Each week HoldtheFrontPage will be asking a leading regional press figure five set questions about their career – including how it started, their best story or headline, and which other journalists and publications they most admire.
What was your first job in journalism?
Trainee with the Basildon Evening Echo, Essex. I was initially a compositor in the days of bromide, wax and dummies, but soon set my sights on the ‘first floor’ where the buzz of the news room was almost palpable. I was determined to be a part of that and nothing was going to stop me. I took myself off to night school, learnt shorthand, shadowed journalists in my own time and went on the prowl for stories every spare minute. I would then present my news list to the deputy editor every week hoping it would convince him I deserved a sponsored place at The Westminster Press Training Centre. It was a battle of wills between myself and deputy editor Peter Owen as to who would give in first.
Who or what inspired you to go into journalism?
As mentioned before, Peter Owen. He believed in me and that made me believe in myself. I will always be indebted to Peter Owen for playing such a pivotal role in my destiny.
What would you rate as your best story, headline or picture?
Probably the one that never made it to press. I’d spent weeks following up a tip-off from a prison source that a gang leader was paying his way out of the clink on a regular basis. Having tracked him from jail to his home on Canvey Island, Essex, the only inconspicuous vantage point was a bush where me and the photographer spent the next four undignified hours or so waiting for him to re-appear. When he didn’t, I decided to adopt a plausible disguise to lure him to the front door. It worked. I had him and my ‘exclusive’ – only thing was, the photographer didn’t get him. The opportunity didn’t present itself again and the story never ran – until several months later when one of the nationals broke the exclusive and provoked a national outcry.
Who would you rate as the best journalist you have worked either with or for?
I didn’t get to work alongside him for long – less than two weeks from memory – but as a compositor I got to work on his work! Peter Owen would remark on the similarities between myself and his blue-eyed boy (little did he know!) and suggested I’d learn a lot by following his lead. I was finally transferred to the editorial department – only to find this particular person was leaving for The Sun. He went on to make headlines of his own when he said: ‘When the spokesman needs a spokesman, it’s time to move on.’ For that inspired statement alone, former Conservative Party communication’s chief Andy Coulson deserves credit. The Essex connection is where the link ends, I’ll stick with downing glasses of wine rather than Downing Street.
Apart from your own title, which regional or national newspaper do you most admire and why?
Has to be The Sunday Times. It drives my husband to distraction, but I can’t help spend longer on that than I do on my personal appearance. Hair and teeth go unbrushed, pyjamas stay on, television goes off – and the great unwashed is cleansed with knowledge, humour, critique and comment.