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.
What was your first job in journalism?
Reporter, tea boy and photographer, Banbury Cake (1976). I had hitch-hiked to Poland to find my roots (late father escaped from prisoner of war camp and managed to get to the UK where he met my mum …). I was 16, went with a school pal, had a great adventure through the Iron Curtain- surrounded by armed soldiers in Prague on the way who were unhappy because I had a Union Jack on my rucksack (amazing that nowadays it’s the stag night capital of Europe) managed to find uncle and family in Poraj and get home in one piece. Local paper got to hear about the trip and the editor Graham Wilton interviewed us and asked me what I wanted to do when I left school. I told him I was going to be a journalist.
I was waiting for my O level results at the time and planned to join the school 6th form but three days later Graham called and offered me the job as a trainee for £12 a week. A few months later the paper was taken over by the Oxford Journal Group, Graham was sacked and they kept me on.
At the first Christmas party the tipsy owner offered to give me a company car if I found three consecutive front page stories which made the nationals the day after we published. Piece of piss, I loved my brand new Ford Escort – the envy of my 17-year-old mates – I can still clearly remember the ‘I Love Yvonne’ sticker emblazoned across the windscreen (first love, you know what it’s like).
Who or what inspired you to go into journalism?
Mr Grimshaw, head teacher, St Joseph’s RC Primary School, Paradise Steet, Rotherhithe. I wanted to be a journalist from the moment he asked me about my future career plans just before moving to Banbury. I said I wanted to be a professional footballer, he said he had seen me in action in the playground and thought I’d be better off writing about the game. (I should have called him some years later when I was covering the mighty Luton Town for two seasons as a sports reporter).
What would you rate as your best story, headline or picture?
My favourite – Three-in-a-bed sex antics of the Intergalactic Federal Society – Milton Keynes Mirror / News of the World. Christmas shopping, popped into the Rose & Castle complaining about the stress of buying presents. Landlord pointed to the chap across the bar who had the hassle of finding presents to keep both of his wives happy. He was the society’s ruler … You can guess the rest.
There were plenty of worthy ones to follow, honest. I loved the Really Useful Invention campaign launched at the Bristol Evening Post to help inspire the children attending some of the worst performing schools in the UK. Managed to convince Airbus to send a trainee engineer and a science graduate into the classroom to inspire the kids. The children voted to make a pair of ‘flying shoes’ … they were made by Airbus and unveiled by Prince Andrew. Long story but great fun and really made a difference. We won the Newspaper Society Sales & Promotions Award for that one.
Who would you rate as the best journalist you have worked either with or for?
So many – all with great strengths and some peculiarities. Paul Levie and Peter Cox for sharing their inspirational news gathering skills, Malcolm Starbrook for showing the true meaning of loyalty, Mike Lowe, the world’s best headline writer, Alex Leys for adding bite to my life, Keith Perch for letting me go hunting for devil worshippers on the Derbyshire Moors … too many magical personalities have crossed my newsroom floors.
Apart from your own title, which other newspapers do you most admire?
Don’t get to see many English papers nowadays, still love the Daily Mail, the Sun and the Telegraph when I get back to the UK and also very fond of the Hull Daily Mail although why they got rid of Mark Humphreys Restaurant Review I’ll never know!