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Wednesday 30 October 2019

A Life At Work, 40 Years Ago - and Link Up

Reunion of the class of 1979 Mirror Group Newspapers training scheme
Forty years ago I started work as an apprentice journalist on the Mirror Group training scheme.  The national daily trained a group of reporters every year to staff its stable of regional newspapers in the Westcountry. This weekend some of us met up in Plymouth to celebrate our anniversary.
As a group we've been good at reunions, although lately it tends to be the same few people. The last one was in 2014, also in Plymouth, where we did our training.

We started the course in September 1979 when The Knack's My Sharona was top of the charts.  I had spent the summer after A Levels slaving away in a sausage factory with that song blaring out, along with "Born to Be Alive" by Patrick Hernandez.

My path to journalism had been unexpected and rapid. I was leafing through a flimsy little paper called the South Devon Times when I spotted this ad.
I had always wanted to be a journalist but had been put off by teachers at school who said I was too shy to get my foot in the door, and should try nursing instead. Anyway, I sent off my letter, and was immediately asked to go for an interview at the HQ of West of England Newspapers in Burrington Way, Plymouth.

My interview was mainly with the genial editor of the South Devon Times, the late Arthur Cushing.

I was told the next day I had been accepted.

I didn't know at that time that there were several other trainees who had gone through a much more rigorous interview process. I was a late addition after the SDT decided it would fund its own trainee. It meant I would stay longer on the paper and not have a guaranteed placement in London on one of the Mirror's nationals.  This I didn't regret, because I felt far too green and naive to go to London, and one of the others later told me it had mostly involved staking out Richard Burton's flat.

When I arrived on day 1, in my new burgundy corduroy skirt and cream jacket (from Freeman's), I was surprised to find around 15 of us.

Over Awed at Juxtapositions

I spent most of my time on the course being somewhat overawed at the Oxbridge graduates who were among my cohorts.  The intake was 50/50 school leavers and graduates. The graduates seemed very confident and used words like "juxtaposition."

It was a fun filled time. My besties were Julie from Looe and Margery, with whom I shared a flat for 18 months. There were many lunches where we went "Stouting" (this was a pub run by an avuncular landlord called Stout), and evening liaisons in the Holiday Inn's Poona bar. There, memorably, celebrated Mirror writer John Pilger was short changed.Gail Hanlon (then Tyler) and Julie Skentelbery (then Stanton) as MGN Bubbly Birds in the Mirror Group Newspapers house magazine, early 1980s
Here's me with Julie, probably in 1980, where the in-house magazine voted us "Bubbly Birds" and we received a bottle of Mumm champagne. Not very politically correct times! My pink blouse was from a jumble sale and the skirt was part of a suit by Polly Peck - the most expensive thing I owned.

In 1979 we didn't have computers at work or smartphones. The work of a journalist was conducted in the traditional way, with a spiral bound notebook and shorthand - in our case, Teeline. We had to reach 100 wpm to be put forward for the final exam, which also tested us on law, public administration and a hypothetical exercise where we had to interview our tutors to get "the story."

We used typewriters to deliver our stories, and we bought them "on HP"  (hire purchase) as part of the training scheme.  We all had an Olympia Monica.  Mine still has the "Use Water Wisely" sticker on it which was de rigeur after the drought of 1976.  We used carbon paper under our copy paper to create duplicates.  If a story was rejected, it went on the spike.

Life on the South Devon Times

After we'd spent a few weeks having intensive training in a Portakabin, we were dispersed to our various newspapers.  Mine was the South Devon Times.  If you Google this you find very little, which is sad - it shows the owners, and subsequent owners, cared little for archiving and preservation.  I still have my scrapbook of cuttings.

One of my best stories started life in the freezing cold council chambers of Newton Ferrers and Noss Mayo parish council.  Each of the four trainees on the paper had several parish councils to cover and most of the time they were dull with stories about street lights and teenagers gathering in bus shelters and "loitering."

My ears pricked up when the councillors started talking about two nights in November which had been very stormy, when two boats had sunk in the harbour. Someone muttered darkly, "And where was the harbour master?" Where indeed? The council later said they didn't realise there was a journalist present, and they should have gone "into committee."

My front page story led to a public inquiry, which I covered, and, at the age of 20, I found myself persona non-grata in the upmarket village of Noss Mayo.  The story was also covered by the biggest newspaper in the chain, the Sunday Independent.

The rest of the time, stories were gathered in the register office, where one of us was sent every Saturday to cover weddings;  local agricultural shows, calls to the police and magistrates courts.

Occasionally I was made to go on a "prowl" by the deputy news editor. For a shy person this was a nightmare because I was expected to stroll around my patch and call in at the local funeral directors, and other local luminaries, to try to find stories. Really I should have gone round with my mum because she knows everyone and can talk the hind legs off a donkey.

On Wednesdays the paper went to press.  The run of around 10,000 copies took just six minutes and the mighty press didn't even get chance to build up full speed. We had relocated to an office in Plymstock, so on press day Arthur, the editor, and Trevor his deputy, would disappear to HQ leaving the four trainees arguing over who was going to write the chemists' roster or "10 years ago," which meant looking in the huge bound archive books.  I wonder if those still exist anywhere?
After I passed my proficiency test I moved on to BBC Radio Devon as a reporter.  Since then we've  all had many different jobs and life experiences. We live all over: one of us is in New York, another in Scotland, a couple (including me) in London. But whenever we reconvene for the latest reunion, we're all catapulted back to the days of damn good lunches, printers who ruled with a rod of iron in the composing room (I nearly caused a strike on one occasion when I inadvertently handled a bromide) and trying to find news on days when frankly there wasn't any. Not to mention the time when Margery and I drove to St Austell, filled with excitement and trepidation, to interview The Stranglers,  and they were very rude to us.
One of the first reunions of the class of 1979 from the Mirror Group Newspapers training scheme
This was our first ever reunion, I think, probably in 2001/2. I'm fourth from the left.

Below: here I am with Margery at our 2014 reunion. I still wear that Boden jumper all the time! It must have been new then because a lot of the jewels have fallen off now.
Do you have reunions with former colleagues and how far back do they go? Let's hear about it in the comments.

Sharing this post with #ShareAllLinkUp at Not Dressed as Lamb, Turning Heads Tuesday at Elegantly Dressed and Stylish, Top of the World Style at High Latitude Style, Emma at Stylesplash, Chic & Stylish at Mummabstylish, Linkup on the Edge at Shelbee on the Edge, Red Carpet Link Up at Glamadventure , Muttonstyle , Fancy Friday at Nancy's Fashion Style and My Random Musings.
Now it's time for #WowOnWednesday, the weekly link-up showcasing beauty, fashion and travel posts from bloggers all around the world, giving you the chance to find new reading.

Last week's most clicked was Anne Marie from Mutton Style, introducing her new hash tag "Over50butstillvisible."
My favourite was Suzy Turner with her red blouse and khaki combats. I'm going to do a "steal her style" post!

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!


  1. Hi Gail I was totally absorbed in your early years story that I got a surprise when I saw myself. I thought 'I don't remember being there ', haha. Thanks for mentioning me and no I don't have reunions but do have LinkedIn contacts.

  2. Yes, great post. Really enjoyed all the pictures and memos you included.


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