Is the Grim Reaper persona non grata on a website for old hacks who are, it was noted here in passing this week, getting older by the day? Surely not, for his visits are nowadays virtually the only excuse we still have to get together. Whatever, he has been calling this month, and he rarely passes without a mention. We have four obits this week.
When I’m 64… Revel Barker shares a moment of total self delusion over his encounter with a Beatle called Richie and a subsequent Paul McCartney lyric.
We adapted the name of this weekly hacks’ web mag from a poem by Rudyard Kipling (the original version, incidentally, of the Whiffenpoof Song) but who were the original Ranters? A religious website endeavours to explain.
Stan Solomons offers more detail and even a, ahem, ‘correction’, on Colin Dunne’s piece last week about talking dogs. But David Hickes thinks he remembers it too. Of such stuff were scoops made, in the Great Days.
But let’s be serious. Where do you stand in the great debate about Hackademia? Do you even know the difference between Media Studies, Mass Communications, and Journalism courses? Chances are that you don’t, so Professor Tony Delano explains it for you.
Then Stanley Blenkinsop describes his quest for academic accomplishment as a mature student. It is, after all, merely a matter of degree.
There are some subjects that may be unlucky to discuss in conversation or in print.
The old proscriptions, religion and politics, were never considered taboo by journalists; after all, they were our daily fare. There is historical precedent, apparently, as you’ll see below.
Whether journalists should have (or need) university degrees would always provoke an argument… and we’ll come to that topic in a minute.
But what I have in mind – and cross your fingers or look away from the screen if you are of a nervous or superstitious disposition – is obits.
I was looking for a guy who was born in 1934 and my first, and automatic, thought was whether he would still be with us or gone to the Great Newsroom. My second thought was why should he?
We have many, very many, Ranters who were born long before that, and most of them are still going strong and, better, some are still writing.
It’s a sign of the times, though.
Thirty years ago funerals figured frequently on the Fleet Street social calendar. The trip to Golders Green with a mandatory call at the original Old Bull And Bush. And then sometimes the St Bride’s memorial a month or so afterwards, with gatherings in the Bell and then (generally subsidised by thoughtful bosses) at El Vino.
In those days they seemed to occur almost fortnightly, although it might more accurately have been only monthly. Nevertheless even 12 a year was a lot because we were, and are, a fairly small community.
I suppose we always took funerals in our stride because, at least for those of us who came up the weekly route, they used to be our bread and butter; standing at the chapel entrance collecting the names of the allegedly great and good, or being invited into a front parlour to see the body in the coffin – ‘and he left half a crown on the mantelpiece for thee, and said be sure to spell his name right.’
The difference with our colleagues these days is that they no longer retire and then immediately snuff it.
They go on and on. And that can only be a good thing.
As Clive Crickmer said at the Newcastle annual lunch, we are all entitled to get the money back from the pension fund.
Journalists seem to drop off the tree so infrequently these days that I had thought of offering the idea to Press Gazette as a circulation booster – they carried so few obits that it seemed a good promotional line: ‘Subscribe to PG. Our readers never die.’
I was of course aware that one reason there were so few obituaries could be because journalists are generally too idle, and too self-centred, to write tributes to lost brethren. But, nevertheless…
Anyway, the reason for writing this (and the reason why it may be considered unlucky to think, or even to write, about it) is that last weekend there were FOUR former colleagues who were promoted to the Upper Chapel.
We received obits of Chris Kenworthy (John Dodd), Roland Weisz (Anthony Peagam and Willie Soutar (Brian Bass). And later still heard the news from Manchester that Eric Shaw had joined them
As to the approach of the Reaper and our attitude to it, here’s a note from Colin Dunne:
Just exactly what do you do when the doctor tells you that you only have a few months left? My old friend Kit Kenworthy had the answer. He immediately began to organise a party.
Or, to be more accurate, his own wake. You couldn’t fault his logic. ‘If you lot are going to drink all my booze, I want to be here too.’
Some of his neighbours in Ferring, on the Sussex coast, unaccustomed to the bleak humour of Fleet Street, winced slightly, but his old colleagues loved it. One of them, Andrew Duncan, brought him a present of a five-year-diary on the basis that there’s nothing wrong with being optimistic.
Anyone who remembers Kit when he was an El Vino boulevardier, a wonderful raconteur, and had a convincing way with a large g-and-t and a plate of rare beef, will not be surprised to learn that the party was a roaring success.
Shame about the diary.
By John Dodd
Christopher ‘Kit’ Kenworthy, for many years the Sun television writer, more recently author and freelance, and always wit and bon vivant, has died aged 71, in the Royal Marsden Hospital in Surrey following years of fighting leukaemia.
Kit was born in Liverpool, survived the war years in the Lake District but lived most of his life in around Epsom in Surrey. He was the son of Alexander Kenworthy, the campaigning agricultural correspondent for the Beaverbrook Daily Express.
He was very much at the centre of a team of interviewers and writers who pioneered the Murdoch Sun’s populist appeal to new readers with a daily preview television page that was chatty and informative but never spiteful or malicious.
As such he was instrumental in raising the prestige of the Sun among theatrical agents, and indeed their clients, so that quite famous actors, unlike today, dropped their guard and felt they could give free and frank interviews without fear of misquotation.
More personally he will be remembered for his jollity, his indefatigable good humour, his voluminous supply of jokes and the way his digestive juices were cosmically aligned to the lunch tables at El Vino and Le Bistingo.
He began his working life on the Surrey Comet (after a short flirtation with the law and a spell on the Paris Left Bank), did a stint on the Manchester Express, before going to the Evening Standard as a diary writer and leader writer (to the ice mountain that was Charles Wintour) and then succumbing to the temptations of the television industry by joining the TV Times.
It was while at the Standard that he formed friendships with a group of writers – Andrew Duncan, Oliver Pritchett, Charles Lyte and Paul Callan –that were to endure until today. He made a similar impact at the Sun features department where people like Colin Dunne, myself, Chris Greenwood, Jon Akass, Joe Steeples and the entire television staff rejoiced in his effusive bonhomie. One of his surviving close non-journalistic friends was the television series creator and writer, John Sullivan, whose talents he spotted as far back as the mid-seventies.
After leaving the Sun, he became a general show-business freelance working for various Sunday newspapers. In his later retirement in Worthing, Kit continued to write cowboy books under the pseudonym Walt Masterson. His last, ‘Left Hand Gun’, a mirror of his own predicament with a recently broken arm, was about a one-armed gunslinger. It is dedicated to ‘all the boys at El Vino who knew how to shoot a line.’
He leaves a wife Helen, daughter Eve, and son Matthew (an astrophysicist). The funeral is at Worthing Crematorium at 1pm Tuesday December 16.
By Brian Bass
Willie Soutar, the tall, lugubrious art editor of the Daily Mirror for many years, died this week.
He was suffering from dementia and cancer, and in the last year had had at least 12 bad falls.
He was a Mirrorman for 53 years, and as art editor he designed every Mirror page, helped by only one assistant. And he was quick. If the backbench suddenly changed a picture or headline, Willie would have a new layout back within a minute.
Once, however, his speed let him down when he designed a centre spread one column too wide. But no panic. Off he went down to the stone, a call to the process department and instantly a column was guillotined off the side of the massive zinc block. And the page went off stone in perfect shape.
Soon after his death, his daughter Carolyn, wrote ‘about this wonderful man that I adored… a true Londoner’.
Willie was attracted to sailing at the age of 11, she said, so he built his own boat on the Thames near the Isle of Dogs. One night a storm broke the boat’s moorings and after a long search Willie found the boat at the police pier at Charing Cross.
He wanted to be an engineer when he left school so he could continue ‘grubbing about in boats’. But as that was not possible he had a choice of joining the Mirror or becoming a baker.
The boss of the bakery took a dislike to him and the Mirror said thanks. Willie was only 14 and had to walk home from Fetter Lane to Whipps Cross every night at 10pm.
He married in 1940 and although he was old enough to be called up to fight in the war he was not old enough to wed without asking his dad’s permission.
They were married for 67 years and, tragically, Willie’s dementia prevented him knowing his wife had gone.
He was awarded the Military Medal in 1941 for bravery in North Africa – repairing phone wires while under enemy fire. What made him furious was that one bullet pierced his tea caddy. Later he received three mentions in dispatches for more brave deeds.
He also served in Burma with the Gurkhas, where he was known as Mac the Knife, because of the very large blade he always carried. Later, in Berlin, he helped produce the army newspaper The Polar News, before returning to the Mirror.
But his passion for boats never left him. He converted two lifeboats for himself and later became a close friend of Hugh Cudlipp, and skipper of Cudlipp’s boat, sailing frequently with the boss.
After he left the Mirror he carried on working and writing columns until 2001. He also made a short movie for tourism called The Tower and won an award, a crystal bowl, at the Cannes Film Festival.
Carolyn says: ‘Willie would like all of you, next time you’re having a curry, to raise a glass of white wine to his memory – and be merry.’
By Anthony Peagam
Older hands in several parts of England are likely to remember Roland Weisz, who died in Salisbury after several years’ ill health. Starting out as a junior reporter on the Croydon Advertiser, he worked on the Sunderland Echo, Liverpool Echo and Willesden Citizen before opening a long and successful career in magazine journalism on Woman.
In the early 1970s, when the AA took over editorial production of its members’ magazine Drive from the Reader’s Digest Association, Roland was appointed deputy to then editor Paul Bradwell, and when Drive folded moved over to AA Publications to serve with distinction as a book editor and travel writer. He retired in 1996 but continued to live in the shadow of the AA’s landmark headquarters tower in Basingstoke.
All so good and interesting. But it was Roland’s ‘back story’ that fascinated, and is the reason why regard for his elegant writing and sterling qualities as an editorial colleague will forever be matched by admiration for his boundless optimism and tremendous personal courage.
Roland was a child in 1938 when his Jewish parents, despairing of the deteriorating political situation, despatched him from Vienna to London with his name on a label. His brother Herbie, two years older, had left Austria earlier and when they met in England in June 1939 it was only to be separated again – Herbie sent to live with an English family, Roland into a children’s home.
That summer, when the children of the home were taken on holiday to Devon, Roland was dragged under a horse-drawn farm machine. One leg was so badly damaged that amputation was necessary. He was 11 years of age, spoke only German, had no idea where his brother was, and was not to see his parents for another 10 years.
Schooled in England, Roland only ever wanted to be a newspaper reporter. His brother Herbie was to become the world-renowned film director Herbert Wise. Their parents escaped from Vienna to South America and in 1949, on their way back to Austria, met the brothers in London and tried to persuade them to return home too. They didn’t, and the family torn apart by war was never unified.
A 21-year-old reporter-cum-sub on the Sunderland Echo, Roland wrote theatre reviews and threw himself into amateur dramatics – few then, or at any time in his life, were aware that he had a tin leg. He was befriended by Maurice and Keith Boyle – both of whom, remarkably, were to spend their whole careers on the SunderlandEcho – and it was their sister June to whom Roland was married for 18 years.
June, Roland’s daughters Garcia and Debbie and his 10 grandchildren mourn him today, as do many who worked with him – an extraordinary man, described at his funeral by his brother and daughters as hugely complex, enigmatic, feisty, brave, fiercely independent, passionate … and by everyone as ‘a lovely, lovely guy’.
When I get older…
By Revel Barker
Age dominated the thinking at Palazzo Ranto this week (although not the rest of the site so much, after this offering).
Forty-five and more years ago, as the youngest reporter on the Yorkshire Evening Post, it fell to this correspondent to trail around the country reporting The Beatles (upper case T, by the way).
The first time I saw them on stage was in a converted tramshed in Leeds where they were supporting Acker Bilk. Maggie Hall was covering them for the rival Yorkshire Evening News – in those days that city could support two big-selling evening papers, each producing about half a dozen editions every afternoon.
Maggie – who secretly married her long-time partner Gary Humfelt in Washington recently (and there’s a Ranters scoop) – went after the jazzman, who told her not to waste her time with him when there was a far more interesting musical phenomenon in his ‘support’ act.
She found me in their dressing room, busily signing autographs in the hundreds of books that were being passed inside from a delirious audience.
I like to think, in common with about a thousand other hacks, that I invented the word Beatlemania. One of us certainly did. I do know, and I am prepared to give credit exactly 44 years (and two days) after the event, that I once stole a line from Mike Hellicar when one of the group had a sore throat, and I reported that ‘the quality of Mersey was strained.’
Ringo (known to the rest of us as Richie) was far more impressed by my height than by my prowess in forging his and the other three autographs.
‘Have you met my friend?’ he would ask, when introducing me. ‘He’s six-foot-four, you know.’ I was still growing, at that time.
Three or four years later, listening on the car radio to Brian Matthew presenting Sounds Of The 60s, I distinctly heard him announce the new Beatles record, ‘When I’m six feet four.’
Naturally, I assumed it must be about me, dredged up from Richie’s memory. When I heard the song, the words seemed to fit – ‘I could be handy, changing a fuse…’
It wasn’t until I read the charts, which I originally thought contained an obvious misprint, that I realised I had basked in egotistical glory in total error. Closer listening proved that Paul McCartney’s lyrics (but co-credited to John Lennon) were in fact about age, rather than height.
On second thoughts, of course, it had been a ridiculous assumption.
I turned 64 this week – which is my excuse for mentioning it.
My friend Hunter Davies, who wrote the definitive Beatles book, told me he also signed hundreds of autographs for them in return for dressing room interviews.
Hunter is an incurable collector of many things but especially of Beatles memorabilia. I wonder how many of the autographs in his collection were actually signed by me. Or even, as he points out, by him.
There’s no way of telling, now.
Anyway, drinks all round.
Sir James Paul McCartney MBE is 66.
No heaven, no hell, no morals…
From a website called Ship Of Fools
Most denominations have little say in what name they are called by, and the Ranters are no exception. But if the name suggests tub-thumping street preachers going on about hell, nothing could be further from the truth.
Originating during the English Revolution in 1649 (and lasting till around 1651), no two Ranters believed the same thing. Some were atheists. Some just denied life after death. Some believed all people will be saved whatever they do. Some believed that only Ranters would be saved – and because of their perfect inner holiness could indulge the flesh without the spirit being soiled.
They agreed on one thing though: Ranters could do whatever the hell they liked.
They did not neglect fellowship, but met together in taverns. The main focus of their meetings seems to have been smoking and swearing. They celebrated Holy Communion with beer and steak and sang psalms with rude words. Naked dancing was the exception rather than the rule.
Lawrence Clarkson toured the country preaching that no one could be pure till they indulged in adultery and drunkenness ‘in pureness of spirit’. And to give him credit, he practised what he preached.
Most deviant sects have to be savagely persecuted into the ground with torture and burning, but the Ranters were much less trouble. In August 1650, Ranterism was outlawed on pain of a six-month gaol sentence (loosely enforced). Within a year it had petered out.
It was a faith to go to the pub for, not to prison.
Who’s a clever boy, then?
By Stan Solomons
I hope Colin Dunne won’t mind my making some additions and, dare I say it, corrections to his humorous piece on his days in Halifax before he found fame and fortune. Like him I’d love to know if Peter Brooke is still out there – I told in April how he and the late Max Jessop, a partner in our agency, drank film star Peter Finch under the table – and I often wonder if he ever got to see his wife Ray and two children again after they were spirited away by her parents and whisked back to New Zealand. Perhaps we should mount a national Find Peter Brooke campaign.
That phenomenal reporter Jack Nott by the way was still running the Telegraph and Argus office in Halifax when Colin was around and later joined the News of the World. I remember the day Jack wrote that short piece about the sewage works fire. He phoned through to the Telegraph and Argus a seven-line piece so that when you read downwards the first letter of the first word on the line spelled Shit hot. He hoped the subs wouldn’t spot it. I have to be honest and say I don’t remember whether he got away with it.
Jack’s No. 2 was a very amiable and hard-working reporter named David Illingworth whose main claim to fame was that when he got married Bernard Ingham – later of course Sir Bernard – who was still then on the Yorkshire Post dug up the front garden of David’s new home as a wedding present.
Colin’s old boss at Halifax, Tom Dickinson, was quite a character. When I met him in 1954 he had given up smoking and instead took snuff and I can still remember the day he persuaded me, much against my will, to partake of this disgusting habit. He sprinkled some on the back of my hand and assured me it would clear my sinuses. I sniffed deeply – and I thought my head had become detached from the rest of my body.
Oh and that talking dog. Sorry ol’ mate you got it slightly wrong. I think it was the Sunday Mirror, not The People – but no matter – who commissioned us to do a story and pix on the dog (I think it was a corgi) that lived at the Spotted Cow at Drighlington. It’s claim to fame was that it was supposed to say ‘I’m a clever lad’. Of course we didn’t believe it but naturally kept an open mind and Max Jessop and photographer Brian Worsnop (both no longer with us) were sent to do the story.
That night I got a phone call and a gruff voice clearly said, ‘I’m a clever lad’. I naturally said, ‘Who’s that’ and Max came on the phone and said, ‘That’s the talking dog.’
The suspicion was that the landlord was an expert ventriloquist but Max assured me that he was on the other side of the room when the dog opened its mouth. Sadly the dog was run over and killed by a car a few weeks later outside the pub.
Finally, nice of you Colin to mention my CD which I made for Yorkshire Cancer Research and which raised a couple of thousand pounds. I warble for anyone who asks me and so I’m open for bookings. You can get me through my agent… Revel Barker.
By David Hickes
I wonder if Colin Dunne’s talking dog was the same one I photographed – not an easy thing to get across in a photo – at the Spotted Cow in Drighlington , West Yorkshire.
I went there with Gilbert Johnson and was astonished to find that it was true – a real-life talking dog.
I can’t remember whether this was before or after Esther Ranzten’s ‘sausages’ dog, but it was amazing, although slightly cruel.
The pub owner, a lady, had to smack the poor animal across it’s face until the dog got angry and started to growl. As she did this, she asked it, ‘Who’s a clever lad?
More smacks, and more demands, and a lot more growls, I thought the dog was about to snap!
Instead, the dog said ‘I’m a clever lad’ in a very growly sort of way.
That was it, nothing else, just ‘I’m a clever lad’. I think it was the only way to stop the smacks.
I remember going home and telling my parents about the talking dog, but I don’t really think they believed me, although I think my impersonation was outstanding.
Please note the difference
Not all of Marshal McLuhan’s colleagues were convinced that the media was the message. His most important mentor, Wilbur Schramm, the first Professor of Communication ever appointed, continued to insist: The media is the media; the message is the message.
Journalism is not ‘the media’. The media are not journalism. Astonishing how frequently people—too many of whom are journalists—do not seem to grasp this basic fact. High on the list of the many things British journalists need to be ashamed of is their frequent failure to grasp the idea of a university degree in Journalism, and the knee-jerk readiness to sneer at one in Media Studies. It is particularly mystifying since the majority of today’s journalists are graduates in some discipline or another. Here then is an attempt to overcome the ignorance of those who cannot tell the difference between these two quite separate university-level credentials.
Media Studies has its roots in the United States of the early 1920s. During World War Two scholars working for the federal Office of Facts and Figures set out to investigate the response of mass audiences to information directed at them by various means. Co-opted to assist, Wilbur Schramm, then head of Journalism at the University of Iowa, refined the concept of Mass Communication (no’s’) as a new discipline to study the effects of all media then in use: telephony, radio, film, print and television (then in its primordial phase) together with the ‘product’ they conveyed: entertainment, advertising, interpersonal exchanges, public relations, official information, propaganda—and journalism. But the seemingly inseparable association with Journalism is almost entirely due to Professor Schramm making a home for his project and its band of disciples in the quarters he had the most influence, well-established university schools of Journalism.
Some of the scholars who were attracted to the project from fields such as sociology and ethnology went off on a divergent track. Masscom was heavy on research and statistics, but the newcomers concentrated on building theories and sociological analysis around media use and effects. Thus Media Studies or, especially when it came to Britain, Cultural Studies. In general, this school of inquiry was less interested in news media than in the popular culture that was being shaped and reflected by the narratives projected by advertising, television entertainment, films—even communal activity such as pop music and sport. All this came under scrutiny from several perspectives, principally Marxist, racial, and feminist. Gene Roberts, managing editor of the New York Times and a visiting professor at the University of Maryland, called this ‘communications esoterica’. It bore little relation to Journalism.
The 1960s expansion of higher education in Britain ensured academic acceptance for that esoterica. In the absence of degree courses in Journalism, newly established Media Studies was seen by some university applicants as a career gateway to journalism; for some it undoubtedly was. But such studies were better suited to a career in advertising or media administration. Media Studies courses, of which there are now more than a hundred in the United Kingdom, are not intended to educate students as practitioners but to help them make sense of the media- saturated public sphere; to equip them to apply critical analysis to messages that affect the behaviour and circumstances of every person and institution.
Hardcore journalists would—if they thought about it at all—regard the means and methods of communication that constitutes ‘the media’ as no more than delivery systems for their output. But there is nothing trivial or frivolous in trying to make sense out of the formative impact of media systems, incessant multiple split-level message delivery and communication by fragmenting and proliferating sources: the internet, round-the-clock TV, subliminal advertising, the blogosphere. No one can ignore the new cultural canon that is now universally recognised; the range of intellectual and popular values created by the tidal pull of television: the popular mythology created by global public spectacles like Big Brother, the Beijing Olympics, a World Cup. Assessed and presented by conscientious scholars, this is a field of study at least as relevant as Modern History or English Literature.
A degree in Journalism represents something quite different.In Britain, graduates of any kind were rare among newspaper staff (broadcasting had more) until the 1970s. Today, there are at least 46 graduate and postgraduate courses in the British Isles, taught by some 350 lecturers, most of them former or active journalists. Each year some 1500 graduates emerge with their degree in Journalism, most as a Bachelor of Arts.
The value of these qualifications is beyond question. Today, newsgathering, the creation of other content, presentation and to a large extent delivery is all carried out by journalists. Even beginners are expected to perform tasks that only half a generation ago would have been carried out by teams of technicians. Never has such an array of skills and depth of knowledge been necessary.
A BA graduate in Journalism will have spent three years being trained—and even becoming moderately experienced—in the skills that apply to all the present-day delivery platforms. At the same time they will have been educated in subjects that help them understand the relevance of what they are doing and the world in which they are doing it.
Keen though universities became to market Journalism degrees once they saw how attractive they were to students, the awards made many academic regulators uncomfortable. It was difficult to attribute an academic value to craft skills such as computer expertise and shorthand. There was also the issue of the (usually) academically unqualified people who were able to deliver such teaching. Most universities decided that the only sector of the scholarly landscape into which Journalism seemed to fit was… Media Studies and Communication. There, for the most part, degree studies in Journalism sit today, their uneasy alliance with those more arcane stablemates sometimes made even less comfortable by having another big recruiting drawcard, Public Relations—the antithesis of Journalism—squeezed alongside them.
Just as disconcerting for many universities was pressure from the National Council for the Training of Journalists, anxious not to be sidelined. The NCTJ wanted universities—or their students—to pay for ‘accreditation’ of Journalism courses and incorporate NCTJ teaching material in some of them. Some universities agreed, especially those in areas where the most likely prospect of employment for graduates was on local newspapers. Most, however, including those with the most prestigious courses did not.
Apart from the considerable fees demanded by the NCTJ, academic authorities did not care for the idea of an external non-academic entity setting course standards. But the greatest resistance came from the new breed of Journalism lecturers who largely reject the idea that the NCTJ had anything to offer that they do not provide, usually to a higher standard. These men and women, most of whom had earlier careers as journalists, band together in the Association for Journalism Education, displaying all the zeal of converts to ensure their graduates are prepared to meet the demands of any sector of the increasingly fragmented occupation they can get into. The NCTJ remained focused on the regional press as an employment target. Universities were seeing Journalism graduates absorbed by every sector of media expansion. To some educators, the NCTJ preoccupation with shorthand is an anachronism; less an essential tool, more of an initiation ceremony.
So, if Journalism deserves to be seen as a separate and distinct field of study, what should its graduates be taught? The practical elements of writing and newsgathering, design skills, picture-handling, production comprise about 60 per cent of most BA courses and 80 per cent of MAs (a proportion far higher than in the United States where an agreed proportion of technical subjects is 25 per cent). For both undergraduates and postgrads, the contextual components such as civil administration, politics and economics, business methods need to be tailored to suit a dedicated curriculum. History, for instance, would foreground the accomplishments of Wilkes and Cobbett, Hetherington and Stead, Northcliffe and Beaverbrook. Law must go beyond the elementary concerns of defamation and contempt to explore the legislative process in its entirety, the structure and practices of the Court of Human Rights and the European Council, examine the ever multiplying concepts of copyright. Questions of ethics, too, become ever more complex. The ‘esoterica’, for all its theoretical preoccupations, also deserve attention. The news values journalists respond to are determined by the changeable cultural atmosphere; there is actually much in the ‘hard’ version of masscom that they need to know about: technology, regulation, ownership. Students should be given a grounding in statistical research, the raw material of much reportage.
But few occupations display such a gulf between ideals and reality as journalism and journalism education is no different. Universities are far from equal. Some turn out better history or science graduates than others. Some have demanding entrance requirements; others are so desperate for funding that they will admit virtually all comers. Some will not have the equipment to teach Journalism to modern requirements; administration or staff may not be up to the job. Some graduates may fail to meet NCTJ requirements, most will soar beyond them.
- A longer version of this article appears in the current edition of British Journalism Review, available from SAGE Publications, 1 Oliver’s Yard, 55 City Road, London EC1Y 1SP. Subscription hotline: +44 (0)20 7324 8701. Email: [email protected]
- Anthony Delano was managing editor of the Daily Mirror before moving into journalism education. His PhD thesis, The Formation of the British Journalist 1900-2000, is frequently cited. He is a visiting professor at the London College of Communication and a member of the BJR editorial board. He is also the author of SLIP-UP: How Fleet Street Found Ronnie Biggs and Scotland Yard Lost Him – the story behind the scoop.
University from journalism
By Stanley Blenkinsop, BA (Hons)
At least I had the basic qualifications for university – even though they had been achieved 36 years earlier.
From the loft I had unearthed the yellowing, dog-eared School Certificates last awarded in 1950 – the year they were replaced by the General Certificate of Education.
At ‘school cert’ I had eight distinctions and two credits; for ‘highers’ there were four major passes.
And so at 54 and newly retired from 34 years in journalism – the last 16 as northern news editor of the Daily Express (then undoubtedly the World’s Greatest Newspaper) – I became an undergraduate at the Victoria University of Manchester.
The ‘early retirement’ payment was so good that not to take it would have been economic madness.
So as a sober-suited tie-wearer (essential dress on the Express in those wonderful years), I told my news desk colleagues in Ancoats that I was taking up a three year place in the Modern History and Politics department (but no grant of any kind). It was September 1986.
My deputy Brian Stringer was aghast. ‘You won’t have to wear student clothes will you?’
I did wear them – though of the more restrained variety. Gleaming black Oxfords (brown shoes and particularly suedes were once barred on the Express!) gave way to scuffed trainers.
Tailor-made suits were replaced by jeans, sweaters, and open-necked shirts. My navy blue Daily Express ties with their crusader motif in red and white disappeared into the depths of the wardrobe.
For the previous 16 years a chauffeur-driven office limousine had taken me daily to and from Ancoats own Black Glass Palace – or indeed anywhere else I wished to go as news editor. Such luxury had now gone.
Instead, I cycled to and from university for three years. It was a daily 36 miles or a grand total of 8,000 far-from-level miles – the equivalent of cycling round the Equator.
But it was not all plain-sailing – or rather plain cycling. Just two miles short of home one night in my final year I was flung from my sturdy cycle on the main road by a car coming from a side road without stopping.
By a chance in millions the errant driver was the Express Ancoats chief copytaker. Copytakers then were head-phoned men and women with their sit-up-and-beg Remington mechanical typewriters to take down telephoned copy from reporters and correspondents. No e-mails then…
As the man leaped from his car I was so shaken I did not recognise him. ‘Are you blind, you stupid bastard? You should be locked up!’ I bawled as I picked myself out of the gutter
‘Good lord,’ came the reply. ‘Oh my god, it’s Stanley…’
A police car arrived minutes after the collision and he was barred from driving at the resulting court case. My bike was repaired at his expense at the court’s orders. But I declined compensation for my injuries as nothing of me was broken.
Of course it had been a massive wrench to leave the Express but there were already signs that the Golden Years were over – no more Beaverbrooks at the helm, circulation falling, even the ‘World’s Greatest Newspaper’ tag had been removed from Page One.
Sadly by ‘86 the British Empire had almost gone. The Beaver – the first Lord Beaverbrook – who founded the Express reprinted his pledge: ‘I do not run my newspapers to make money – I run them to provide publicity for the British Empire’
Sadly, too, the shackles had been removed from the paper’s crusader motif in protest at the government’s final abandonment of any possibility of ‘Empire preference’ over the rest of the world
But university was an utterly absorbing, demanding and satisfying three years – no exes though! Lectures, seminars, essays, reading, research usually meant up to a 60 hour, seven day week (no extra exes though!)
Despite all those years writing for newspapers I found university essays very different to do – and very difficult too. But some journalistic skills were very useful in the new life.
My parents had sent me tonight’s classes as a 12 year old to learn Pitman’s shorthand (do today’s journalists even know what that is?) Mine was verbatim and I kept a full note of every lecture, typing them out later.
It certainly boosted my popularity. Scores of undergraduates – young enough to be my children – borrowed my notes to copy them.
Perhaps the high spot of it all – apart from graduating as a Bachelor of Arts with second-class honours – was the day I took over the university’s biggest lecture theatre
The multi-tiered room held up to 600 undergraduates. One of the subjects there was contemporary politics and it was the usual full-house that day with the lecturer discussing ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland, Paisley, McGuiness, the IRA and all.
The visiting professor had been speaking five minutes. It was a subject close to my heart – I had spent much time in Northern Ireland and was very familiar with the Protestant-Catholic crises.
But in my opinion his theories were utterly wrong and I found myself shaking my head in criticism from my seat in the front row. He caught my eye, frowned and ploughed on. I continued to shake my head.
Suddenly he stopped; ‘I take it you do not agree with my remarks.’
‘No sir’ said I.
‘Perhaps you would like to take over,’ he sneered back.
Me: ‘Yes I would’. And I vaulted from my seat onto the dais and talked without notes for the next 45 minutes while the professor sat alongside me, his head down and saying nothing.
There was a standing ovation from the capacity audience. At the end he asked me: ‘How did you know all that’.
Me: ‘Because I was there.’
Perhaps those four words are the best epitaph of all for the Golden Years of journalism. There seem so few national journalists now that apparently they very rarely leave the office but re-write copy from correspondents or agencies.
The Good Old Days have gone.
Perhaps that was the most important lesson I learnt at university