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Dyson at Large: Ugly lies at Banana News


It was from high up on Clitheroe’s Norman Keep that I spotted the most colourful newsagents I’ve ever seen – and decided there and then to spread the word.

O yea, o yea, o yea! Calling all newspaper sales directors across the land, here is surely a way to help grab dwindling audiences for your titles.


Yes, Lynn Melvin and Keith Leeming, my old mates in circulation: I think you ought to try out a ‘Pomegranates and Lemon Top News and General Store’ in Redcar, or a ‘Pineapple and Hairy Pork Scratchings Newsagents’ in Rubery, with dazzling fascia boards that become known and loved from miles around.

Certainly as I strolled down the hillock and across Castle Street towards the bright-yellow Banana News shop, I felt with confidence that my weekly thirst for extraordinary local news would be satiated.

I was not disappointed; so peculiar was The Clitheroe Advertiser and Times’ splash that I commandeered a stool at a nearby hostelry and read the whole story immediately, pausing only to sip a pint of obligatory ale.

‘It’s all lies and ugly rumours!’ begged the headline, the weathered face of a restaurateur pictured alongside his venue “which some of the rumours have focussed on”, according to the picture caption.


What the blazes is this all about, I pondered, plunging into the intro: “Respected Ribble Valley businessman Kevin Berkins is calling for an end to months of ugly rumours and lies surrounding himself and his restaurant, The Eagle at Barrow.”

It was a really good read on the basis of nothing, a tale of Chinese-whisper style tittle-tattle that included local bobbies, divisional police enquiries, arrests, cautions, MI5 and Interpol.

All “complete rubbish” according to Mr Berkins, whose denials of sinister goings-on were backed up with official quotes from the local police chief: “I can confirm that Mr Berkins is not – and never has been – the subject of any investigation by Lancashire Constabulary in respect of these allegations.”

But what was the precise nature of the false allegations? Poorly paid immigrants in the kitchen? Illegally imported buffalo steaks? Gambling dens? Cannabis farms? Unlicensed adult sex clubs?

Not one detail of the scandal mongering was repeated, which surely means that even if the hearsay hadn’t come their way before, the whole of Clitheroe and surrounding villages would now be wondering what was behind the inaccurate stories of goings on at The Eagle at Barrow.

All of which was a great start for this 14th October edition, scoring ten out of ten for a splash that was undoubtedly the talk of the town in all local pubs that weekend.

There were plenty of other community news and faces known by everyone inside this 56-page weekly, including:

  • ‘Grace has dished out 93,000 meals’ on page three, telling of the retirement of a 78-year-old caterer who has served lunch for more than 50 members of an over-55s club every Wednesday since 1974;
  • ‘Tributes paid to Mr Clitheroe FC’ on page five, reporting the death of Keith Lord who at various times had been manager, chairman and groundsman of the town’s football club; and
  • ‘Shepherd crooks funeral tribute to sheep breeder’ on page 21, an obituary report on local farmer Roger Marsden, who’d been a major local figure all his life.

    There were numerous crime reports and a smattering of courts and council coverage as well, along with a three-page ‘News from the Villages’ section, itself containing as many as 60 community stories.

    For a cover price of 75p, there were a total of 128 reads on 21 news pages, with another 27 reports on four sports pages and a 12-page Property Today pull-out.

    So it was an impressed tick from me for Times’ editor Roy Prenton and team. Yes, a recent Dyson at Large blog was a little troubled with production errors at the nearby Nelson Leader that Prenton also edits.

    But there were no such blunders here in Clitheroe, where readers were served with a well thought-out package and a splash to keep the farmers’ wives’ chins wagging for days.

  • The Clitheroe Advertiser and Times, published by Johnston Press, sells 7,829 a week according to the latest ABCs, down -5.9pc on 2009.
  • Sex ad rating: ten out of ten. No hint of any massage parlours or dirty chat lines.

    Read Steve’s previous blog posts here



  • 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 steve.dysonmedia@googlemail.com.

    Steve’s blog is available via an RSS feed. Click here to subscribe.

  • 9 comments

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    • October 27, 2010 at 9:36 am
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      I find it incredulous that any editor would approve a front page story that did not actually contain any factual content. Should “a really good read on the basis of nothing” be deemed ” a great start” and score “ten out of ten”? What editorial standards are these? This is simply shameful.

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    • October 27, 2010 at 9:43 am
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      I disagree. I expect there is absolutely b*gger all going on in Clitheroe 99 per cent of the time. Turning that b*gger all into a readable newspaper is a weekly miracle. You’ve got to give them some marks for effort.

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    • October 27, 2010 at 11:09 am
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      I can see the attraction and the merit of this splash. After all, it conforms to that age-old rule, the paper being at the centre of the hottest story/gossip going. And it’s quite light, in that chuckling way. I really think folk in the pub and at school gates will have talked about this one, which means a good week for the newspapers reputation and sales.

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    • October 27, 2010 at 11:13 am
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      Nice story. As a Clitheronian I doubt whether anyone in the town was unaware of the allegations, so there was no problem with the way the Advertiser dealt with it. A few years ago there was an article with the headline “No Cars Stolen At Red Rock Inn”. Now THAT takes some beating!

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    • October 27, 2010 at 11:16 am
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      You say that Davy but the story next door to it is Attacked Man Partially Blind, which clearly is a hard news story. It sounds like a strange story to me. But it depends what the paper style is I guess. As a tabloid gossip story it sounds good to me.

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    • October 27, 2010 at 2:32 pm
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      Jomo, Fsir point. I’ve always got a bit of a beef about giving crime stories too much prominence, but you’re right, it probably would have made a decent splash, especially with the picture.

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    • October 28, 2010 at 1:24 pm
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      Forget the content, someone wants to have a word about that crap masthead.

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    • October 28, 2010 at 2:04 pm
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      I just love the fact that the property pullout is – in case Clitheroe readers still don’t know what a pullout might be – not just ‘inside’ but ‘INSIDE!’

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    • February 3, 2011 at 11:03 am
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      I came across this story when researching and looking things up on Google about Clitheroe and the area. Im an American but have family ties there. My bother says he knows of this guy kevin Berkins from many years ago, when he was a butcher. It’s a weird story for a front page – what an earth are the allegations? Is it all made up or is there something to it? Very mysterious, is a case of student journalism let loose or – is it a case of watch this space!?

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