The work of a reporter was often long and laborious and it was not unheard of to work through the night.

“The borough council met once a month in the evening and the meeting started at 7pm,” said Mick.

“The Editor insisted the reporters took a verbatim shorthand note of the whole meeting which could last up to three hours.

“It might not finish until 10pm and then you had to go back to the office and write everything up and have the copy on the chief sub editor’s desk by 8am the next day.”

Mick and his colleagues worked hard to produce as many as five editions of the paper a day.

“Most of the time we had a first edition which came out just after 2pm and then one just after 3pm and a final at 4.30pm,” he said.

“But in the summer we used to publish another two – one at 5pm and another at 6.30pm,”Each of the editions carried the latest horse racing results, cricket scores and stop press news.

“There was no such things as betting shops and the BBC didn’t even give horse racing results,” said Mick.

“Holidaymakers would be sitting on the South Bay beach on a sunny afternoon and the newspaper seller came along with the first edition with the results of the first races.

“Not long after he would come back with the second edition and he could end up selling two or three papers to the same people.”

In the 50s and early 60s, until television took off, the Evening News was the main source of both local and national news.

“Even when people started to get TVs there was no local news and there were no local radio stations, so people relied on the Evening News to keep them up to date.”

After eight years as a reporter Mick started to make his way up the career ladder and became a sub-editor – editing stories, putting headlines on them and designing pages.

“I had a stretch as chief football and cricket writer and I was pitchforked into editing the sports pages.”

He went on to become chief sub-editor and deputy editor and before he retired from the Evening News in 1992 he had a spell as acting editor.But he wasn’t allowed to hang up his notebook and pencil for good.

“I was talked into continuing a diary column on a freelance basis against my will and I said I would give it a go to see how it went,” said Mick.

“I had so many other interests and I was going to finish with the job and not write another word for publication.

“It was supposed to be on a temporary basis but here I am, still writing three columns – my Scarborough Diary; Memory Lane and Yesterdays – and I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t enjoy it.”

So why did someone who as a young man was keen to travel and take in the world’s sights end up staying in his home town working for the local newspaper for the whole of his career?

“For most of my career I worked under a man – Sir Meredith Whittaker – whom I greatly admired,” said Mick.

“I enjoyed working for a family firm which was very good to me in many ways.

“Every time I considered leaving the Evening News, an opportunity came up for promotion within the paper.”

And does he ever regret not pursuing his ambitions of living and working abroad?

“Someone once said that journalism is the first draft of history,” said Mick.”I’ve enjoyed my career and that is why I’m still doing it.I can’t conceive having enjoyed any other job quite so much.I’ve been a privileged spectator with a front row seat for all the memorable happenings in Scarborough for half a century.”**********************************************

In his 42 years at the Scarborough Evening News,Mick Jefferson never took one day off sick.

“I was very anti-social and if I had a cold it didn’t stop me coming in and spreading it around my colleagues,” he said.

And his dedication to the job often spilled over into his holiday entitlement.

“There were always lots of other people in the queue before me asking for particular weeks off,” he said.

“My interests such as fishing were all in the town so I when I did have time off I didn’t want to go out of Scarborough.

“I didn’t always take my full entitlement and when I retired I had quite a few days owing to me.”**********************************************

Mick Jefferson certainly didn’t go into journalism because it promised rich rewards.

“When I started as a trainee I was earning £1 per week and once my National Insurance Sceme stamp was deducted I came ou
t with 15 shillings,” he said.

“When I was in the Army I was earning 11s/6d a day with all my food and board included and I even had enough money to employ a servant to look after my kit and do my washing.

“I wasn’t earning enough to support myself as a trainee reporter so my parents had to subsidise me.

“Before the war there were some newspapers where parents would pay for their children to become trainee reporters, so at least mine didn’t have to pay a pupilage fee.”

Out of his pittance of a wage Mick managed to save up to buy his own portable typewriter – which he still has to this day, although he now uses a computer.

“The office typewriters were used and abused and I wanted my own so I could use it when I did night work.It was a second-hand Remington and it cost me £12/10s. They were very expensive even second-hand because no new ones had come onto the market just after the war.”

Mick’s wage went up gradually during his traineeship until as a qualified senior he reached the dizzy heights of eight guineas – £8/8s.

“All professionals were paid in guineas. Solicitors always had to have their bills paid in guineas. It was a bit of a snob thing,” he said.

(Article reproduced by kind permission of Scarborough Evening News editor, David Penman).

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