Friday, October 26, 2007

Fleet Street and memory lanes

I was chuffed to bits to get a mention in Patrick Stoddart's speech at the recent Echo and Post reunion in Hemel Hempstead.

Why? Not because I was a star feature writer being courted by Fleet Street like him, but it was where I got my first break in newspapers - as a tea boy.

Yes, I made tea, fetched expenses, ran copy to the composing room and generally ran errands for most of the big names who gathered at Hemel Hempstead football club for what was a decent hours of nostalgia. I once even washed the news editor's car, made the odd trip to the dry cleaners and even played in goal for the work's team.

It was the politically-incorrect seventies and I had the sort of haircut you see on old match of the day clips. Some of the subs took the piss out of my tie-dye T-shirt, Mike Ryder (chief sub) got my name wrong for about nine months and Eric Harris (sports desk) never referred to me as anything other than the "curly-headed twat".

I once nearly stopped the paper coming out when one of the print unions threatened to strike because I swept up cat droppings in the loading bay in breach of some demarkation and was "caught" returning a dustpan to a maintenance locker.

Like I said, this was the seventies. I briefly joined Natsopa to appease the militants baying for blood. Just as well because a week later, I was passing the composing room when I spotted a strip of headline (waxed bromide to anyone under 50) that had come away from a page and was lying sticky-side up on the floor.

The page had been 'rolled' and was ready for plating so I, helpfully, stuck it back at the top of the page - just as the FoC rounded the corner and threatened to convene, there and then, in the car park.

Another time, the chief reporter asked me to fetch a back copy so he could complete a backgrounder. It was urgent, he was on deadline so I legged to stores where an old tosser called Arthur, who sat among six months' worth in a wooden hut, steadfastly refused to part with anything until he'd had his tea break.

Great days for a young blood watching and waiting for his chance.

But it does seem I'm not the only one who's moved on.

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