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Take Five: John Elworthy

Each week HTFP asks 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.

This week: John Elworthy, left, editor of the Cambs Times and Wisbech Standard.


What was your first job in journalism?

Village correspondent for Lynn News and Advertiser aged 12. At 17 I joined EMAP at Peterborough as a junior reporter on the Peterborough Advertiser.

Who or what inspired you to go into journalism?

My father. He was a frustrated journalist being forced to go out to work on the land at 15 rather than pursue a scholarship he had been offered. His family ran a grocery business in Norfolk and did business with the Royals but something happened and the business didn’t survive. Leaving school and going out to work was his only option.

One day, when I was about 9, dad brought home a copy of Junior Mirror and did so regularly and I was hooked. The BBC’s political correspondent Chris Jones helped land me my plum role as a village correspondent- I was doing a summer job for our local village headmaster and his brother-in-law was Chris Jones was on a summer visit. I got talking to him whilst he relaxed in the garden and I attended to the lawn. Chris told he his sister, the then correspondent, was giving up the job and she later recommended me for it to the editor Percy Greenfield.

What would you rate as your best story, headline or picture?

It wasn’t mine but did involve me. I once went to the World Cup with my dad after he won first prize in a competition and my mum couldn’t go because my older brother was getting married. The People ran the headline: “He’ll miss son’s wedding to see World Cup” but no matter, we went, enjoyed it, and came home in time for my younger brother’s wedding.

Of the many stories I’ve written I’m rather partial to one earlier this year about police being afraid of the dark (they refused to patrol a children’s adventure playground after dark) and breaking the news many moons ago of the closure of the steel works in Corby is also fondly recalled.

I also recall making a small fortune once by syndicating a story of an MP (Bill Price from Rugby) who described how a bungling Russian spy had tried to entrap him.

Like most journalists, however, the best story is the one I’m working on right now. In my case a businessman who used a local firm to build a roof terrace for smokers at his night club but was then forced to tear it down because it didn’t have planning permission. The man who built it and assured him no consent was needed turns out to be a local councillor.

Who would you rate as the best journalist you have worked either with or for?

Bill Beckett. He was my deputy at the Oxford Journal in the 1970s and could, given the chance, drink for England and probably the entire Commonwealth. But as a resilient, focused, engaging, extraordinary larger than life reporter you would not wish for better support.

Some years ago I laughed when I saw a reference to him as a “veteran journalist”. He wouldn’t have liked that.

Apart from your own title, which other newspapers do you most admire?

There are loads and I don’t have to go outside of Archant to find two of them.

I love the Evening Star at Ipswich and admire Nigel Pickover’s energy and go getting approach to his patch. Joint favourite is the Welwyn and Hatfield Times and editor Terry Mitchinson who inspires an amazing team doing amazing things both in print and on line. Unlikely these two editors will ever suffer from newsroom burnout.


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  • September 13, 2011 at 9:46 am

    Well done john – and well done for your inspired live rant on TV in defence of the local press when the phone hacking scandal broke. Agreed with every word.

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  • September 13, 2011 at 11:01 am

    Elsworth you back stabbing bounder!
    Half those stories for which you claim credit were mine.
    All the years we’ve been associated and you do that to me.
    How sad.
    Absolute boundah!

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  • September 14, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    Didn’t realise he was actually a boundah. Withdraw my previous comments. Bad show all round. Apols.

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