The times – and people – of a treasured past

By Keith Newbery

Friday, December 6, 2013


The times – and people – of a treasured past

Two great characters from Keith’s journalistic early days — Lew Grant, left, and Ted Findon.

THIS ISLAND LIFE I REMEMBER the first two days of my working life as a cub reporter on the old IW Times with disconcerting clarity.

The first was spent having the waste water ripped out of me by the printers at Lightbowns; a rite of passage which used to be a time-honoured tradition on many local newspapers.

In those days some printers had to undergo apprenticeships which lasted up to seven years and I’m convinced at least one of those years was spent developing sarcasm to a fine art and perfecting methods of taking trainee journalists down a peg or two. They were remarkably adept at it.

The second day (or should I say, evening) was spent at a meeting of Bembridge Parish Council, which in those days was held in a room above the village fire station.

So untutored was I in the minutiae of matters municipal, I did not have the faintest idea what to do or where to start when I entered the small room in which the clerk, Terry Weaver, seemed to spend most of his time attempting to chronicle a rolling maul involving the Preston brothers and a lady called Mrs Isabel Clapshaw.

Whatever the topic, the Prestons and Mrs Clapshaw were guaranteed to be on opposite sides of it.

They were no-nonsense, local-boys-made-good and proud of it and she was a shrewd, slightly shrill and principled woman who had no intention of being slapped down by anyone, least of all them.

Imagine Phil and Grant Mitchell taking on Prof Mary Beard in the debating chamber at Oxford, and you have it exactly.

Meanwhile, all this was observed by another councillor, Tony Edmunds, who had cultivated a slightly curled lip and an air of amused disdain. There were others sitting around the table but these four seemed to take up most of my attention (and everyone else’s for that matter).

There to help me make sense of it all was John Winter, from the County Press, whose calm assurance in the months which followed helped me tiptoe through the pratfalls and minefields of local democracy at its most raw and sensitive.

John and I were fortunate enough to be around in the Sixties when Island journalism was brimming with characters, including the famous double act at the Sandown Chronicle, editor Ted Findon and his man for all seasons, Lew Grant.

Lew, with his wry humour and soft Scottish brogue, had the remarkable ability of being able to turn up wherever the news was, despite having to rely on lifts and the vicissitudes of public transport.

Ted was an integral part of his community but also had his mischievous side. John reminded me the other day of the time Ted attempted to do a handstand on the rail at Sandown Pier — and promptly fell in the sea.

They don’t make journos like Ted and Lew anymore — and more’s the pity.

Anyway, John (who has now retired to Derbyshire after a distinguished career which ended with retirement from the Sheffield Star) has captured the essence of those times in an amusing novel called Heaven Scent, in which characters and events are loosely based on Sandown and its newspaper in the Sixties.

Genuine characters such as Daredevil Leslie, the one-armed pier diver, make an appearance but in most cases the names

have been changed and the escapades are pure fiction (I think …)

Heaven Scent is priced at £8.99 and can be obtained online from the Lulu Bookstore.

That’s a bit of a tragedy, nipper

THE means by which the old sometimes manage to get one over on the young have evolved into an "’ere nipper!" catalogue of anecdotes, which seem to have been sparked by my recent account of Jim Pidgeon’s encounter with the baseball cap-wearing lad at Ventnor cricket ground.

It reminded Stan Hider of a conversation he overheard many years ago while working for Temperature, at Fishbourne.

He told me he was in the queue for the tea machine when an older hand and a younger hand had the following conversation.

"’Ere nipper, bad news about that ship sinking in The Solent yesterday, wasn’t it?"

"I never heard about that. What ship was it?"

"The one carrying your razor-blades, by the look of it."

Yes, ministers

THE proliferation of the word "cabal" in Island politics was mentioned in this column a few weeks ago and Mr Leppard, of Newport, was kind enough to write in with one explanation of its derivation.

In the 17th century, a group of King Charles II’s ministers — Sir Thomas Clifford, Lord Arlington, the Duke of Buckingham, Lord Ashley and Lord Lauderdale — were the signatories on what became known as the Secret Treat of Dover, which allied England to France in a prospective war against the Dutch.

Take the initials of their surnames and you have the word "cabal".

It may or may not be true but it is certainly a fine coincidence.

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