If I had been born a few years later I would not have had the option to leave the regimented education system of the grammar school behind me.
As it was in 1965 the age was still set at 15 even though attempts had begun a year earlier to raise it to 16. Luckily for me the efforts were stalled and the change did not go through until 1972.
Leaving at 15 did me no harm. Thanks to Harold Wilson I did actually go on to tertiary education in the 1990s with the Open University and have the right to put BA (Open) after my name.
I’m getting ahead of myself, however, as in September 1965 I had officially left school and was studying for my GCEs at home.
Without the rigid structure of the grammar school I could study each subject at the time that felt right for me.
It was that joyous moment between school and work when I could start at 8am if I had woken bright and early or 10 if it had not been a good night.
I was still getting up at the same time as when I went to school, after all the household routine didn’t revolve around me. My sister still had to get off to school and Dad had to open the shop.
The living room became my classroom and the big table was my desk – with plenty of room to spread books and papers.
If I wanted more information I only had to go to the library. At school this would have required a note of permission from a teacher and a walk to the old buildings.
Now I could go to the library whenever I felt like it as it was just a walk to the end of our street. The only danger was that I would be distracted by the books that surrounded me.
By the end of September I was well ahead in all the subjects I was studying. That was the moment my big break came out of the blue.
The local newspaper when I was growing up was the Rhyl Journal, which had been around since the 1800s and had incorporated at least one other paper during that time.
In April that year a new weekly newspaper was launched called the Rhyl and Prestatyn Gazette, run by a journalist and an advertising executive.
The journalist was clearly the editor (and editorial director) and his partner was advertising director. The editor was in our shop one day chatting with my father who just happened to mention I wanted to be a journalist. When he heard this he asked my father if I would like a bit of work experience (I’m not sure that was even a concept at that time) – a few hours a week.
The deal was struck and I joined the team the following week. Initially it was a couple of hours on a Monday morning and the same on a Thursday afternoon, the day the paper went to the printers.
The offices were a lock-up shop set over three floors in the building which housed the Odeon Cinema. The Rhyl and Prestatyn Gazette had the middle shop in the row.
Downstairs there was a receptionist and a small room to one side whch housed the filing cabinets for pictures and other editorial cuttings and material as well as a desk. The next floor was the advertising department with a team of reps on phones drumming up business.
The top floor was the page setting and makeup department as well as the editor’s office and a desk for a reporter.
The editorial and ads were set on a system using punched tape to produce typeset material which was cut and pasted on to page layouts.
Nowadays it is all done by computers (which is pretty well what a lot of journalists are these days) but even this form of typesetting was a move on from the hot metal setting used on most newspapers at that time.
My role, for four or five hours a week, mainly consisted of sitting in the downstairs office typing up lists of mourners and floral tributes for funeral reports; taking down sports reports over the telephone; filing the previous weeks’ photographs; and, joy of joys, occasionally going out with a real reporter on a story.
My biggest scoop was getting quotes from Hughie Greene (Double Your Money) and his miniscule assistant Monica Rose to go with a picture of Monica on the back of a baby elephant with Hughie patting its trunk.
Not the biggest scoop in the world but it made me feel good.
I also wrote a serial story for the Gazette Childrens Club and set puzzles for the youngsters under the guise of Uncle Bill.
This continued through to the summer of 1966 and was my first real taste of the world of newspapers.