In the beginning

In 1967, while I was still too young to have driving lessons, I bought a secondhand Lambretta scooter to get to college and back and be able to get around at the weekends.

A 1950s Lambretta similar to the secondhand one I bought for £25 in 1967. Mine was a faded dark red.

I will set things straight, here and now, I was NOT a mod and I was NOT a rocker. I bought the transport I could afford and listened to the music I liked and was as happy in a smart two-piece Italian-style suit as I was in jeans and a T-shirt.

Now to get back to the story.

At some point, and I still don’t know whether I saw it advertised or if one of the lecturers told me about it, I discovered there was a vacancy for a probationary trainee reporter at the Holywell office of the Flintshire County Herald.

The head office was in Chester at the Chester Chronicle offices.

I had obviously completed my exams and one fine May morning I headed off from home at Rhyl but part-way to Kelsterton I turned off the Coast Road at Greenfield and headed up the hill to Holywell.

A busy Holywell High Street in the 1960s. A sight that became very familiar for two years.

The entrance to the offices was via a side door to a three-storey building, the ground floor of which was a general hardware shop.

On the second floor was a reception office, where advertisers could drop in with their details; and the chief reporter’s office.

There I met the Holywell grandee, the Herald’s chief reporter, Bill O’Brien.

He was not just getting on, he was old. His hair was white as was his moustache, two of the fingers on his right hand were stained brown with nicotine and he had a figure that would have won him the part of Falstaff in any Shakespearean production.

He sat at a large, old-fashioned table desk with a sit up and beg typewriter, an overflowing ashtray, two wire filing baskets, and a spike with numerous typed sheets on it.

One wall was lined with filing cabinets and there were two straight-backed chairs facing the table and the larger than life character seated at it.

One of the chairs was taken by a young chap about my age, with curly black hair and a lack of fashion sense when it came to matching up shirt, tie and jacket.

Bill spoke: “Robin, this is Delwyn, he’s starting as a trainee reporter as well. You’ll share an office upstairs and I’ll start you off on some basic stuff this morning but you’ll have to fend for yourself later as I’ve got meetings to attend.”

He took us upstairs to a large dusty room with a single large window giving a view straight up the High Street. There was a large table desk similar to the one downstairs with a similar sit up and beg typewriter at each end; a half-pint glass full of pencils (there was an old-fashioned pencil-sharpener screwed to the desk half way between the typewriters); and two reporters notebooks.

“This is where you’ll work. There’s a file of this year’s newspapers over there and recent copies of the newspaper on the desk. Study them to learn the style, especially wedding reports and funeral reports.

“When you type your stories you make a carbon copy. The copy paper and carbons are in that cupboard.

“At the top of each page you type a story name and number each folio; double space and leave good margins; at the bottom of each folio you type “mtc” if there is more to come or “ends”; use a paper clip to hold together pages of a story.”

He looked at us as though to ask if we had any questions.

“Right, in that case once you know the style you can start on typing up the wedding reports from those forms in that basket and the funeral reports from the other basket. Completed stories go in that basket on top of the cupboard.

“I’m going out soon and I’ll be out until 3pm but if anything important turns up you can get me by calling that number on the noticeboard. Other than that I’ll see you later.”

Then he was gone and that was our introduction to local newspapers.

We spent the next half-hour getting to know each other and then began looking through the newspapers.

After an hour Delwyn said he was going down to ask the receptionist where we could get a cup of tea.

I picked up a wedding form, with a picture attached, rolled my two sheets of copy paper with carbon in the middle into my typewriter and typed:

Jones/Jones . . 1 RGP

and began to type up my first wedding report as a “proper” journalist.

Delwyn came back in with two mugs of tea, it appears there was a kitchen downstairs. He had also discovered the toilet was opposite our “office”.

As he settled down to type a funeral report we both tapped away on our first day as journalists.

Little did we know what was to come.

Published by Robin

I'm a retired journalist who still has stories to tell. This seems to be a good place to tell them.

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