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Former regional daily editor laments loss of newspaper pubs

John McLellanA former regional daily editor has lamented the loss of newspaper pubs after the announcement that a well-known journalists’ haunt is set for demolition.

As HTFP reported on Tuesday, plans have been submitted to demolish The Press Bar, in Glasgow, which is next to the former offices of sister dailies the Glasgow Evening Times and The Herald, and has been frequented by journalists since the 1920s.

Former Edinburgh Evening News editor John McLellan, pictured above left, has now written of his fondness for journalists’ bars in a column for The Herald, where he used to work.

John, now director of the Scottish Newspaper Society, said that the notion of booze and journalists was “inextricable in the public imagination”

He wrote: “Even if the odd columnist keeps the tradition of long lunches alive, the days of reporters existing entirely on a liquid diet are long gone and with them the need for a bar snuggled next to the office.”

John added: “The newspaper pub wasn’t just a bar, it was a department and the bar staff vital support workers; not just boozers but business exchanges.

“These places were where tips were passed on, scores settled, rumours started and rewards given in kind, where there were often more politicians propping up the bar than reporters, full in the knowledge that it was all going down on expenses.

“And if people got hammered and moaned about the boss at the same time, then everyone went home happy, usually thanks to an office taxi-chit. Who needed media networking events in those days?

“As a student on this paper, I’d marvelled at some of the reporting pack knocking it back at lunchtime when we were out covering the Miners’ Strike but of course not everyone knew when to stop. Shattered marriages, shortened careers and shortened lives were the inevitable consequence and every old newspaper hand has tales of colleagues’ lives blighted by drink.

“Fortunately I learnt early on that mixing drink and work wasn’t for me – after a couple of lunchtime pints all I wanted to do was sleep – and on moving to Newcastle, where the Chronicle and Journal had a built-in pub like the Press Bar, senior colleagues used to sink several pints during the evening break before heading back to sign off the pages. They couldn’t drive a car but were driving the paper.”

In his piece John recalled associations between papers and certain pubs including the Daily Record with The Copy Cat on Glasgow’s Anderston Quay, and the Scotsman and Edinburgh Evening News with The Jinglin’ Geordie on the city’s Fleshmarket Close.

He continued: “The Copy Cat purred its last in 2009 and although the Jinglin’ Geordie is still serving it has never been the same since the last big Friday night in November 1999 when the papers flitted to Holyrood Road. Drinking sessions during a normal working shift seem as alien now as smoking in the office, and it’s not just because of the new drink-drive limit.

“The slow advance of anti-drink culture will surely mean the public’s relationship with alcohol will continue to change, although it probably won’t feel like it to the men and women in the emergency services over the next two nights as the end-of-work party season reaches a climax.

“But I’ll certainly raise a Christmas glass to those on either side of the counter who made Scottish newspapers the institutions they were and should still remain.”


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  • December 23, 2016 at 12:22 pm

    The Sir Ralph Abercromby, late haunt of the hacks of the Manchester Evening News, seems destined for a similar fate, if the Philistine Gary Neville gets his way. Sign the online petition.

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  • December 23, 2016 at 12:28 pm

    Ah, happy days. A million years ago, as a junior with the local weekly in south-east London, our watering hole was about 50 yards away – next to the town hall and across the road from the police station and magistrates court.
    Lunchtime sessions saw off-duty plod mixing with villains and briefs as the council Press Officer “debated” local issues with a senior hack. In the evening, we would meet actors, singers or comics – some still in make-up – from the town hall theatre.
    And then there were the wizened locals, who often had a story to tell, even if you’d heard them before . . . who needed Twitter?

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  • December 24, 2016 at 12:05 pm

    With you Citizen.. In the days when newspapers were written locally by people who lived in the area and knew it inside out I picked up no end of stories in pubs. Wasn’t unknown to pick up a missed inquest courtesy of a few drinks to a contact (don’t try that now folks). We worked hard too (as modern hacks do) but in a much different way. Merry Xmas.

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  • December 28, 2016 at 5:56 pm

    I still remember now my first day on a weekly newspaper title in Somerset as a very green trainee reporter back in the late 1980s and the first bit of advice given to me by my then News Editor. He said: “Steve, the best place to find a story is in the pub.” How very true that was back then. Very sad now that the best place to find a story is on Facebook or Twitter. PS: The second bit of advice my then News Editor gave me was on how to fill out my expenses sheet and how to claim “beer money” to cover the cost of while out in the pubs finding those stories! Happy days back then and how times have changed now…..

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