Looking ahead the only way is Essex

Snowdonia viewed from the Vale of Clwyd: This was the “back garden” I grew up in for 17 years.

Despite finding my desire to travel to foreign lands effectively blocked, I still had itchy feet and wanted to break out of my little bubble and see, at least, a new part of this country we call the United Kingdom.

Despite the myth that all journalists yearned to work on Fleet Street (a real street in London at that time but they all.moved out) for one of the daily newspapers, this had never been a great attraction to me.

Maybe if I had been brought up in London I might have got a job as a copy boy on one of the dailies and made my mark.

I lived far from the Street, in glorious North Wales, and got my grounding in journalism with reporters who were part of their community.

I kept an eye on the jobs section of the UK Press Gazette which, although a young publication (launched in 1965), was becoming a staple of the industry.

It wasn’t long before I spotted a tempting ad for a local paper in Essex seeking a newly-qualified senior reporter with NCTJ.

What made it especially interesting was that it was part of the Westminster Group which was a well-established group with roots in regional journalism.

The ad was for a weekly newspaper, with links to an evening newspaper, based in one of the still-growing new towns in Essex – Basildon.

I sent off my details, CV with accompanying letter, on the Saturday morning, and then just waited for a reply, which arrived the following Friday.

The letter was from the editor of the Basildon Standard Recorder, Tony Blandford, and invited me to come down for an interview on the following Thursday.

My editor, Brian Barratt, knew I was applying for jobs and as soon as I mentioned the interview he said I could have the day off and take the Friday as well as it would be a long day.

I telephoned the number on the letter and spoke to Mr Blandford’s secretary, confirming that I would be at the interview on Thurrsday.

On the Saturday I went out to get a new suit at Hepworths – it was there or Burton’s and my brother-in-law happened to work at Hepworths.

My current suit was a few years old – I’d had it long before I wore it to my brother’s wedding in 1969 – and I’d already set my mind on a new one.

I was torn between two of a similar style but in different colours. One was a sort of greyish-green with a fine stripe and the other in a medium-brown with a fine stripe.

In the end my brother-in-law suggested I get both and could have a third one free (I didn’t realise that his commission was so good that he would still be making some even with the three for two deal).

I took the three, the third was grey with a paler stripe. All were single-breasted, two-piece suits.

Fenchurch Street railway station: My gateway to the future

On the Thursday morning I took an early train from Rhyl and got to Euston in good time to get over to Fenchurch Street station to get a train to Pitsea station. There was no train station at Basildon itself.

I was wearing the brown suit with a lemon yellow shirt, a pure woollen green tie with a red dragon central motif (still got it) and brown Chelsea boots. Very smart.

As we neared Basildon I had the windows of my compartment open to get fresh air (well I had been smoking heavily) and flicked a cigarette end out only for it to be blown back in, catching on my trouser leg and leaving an unsightly burn.

Tragedy.

It was about 12.30. I had to get to Basildon town centre from Pitsea station, find out where the office was, have a bite of lunch and be cool and calm for my interview at 2pm.

On top of that I had to make myself presentable.

The first part was easy.

I got a taxi and asked to be taken to Basildon town centre.

The route took us through streets of houses all looking very much the same and all obviously post war.

It was quarter to one when I was dropped off at one end of the town centre (as it turned out the opposite end to where the newspaper office was located).

Locating the office would be easy and lunch could wait. My priority was to get the hole in my trousers fixed.

I was wearing a double-breasted car coat, three-quarters the length of a normal overcoat, so it covered the hole while I had it on but I would need to take it off in the office.

Basildon Town Centre 1972: A wide pedestrian area with plenty of light and a wide range of shops.

Where I stood gave me a good view down the central pedestrian area of Basildon with large stores on either side including, I was glad to see, a Woolworth store.

This was a store with promise and was certain to have a haberdashery counter where I could get needle and thread.

Having selected a thread that reasonably matched the suit colour, and a packet of sewing needles, I went off to find a suitable public convenience where I would have the privacy to do some running repairs.

I must admit this gave me one more good impression of the new town as the premises were clean and fresh and the cubicles also tidy.

A few minutes later I was all set for a public appearance. The thread was a reasonable match and would be almost invisible at a few feet away.

Finding the office was easy, it was set half way along a parade of smaller shops, including a gentlemen’s tailor, a betting shop, a newsagent and, fortunately, a small cafe where I was able to get a ham roll and a cup of coffee.

Southernhey, Basildon: A row of shops destined to be my new base on the next leg of my journalistic journey.

A few minutes before 2pm I paid for my lunch, having left a tip on the table, and headed for the Recorder office.

It was the standard front office seen at newspaper premises throughout the land, I would see many more in my lifetime. A friendly receptionist asked me to wait a moment while she checked to see if Mr Blandford was in his office.

When she came back to show me through it was bang on 2pm.

The editor’s office was an area partitioned off from what was clearly the editorial department. There were about eight desks, four with typewriters and telephones on them, but only three desks were occupied.

The editor’s office was roughly seven feet wide and 10 to 12 feet long. About four feet from the door at one end was a desk across the width, with enough space to one side to let someone pass.

As I entered the bearded man behind the desk stood up and extended his hand across the desk.

“You’ll be Robin, of course,” he said. “I’m Tony Blandford.”

I had my coat over my right arm and shifted it to the left as we shook hands – I was still conscious of the repair job on my trousers.

He indicated for me to sit and I laid my coat across my lap.

All this gave me time to assess the man before the interview began.

I already knew, by first sight, he was under six foot. He was in his shirt sleeves and looked slim and wiry, with a full head of dark hair and a full, but neatly-trimmed, beard and moustache to match.

At this time I still found it hard to judge a person’s age if they were over 30 and could only surmise that he was in his 30s.

As I took all this in he spoke.

“Well now, this is a very good CV you have provided and I see you have had a lot of experience in a relatively short space of time.

“Why do you want to join this newspaper?”

I had prepared myself well and Brian Barratt had also chatted with his editorial friends around the country so I had a good idea of what to say.

As it happened the majority was based on my feelings about what I wanted to be as a journalist – serving the community and providing them with news and information they could rely on.

I think I did most of the talking in that interview and before I realised it Tony was saying: “Well that sounds excellent. Now, tell me, if you were to be offered the job when would you be able to start?”

I had this one cracked because I had discussed it with Brian.

“Four weeks from the next Monday after I was offered the job. If I was offered it today then I could start four weeks on Monday.”

“Very good. I’ll be in touch, probably tomorrow, to let you know my decision.”

That was it.

I said thanks and told him I would be available on my home phone number as I had a day off on the Friday.

We shook hands and then I was on my way out.

The office now had six or seven people busy at the desks. Some looked up as I passed through and then I was outside and it was 3pm.

I went back to the cafe and had a cup of tea while I glanced through copies of the paper that Tony had given me.

I then headed back across the pedestrian centre to a taxi rank and was driven back to Pitsea station.

By 9pm I was home again. I had stopped off at a chippie on the way from the station and sat at the kitchen table having a late dinner while my parents bombarded me with the questions.

Despite the heavy day of travelling I felt too hyped up to sleep well that night.

The following morning I couldn’t settle and probably read the same page of my book three times without realising.

Because our phone was also used for the shop it would have been silly to jump up every time it rang – but I did.

Then, at 11am, the phone rang and I heard my father say: “I’ll just get him.”

I was there in a second and almost tore the phone out of my father’s hand.

“Hello,” I said.

“Good morning Robin. Tony here. I was very impressed by your knowledge and enthusiasm and I believe you would make an ideal addition to our editorial team.

“I think you said you would be able to start four weeks on Monday, that’s still OK?”

“Oh yes, definitely. I mean to say that’s fine.”

“Good. I’ll be sending you a letter today with the formal offer and all relevant information and pay will be based on the basic for a senior reporter with a review after three months. Oh, did I discuss accommodation at the interview yesterday?”

“No. I thought I’d have to find something and hoped you might send details of letting agents.”

“Right, well there’s good news and bad news. As you know the town still has the original Basildon Corporation handling a lot of the property rentals for local young people and those coming to the area to work.

“You would qualify for housing but not immediately. It could be up to six months before anything suitable is available. There will definitely be something for you.”

With that we closed the conversation after agreeing that we would see each other the following month.

I turned to my father and said: “I’ve got it, I’ve actually got it.”

The future lay wide open.

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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