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Dyson at Large: Fancy a half-price boudoir makeover?

With Valentine’s Day pending, I couldn’t help but consider what I’d be doing if I was a romantic with money to spend in Sunderland.

Before you start worrying about this strange scenario, let me explain that I was prompted by a 12-page Valentine’s pull-out in the Sunderland Echo on 26 January.

Editorially, it was an eclectic mix of simple guides for would-be suitors: tender places to go… “Why not take your loved one to see The Rat pack Live From Vegas at the Sunderland Empire on February 13?” (page 23); passionate gift tips… “Non-stick, heart-shaped frying pan, £4.45 at Amazon” (also page 23); and amorous recipes… “Baked cod with a herby crust” (page 31, honest!).

But it was the adverts that provided a real insight into the acceptable courting antics and dining preferences of sentimental locals.

“Look and feel simply stunning,” read the half page advert belonging to the supplement’s co-sponsor, Simply U, next to a flirty picture of an over-made up blonde in near-kinky underwear relaxing on a leopard skin.

The offer was for a sexy transformation: free champers, a professional make-up and hair style session followed by being snapped in your undies in a soft-furnished studio… with a 10×8 pic to share with your lover afterwards. At the ‘half price’ of £99, my 14 February treat may well be sorted for Mrs D! ( for full details).

After wooing your other half with this semi-audition for a glossy, why not try some of the doting dishes waiting for you at Sunderland’s best restaurants?

I quite fancied the “Cauli cheese inside out” starter at D’Acqua in John Street, “herb-crumbed brie deep fried and served with a cold cauliflower puree”, mmmm (page 32).

For mains? “Poached chicken breast stuffed with wild mushrooms and spring onions, served on a creamy tomato sauce infused with vodka” (yes, vodka).

Pudding? Why not diet on a “Lemon posset, refreshing set cream infused with fresh lemon juice”. (Not bad, though, £20 a head for the lot).

I know, you think I’m taking the Mick. But what I’m trying to show is that sometimes it’s the adverts in a local newspaper that can give you the feel for a town.

And the 17 display adverts in the Valentine’s supplement were obviously welcome, with only 14 others in the entire paper, plus five-and-a-half pages of classified (Tuesdays normally do have quite a low ad count, by the way).

I did frown, however, at the sponsor for the TV pages… ‘John G. Hogg, award-winning, family-owned funeral directors’ (enjoy, as you sit down to watch Dearly Departed).

But this is gritty North East England, and they’re made of strong stuff up here.

No smut, mind; while they can take a bit of a giggle over 14 February underwear pictures for her indoors, there was not one massage parlour advert, or anything slightly close to one.

I remember from days in Teesside that the North East’s prostitution problem, a result of some of the worst economic deprivation in the UK, would make hosting such adverts abject hypocrisy, unacceptable with the local powers-that-be.

Long may this be the stance of local managing directors and editors who have not let such sordid revenue potential spoil what are family newspapers.

But enough of adverts… what of the main book’s editorial?

The front end was of solid news stock, the grief of a 21-year-old widowed mum making the splash, touching memories of her war-hero soldier husband killed in Afghanistan.

One can’t help but think there are many such stories in the Sunderland Echo currently, the area being a rich recruiting ground, (the Hastings Hill carvery advert on page 26 read “we would like to offer all armed forces men and women to eat FREE.”)

There were a total of 73 stories on 15 news pages, with plenty of crime, court, calls, and health content.

However, there were only a couple of short council or politics reports on this particular day, and an entire double-page centre spread devoted to Sunderland’s climbing wall seemed a little soft.

A headline that did catch my eye was ‘Nurse patted patient’s bottom,’ which cheekily implied a Barbara Windsor approach from Carry On Doctor (it was actually a sadder story of allegations relating to a care home).

Hard/soft news aside, of particular value was ‘Down Your Way,’ a total of 27 community correspondents together providing an impressive 229 neighbourhood reports and nibs in a weekly eight-page section.

Like many cities, Sunderland comprises a number of areas with their own distinct histories, communities and events, and it was encouraging to see a newspaper giving over so much space to picture-bylined representatives spreading their news.

It’s the kind of initiative you get from an editor who knows his patch, with Sunderland lad Rob Lawson editing the paper since 2002.

Like many regional editors, Lawson has had to partake in his fair share of efficiency drives, the latest being a centralised subbing hub now producing the Echo and sister Johnston Press titles like The Shields Gazette and the Hartlepool Mail

But with Sunderland Echo sales down by a comparatively bearable seven per cent in the January to June 2009 ABCs, you get the feeling that this determined newspaper will weather the storm and continue to give Mackems what they want for many years to come.

Other points to highlight:

  • It was a Tuesday, but there were only 27 reports on six pages of sport

  • That said, one page was full of must-read comment from Sunderland FC legend Gary Rowell

  • There were only four letters on page 8

  • In total, there were 52-pages, with a cover price of 43p

  • The Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette was founded by local MP Samuel Storey and fellow radicals in 1873, its first edition costing a halfpenny

  • The current Echo was one of the first evening papers to turn tabloid in World War Two because of newsprint shortages

  • Steve Dyson worked in the regional press for 20 years, editing weekly, Sunday and daily newspapers in the North East and the Midlands from 2002 until the end of 2009. To contact him, email

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    Journo (10/02/2010 13:16:41)
    Another interesting read but it would be nice to see Mr Dyson checking out the web offerings of the publications he writes about given the importance of the internet to the regional press.

    Steve Dyson (10/02/2010 14:01:49)
    Thanks, Journo, for the input, but this blog is to highlight the power of the printed press.