Sunday, December 09, 2012

Copytakers - is the typecasting deserved?

A Guardian blog about copytakers injected a little nostalgia. Roy Greenslade Recalls all-too-familiar anecdotes of an age before laptops and smart phones in which touch typists, most them in Fleet Street, men, would take dictation using headphones from reporters on the road.

They were a breed unto themselves; impatient know-alls often, intimidating to the young reporter filing off the cuff, sometimes abrasive and downright rude if they thought what you were filing was not up to scratch. But, it has to be said, extremely helpful on occasions.

Like the time I described a "war veteran" in his forties (this was in 1974) and was told: "he'd have been still at school. Get yer maffs right."

Or the time one on the Evening Standard completed my sentence: "...let me guess, he was jailed for eight years."

How did he know? Because he'd typed it already when he'd taken it from a faster, more diligent rival. He assured me I could continue but the other one had already been through the rather unforgiving Joe Dray and it's probably not good to flag up the fact that you've missed thre first edition.

They were also the unofficial arbiters of good sense and style. Filing an intro which began "Singing superstar Cilla Black" to get a muttered, "I think we know who she is", should have told me something about the overuse of adjectives.

We had our own copytaker at the Herts Headline agency I worked for in St Albans in 1974. She would take non-urgent copy that needed to go via the newsdesk. She once passed a piece through to news editor Steve Payne who came on and said: "What do you mean his alibi was that he was insane?" In Spain, I insisted. in Spain. And the Land Rover they used as a getaway car? In the cuttings it's a Range Rover. I know. I'd said Range Rover. The hapless (and not long for the door) copytaker explained: "I thought it was a mistake. My dad's mate has got a Land Rover."

Better still was the one on one of the broadsheets (too long ago to remember which, but there are those who will recall the telling) who interrupted when I described a celeb driving an Aston Martin DB3 "as featured in the James Bond film Goldfinger". He cut in: "you mean the book. The film had a DB4. Or, to be precise, a DB Mark four."

"Are you sure?"

"Dead sure."

"OK, let's say book then."

"Very well. But our style is novel."

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