by Harry Pope

Fleet Street as it was

Fleet Street as it was

Early in 1965 I landed my dream job. Junior reporter on my local paper. I was 17, had passed ‘O’ level English Language and English Literature, but failed miserably at all other subjects. At an early age I had realised that higher education was not for me, maths completely passing me by, so it was a source of wonderment to my family and my teenage compatriots when I got a job with Ronson lighters in my local town of Leatherhead in their cost office. That lasted for a few months, then the Dorking Advertiser came calling.

Ronson factory

Ronson factory

A good pal of mine was already there, he knew there was a vacancy, and put me forward so it wasn’t advertised. My editor was a man named Martin something or other, he was one of those anonymous people you meet in life, then forget. I didn’t like him particularly, he was a company man doing everything instructed by head office. However, his assistant was more memorable, named Harry Evans. I learned a lot from him, even to the extent these days that I write to the rough formula he taught me. When you write any article, grab the reader’s attention immediately. Make the first paragraph the best, then the body of the work can stand on its own. Finish with a flourish, hopefully with humour, if that’s impossible then include some facts.

In those days all the national newspapers had a stringer. This was a local person who would provide them with suitable material instead of the parochial words we were used to providing. There was no retainer, but when you sent something through then you received payment. Harry was a lazy man, giving us all carte blanche to ring up the nationals any time we thought we had something to sell, he would receive half for doing nothing. It was an arrangement that suited all, as long as the trust wasn’t betrayed. I did this in a spectacular fashion.

Dorking Advertiser office was on upper floor

Dorking Advertiser office was on upper floor

Dorking had its own courtrooms, so the junior reporter of the team, namely me, was detailed to attend for all the trivia, if anything suddenly tasty came on the agenda then one of the senior journalists was sent. Every fourth Wednesday for some strange administrative reason the court was moved to a smaller building in nearby Reigate, and it was there one late Spring afternoon I sat bored at the back of the courtroom. It was pretty uneventful, I was the only member of the public, when the clerk called out the next case. It was the local policeman’s wife appearing before the bench, accused of shoplifting. Maybe this would get interesting. I perked up. She was stopped as she exited the supermarket, asked to open the contents of her bag, to no-one’s surprise she had some extra items. She was escorted to the manager’s office, the constabulary were called, despite her pleadings to make immediate recompense.

It must have been the worst possible moment of her life when her hubby walked through the door, ready to arrest his own wife.

Daily Express from

Daily Express from 1965

He wasn’t called to give evidence, I erroneously assumed that this was because husband’s can’t give evidence against their own wife. It was a very excited junior reporter who strolled back into the office that afternoon, with a scoop that would make the national papers. Most of the staff had gone home already, or to the pub for out of hours drinking through the back bar, so I sat down at my old laborious typewriter and wrote the script of the century. I then phoned it through to press agencies in London, secure in the knowledge that my tenure at that desk was going to be short, Fleet Street beckoned. Yes, I would vacate the desk. I avidly read the papers the next morning, but it had only made the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Express. Oh well, that was better than nothing, but little did I realise that the Daily Mirror and some of the others had been far more cautious, sending someone round to the housewife’s house, to be told the real story. Instead of arresting his wife, he had called in a superior officer. The story was dead, a complete embarrassment all round.

Martin whatsisname didn’t know what to do with me, so after lunch rather than have me mooning round the office, unsure of my fate, sent me off to a school sports day to report on the activities. The first person I saw was the huge policeman. His son attended that school, his superiors didn’t know what to do with him, gave him leave for the day, it was fate that we should both be there. I am only small, he towered over me. He said ‘we need a chat, follow me over there, nice and quiet.’ As we walked to a hopefully peaceful spot in the shade of some trees, I was quite resigned to spending that night in hospital. He said ‘it’s a good job that I am not a violent man. I can’t forgive what you’ve done, but honestly, you’ve screwed up good and proper.’ Our conversation was short, non-physical, and I was able to write up the egg and spoon results with a shaky hand.

The next day I was summarily sacked by anonymous Martin.