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Chapter Four - The Early Working Years

It all had to end, however, and after just nine months I returned to Norfolk and my first job in journalism which was actually in Suffolk at Lowestoft. As always it is the personalities and characters that I remember. The editor Cecil Argar who seemed never to speak to anyone and is the basis for the editor figure in one of my novels which I am busy putting on the Internet. Cecil occasionally held up a teapot and pointed at somebody; chief reporter George Smallman a larger than life Londoner who was kindness itself; sub editor Glynne Gwilliam who was not surprisingly Welsh. Many people didn't like Glynne but I got on wonderfully well with him as we shared a love of football and Lowestoft Town and shared the reporting duties on the Blues.

The reporters included Tony Slinn, a giant of a man who went on to edit a sex magazine; Andy Lemon and Steve Hardy who were two of the younger reporters, Lynn Turton, Sally Allen, Peter Cherry, Trevor Westgate and my mate John Andrews with whom I shared digs and who is now working in Plymouth and whom I am also still in touch with.

Along with sport, I specialised in arts reporting at Lowestoft. This often meant covering the shows at one of the pier theatres and doing profiles of the "stars." I use the word "stars" carefully as mostly these people were either those on the slippery slope from the top or those who hadn't established themselves.

I remember Tommy Bruce. Dear old Tom had one hit "Aint Misbehavin" but he was a likeable cockney who was always welcoming and friendly. I saw him at Norwich Theatre Royal a couple of decades later when he was compering a solid gold 60s revival concert and he was still telling the same jokes. I can imaging him telling the same ones every night for 20 years.

Then there was Kim Cordell - a large lady with a larger voice. Brassy is the best description. There were many lesser lights whom I got to know during my time at Lowestoft. Brian Soloman was the borough's head of entertainment. I met him again about a year ago and he hadn't changed one bit.

I lodged in St Margaret's Road with a rather mad elderly lady by the name of Christine (again she appears in my novel). A number of us stayed there - the rooms were very comfortable. I made extremely solid pancakes as a speciality.

During my time at Lowestoft I covered the Blues (Lowestoft Town Football Club) who played in the Eastern Counties League (later to become the Jewson League). I remember going on many away coach trips with the team which at that time was managed by a former Norwich City footballer by the name of Jim Oliver. Lowestoft had a number of extremely talented footballers.

My time there was just a few seasons after Mick Tooley and Nigel Cassidy scored goals for fun as Lowestoft ran away with the league title season after season. The team I reported on fell rather short of this standard but were always entertaining.

One young player - Steve Wright - stood out in my memory although I think his lifestyle left much to be desired. The youngest player in the first team was a chap named Richard Money who I believe lived in Oulton Broad. I never rated Richard that highly but he was soon picked up by a league club. I believe it was Scunthorpe. I went to see him the day he signed and I have to say I didn't give much for his chances of making the grade.

That was a mistake on my part as he later signed for Liverpool and had quite a long career as a coach and manager. So my apologies Richard if you ever read this.

On the whole my time at Lowestoft was a happy one and so I was a little disappointed when I was called to see the news editor who used his usual phrase "I think you've got everything you can from Lowestoft and we would like you to work on the Eastern Evening News in Norwich."

So for a while I returned to live at home whilst working firstly as a features writer in Norwich and then on the Whiffler column. Today the Evening News is an over-reactive tabloid styled newspaper. In those times it was a much gentler publication - more in tune with the local people and certainly, in those days, the circulation was much healthier than now and that must say something.

Whiffler was a pleasant undemanding column featuring stories about characters from the area. It was a pleasant job which was very comfortable. My boss at that time was Neville Miller who also wrote very good arts reviews for the paper and allowed me the chance to cover concerts, plays and other events at Norwich Theatre Royal. Neville was from the old school of journalism where reporters told the truth and reflected their character in articles.

He became a firm friend and today is godfather to one of my sons. he still writes arts reviews as well as being an accomplished actor himself.

During my few months on the Evening News I got to know one of Norwich's great characters - Dick Condon. Dick was general manager at the Theatre Royal and a legend in Norwich. An Irishman, he had what we call the gift of the gab. He was a tremendous character, a man of great charisma who was totally dedicated to the Theatre. He loved publicity, looked after us like royalty and today is still greatly missed following an early death.

Every time I go to the theatre I feel that Dick's spirit and his catchphrase "Good seats still available" are still there. I expect him to be there announcing the names of people he knew as they entered the foyer. Isn't it sad when such days disappear. We must hang onto them while they exist.

After a relatively short time on the Evening News I was given the opportunity to move to the North Norfolk News at Cromer and jumped at the chance. There I was part of a four staff team which include Peter Anderson who was chief reporter and who I still see around Norwich. The second in charge was Norman Hicks who again became a friend and who subsequently went on to work as a press officer for Essex Police whilst I was working for Norfolk Constabulary. I understand he now edits and writes magazines for the Ministry of Defence Police.

Also amongst the reporting staff was Malcolm Robertson who passed himself off as a Scotsman despite having been born in East Runton, just two miles outside Cromer (I promised him I would never let on). Malcolm went on to work for Norwich City Football Club and is now a reporter with Anglia TV.

I have to say my time at Cromer and that which followed at Beccles were the happiest of my working career. At Cromer I had a flat which I shared with Clive Whitaker who was a leisure officer with North Norfolk District Council and who came from Morecambe in Lancashire and John Scott who had a variety of jobs whilst we shared a flat.

John and I shared a love of sport and played squash, table tennis and tennis together. It took me ages to work out that he played tennis equally well with either hand which rather confused me as he often changed midway through a match. John was county standard at many sports and a very charismatic character. Certainly the three of us had some good times and shared some laughs.

It was whilst at Cromer that my life changed forever. I was asked by a fellow journalist who had been on the same course at Harlow - Peter Anthony - to join him on a youth exchange visit to Russia. There was also a third person - Jenny Jepson - interested and so the plan was for the three of us to go on the third of that summer's trips.

When we got confirmation of the trip Peter and Jenny found themselves on the third trip and I was offered the first. My initial thought was to turn the offer down but, after a lot of thought, I decided to go on my own and as they say "fate took a hand."

I met up with the party at the West London air terminal and during the two week trip made a number of friends. I roomed with Peter and Dave (I'm terrible on surnames) and we had a great time. Fate, however, came in the form of two young ladies from Knottingley in West Yorkshire - Anne Burton and Kathryn Blackburn.

Anne had noticed my name on the list. She was a graduate from the University of East Anglia in Norwich and had worked in the library of the Yorkshire Post in Leeds. She noticed that I came from Norwich and also worked for a newspaper and so the connection was made.

During that holiday I got to know her reasonably well and she did me the honour of drinking my unwanted vodka during a social evening. The holiday was excellent and I was loathe to return to the reality of work in North Norfolk when I got back.

At the time Anne was studying to become a careers officer and was undertaking a course at Swanley in Kent. When she was seconded to a careers office at North Walsham in Norfolk she got in touch. With North Walsham only about 10 miles from Cromer we went out on a number of occasions and the rest as they say is history.

I still remember vividly taking her to a restaurant in West Runton and seeing a couple of young cyclists behaving in a rather dangerous way. "I won't be letting my children ride bikes" she said to me. Both our boys subsequently had bikes from a young age. I'm sure she forgot saying this! I do remember thinking at that time as she spoke those words that maybe her children would be mine as well.

From Cromer I moved to Beccles in Suffolk, felt very homesick from Cromer for about a week but then settled down and fell in love with the Suffolk market town. I believe I was still at Cromer, however, when I went to visit an aunt and uncle in Tumbridge Wells in Kent and arranged to meet Anne in the town centre.

It was whilst on the common that she told me she had been offered a careers officer's job in Chester. I must have known at the time that I was being moved to Beccles. I suddenly had a mental picture of myself on the eastern coast of England with Anne virtually as far west as you could go without being in Wales.

Suddenly there seemed only two options open. I think my words were something along the lines of "Well it's a hell of a distance from Beccles to Chester. I suppose we'll either have to break up or get married". Now obviously I was one of the last true romantics. I think her response was a simple "Yes." which left me wondering which question she had agreed to.

Well the fact that we celebrated in a rather expensive tea rooms in the historic Pantiles will tell you which question was answered yes.

To cut a long story short we became engaged and I spent many weekends commuting between Beccles and Chester - something like a 500 mile round trip. Anne eventually gave up her job in Chester and on Saturday July 24th, 1976, we were married at Knottingley Parish Church in West Yorkshire and honeymooned in Scotland. We are still together almost 30  years later.

I had three very happy years in Beccles and could well have stayed there, becoming stuck in a rut. Eventually the point came when we decided that I should move on.

But that wasn't before arguably the happiest times of my working life. Much of the credit for that must go to the Chief Reporter - Tony Clarke. Tone, who still lives in Beccles and still writes despite being retired, is probably one of the only two genuinely and thoroughly "nice" people I have ever met - Neville Miller being the other.

As well as being kind, considerate and jovial, Tony was another old fashioned journalist who got to the heart of the community. He had a wonderful sense of humour and was a larger than life extrovert character who was often known to dress up in a smock and tell Norfolk/Suffolk jokes. He made me so welcome in Beccles, there was never a day when I didn't want to go into work.

It was whilst in Beccles that myself and Anne bought our first property - a very pleasant three bedroomed bungalow in the small village of Kirby Cane which is midway between Beccles and Bungay. It backed onto the open grounds of a rectory. The mortgage was arranged for us by Norman Burtenshaw who at the time was a football league referee and one of the best known in the country. Norman was also manager of the Gateway Building Society (later to become part of the Woolwich). He sponsored many of the local papers sports initiatives and so I got to know him quite well.

Eventually I suppose working at Beccles became a little too "cosy" and I had to face the decision of whether to stay there or move on and chose the latter. And so opened one of the less satisfactory periods of my life.

I am now working on putting my diaries from these years on-line. This will be a very lengthy project as I have covered the period from 1972 until the present day - 32 years worth. The Lowestoft and Beccles Years cover the period from 1972 through to May 1978 and can be accessed through the diary section of the internet which is available by clicking here.