Chapter Six - The Return to Norfolk
The transition back to Norfolk was a fairly comfortable one. I started work as a sub editor on the Norwich Mercury Series of newspapers and we began to house hunt yet again.
My first editor there was certainly from the old school. His name was Cliff Butler and I found his methods to be rather old fashioned to say the least. My immediate bosses were, however, very skilled and professional. When Clifford Butler retired he was succeeded by Barry Hartley who was a real gentleman. The chief sub editor Marjorie taught me all I know about sub editing and was immensely helpful and her assistant was Geoff Bullock whom I had known with my previous spell as a reporter.
Geoff and I had never really got on whilst he was a sub and myself a reporter. I thought his methods to be caustic and unhelpful. Working closely with him, however, was another matter. We got on famously and became friends and I soon came to see where some of the caustic wit came from.
Being a sub editor in those days consisted of correcting typed copy, writing headlines on the same scraps of paper and then sending them to another department to be type set. We would then rough out page designs by hand and work with the compositors to make the pages look roughly as we wanted them to do.
The standard of writing of some of the reporters was shockingly poor. Some very well known local journalists seemed to have an inability to use punctuations or sentences that made sense. This was particularly true of a certain chief reporter whose skills obviously lay in getting stories from the local community where he was a local celebrity. This guy just couldn't write and very often most of what appeared in his paper was the work of a sub editor cleaning up or significantly re-writing his prose.
Young reporters seemed to have the same inability to express themselves in the English language. I vividly remember one Wednesday evening (we worked late on Wednesdays and had Friday afternoons off) during the tea break reading some of William Styron's "Sophies Choice" a stunning book full of poetic passages that almost left me speechless. I returned from this to deal with a dreadfully written piece on a Women's Institute birthday from a young and inexperienced reporter!
During this spell as a sub editor I worked closely on page lay-out and design with a rather fiery group of compositors whose job was to paste the type into pages (the days of hot metal printing had at last moved on). The language on a Thursday night was often blue as the pressure told, but somehow I managed to have a reasonably good relationship with these people who certainly didn't suffer fools gladly.
There was plenty of industrial unrest during my time there. The compositors and type-setters felt under threat from new technology which would eventually revolutionise the newspaper industry. So they were holding on to the past, and of course their jobs, in a very aggressive way which often seemed to lead to industrial action.
At times that meant virtually a week's work being thrown in the bin or being returned to us as the type setters either refused or didn't have time to set the copy. This was very demoralising as we were sending out second rate papers filled with anything we could lay our hands on.
I do remember feeling insulted when the management, during a particularly bad patch, put up a poster in one of the corridors depicting a lion and with the words something like "in the jungle the customer is king." Yet we were showing such obvious contempt for our customers in giving them a third rate product.
During my time as a sub editor I stood in for the then sports editor Norman Hicks when he went on holiday or was absent. I knew Norman had no intentions of staying in the job for ever and so worked myself into a position where I assumed I would take his place when he left.
But as so often in life, politics (with a small p) intervened. Norman duly moved on, but I wasn't offered the job which went to a man named Geoff Parkin who had been a features writer on the Eastern Evening News. Nobody told me at the time that there was an ulterior motive in this. I just felt I was being given a kick in the teeth and my work wasn't considered good enough and that my passion and interest in sport just wasn't enough.
So I made a few comments and was taken aside by Geoff who told me just to keep quiet, get on with my job and "see what happens." I took this to be a sign and so worked with Geoff on the sports side as his assistant. He was a very experienced journalist who had been a sports reporter with the Daily Express in Italy. He spoke fluent Italian and was married to an Italian woman.
After a few months I saw just what had happened. Geoff was appointed deputy editor of the weekly series of newspapers and I became sports editor. It had all been a cunning plan from the start and I was just grateful to Geoff for warning me to carm down and let things happen.
I spent a happy number of years as sports editor of the Norwich Mercury Series working the content up and becoming involved once again in local football. Around this time I wrote a weekly column on the fortunes of Norwich City Football Club entitled Eye on City. It usually meant popping down to the club's training ground which at that time was at Trowse just outside Norwich and interviewing players.
Being a weekly paper I couldn't compete with the coverage of the dailies and so tried to do more feature style reporting. Initially I got on well with the then manager Ken Brown but our relationship soured when I criticised Norwich's away form - something that seems to have always been a problem to the club. Ken thought that being a weekly paper we shouldn't criticise the club but should just be a promotional tool. Our editor in chief felt differently.
I suppose in those days there was much less criticism of teams and indeed one of the things that made me angry about Norwich City reports in the sixties and early seventies were the way the team could never do anything wrong. Today its open house for reporters and correspondent to stick the knives in at virtually every opportunity.
I did meet some friendly people at the club, however. Some of my favourites were the physio Tim Shepherd who was a fellow round tabler, players like Mick Maguire, Dave Watson, John Deehan, the irascible (in the nicest possible way) Duncan Forbes and my particular favourite Joe Royal.
As I write this Joe is manager of arch rivals Ipswich Town, but I forgive him even that. An interview with Joe would consist of sitting chatting over a cup of coffee where he would talk about his life, the sport in general in a very entertaining way and there was always a twnkle in his eye. I later saw him in the players tunnel long after he had left the club and he mentioned a joke that we had shared some time previously. I have always had great admiration for people with the skills to file away details of other people's lives to bring out on any chance meetings.
Apart from the sport side of things I continued my love of the arts and took over the writing of the weekly Here and Now rock column in the Eastern Evening News. This was a well established weekly column covering both the local and national rock scene. It was expanded to twice weekly during my sojourn and I was paid the princely sum of £12 a week on top of my wages for wiring and compiling the column along with a number of co-collaborators, the longest of which was John Miles (the journalist not pop singer).
Writing the rock column meant free access to rock gigs at the University of East Anglia as well as access to copious numbers of LPs to review. That's primarily how my record collection grew. I also got to interview some interesting people (usually via the telephone). This included members of the Stranglers and the Pogues and chats with people that I actually admired such as the Scouse singer songwriter Ian McNabb (a very under-rated talent). Norwich at the time had an emerging rock scene with a number of groups such as the Farmer's Boys threatening to make national breakthrough. Sadly I don't think any of them ever made the big time although the Farmer's Boys did release a few albums for EMI.
Personally these were good years. On deciding to move back to Norfolk we really had no idea of where to live. Initially we thought of returning to Beccles, but a couple of properties we looked at fell through. Hellesdon, where I was born, was another considered area but access to Norwich was very clogged and difficult.
I can't remember how we came to settle for Hethersett. I think it was probably just a matter of obtaining some property details from estate agents and liking the look of the village. We eventually had an offer for a chalet bungalow in Buckingham Drive, Hethersett, accepted and the sale went through smoothly and we moved in and gradually over the years became ensconced in village life and having a family. Which takes me to the next chapter.