Friday, 12 August 2011

Echoing the sign of our times

I WAS spending a few days in France last week when I heard the news. Local photographer Richard Austin texted me to say the the Express & Echo, the Exeter-based evening paper that also covers East Devon, was to be closed as a daily paper in September and to be relaunched as a weekly.

Although not surprised, I was deeply saddened. The Echo was the first newspaper I worked on under dapper editor Cecil Hoare who always wore a pinstripe suit and a carnation in his buttonhole.

I clearly remember my interview. My dad and I travelled on the train (we did not have a car) from Lyme Regis to Exeter and then walked to the Echo offices in Sidwell Street.

My father, who wore his best suit (in fact, his only suit) was asked to wait in the Editor’s outer office while the interview took place. I was offered an apprenticeship as a trainee reporter for the sum of £12 10 shillings a week. When Cecil Hoare told my dad, he just said, “Thank you, Sir”.

Outside the offices, my dad, a man who rarely swore, turned to me and said: “Don’t you let me down you lucky little bugger.” I’ve tried not to.

The significance of that statement passed me by at the time. It was only at his funeral many years later that I learned from my mum that at the time dad was earning just £11 a week.

My first job on the Echo was as a junior reporter at the Honiton office, which was situated over Arthur Dimond’s newsagents shop in the High Street. To start with I used to travel to Honiton on the Puffin’ Billy from Lyme, changing trains at Axminster. On Fridays I had to go to Exeter College to qualify as a fully fledged reporter.

I went from paper boy to reporter in one fell swoop as I used to deliver the Echo in Lyme before getting the job. In fact, I did both jobs for three weeks until a replacement paper boy could be found.

I thought working for the Echo was the most exciting job in the world. On Saturdays I would be covering a rugby or soccer match for the pink “Football Express” edition that came out on Saturday evenings.

During the week I was attached to senior reporter David Haydon covering the Honiton and Axminster areas. In those days the Echo has a dedicated reporter in most East Devon towns: Frank Cole in Sidmouth, Bill King in Exmouth; David Haydon in Honiton. When David moved on to Pulman’s Weekly News (considered a better job in those days because they gave you a company car), I had to run the patch myself.

Exeter and East Devon deserves a daily paper - and the Echo was a great daily paper. But these are difficult times for the newspaper industry - the MOST difficult times - especially for the metropolitan dailies.

When owners Northcliffe decided to turn the Torbay Herald Express into a weekly with some success, the writing was always on the wall for the Echo. It was just a matter of time.

As a consequence of the decision, several journalists and photographers have lost their jobs.
Hopefully, the weekly Echo will be as big a success as its Torbay sister paper.

SADNESS, too, in Honiton this week over the closure of the Royal British Legion Club in Dowell Street, another victim of this wretched recession.

As a young reporter in Honiton I spent many happy hours in the Legion Club, covering many events and enjoying a drink in the bar after work.

Over the years I have also spoken at many dinners which were held at the Legion.
The club will leave a huge whole in the social life of Honiton.

They are all going a bit crazy in Beer

IT’S been Regatta Week in Beer - one of my all-time favourite events.

In recent years Jackie and I have always tried to get down to Beer on the main day - Thursday - but as this is now the production day for The Weekenders we are no longer able to do so.

For many years we drove over to Beer early and found ourself a good spot on the beach and then watched the day unfold. A picnic by the sea and then a couple of drinks at The Anchor before going home. Who could ask for anything more?

The locals all go a bit crazy during Regatta Week and it’s an event that draws old Beertonians back to the home village. Once a Beer boy, always a Beer boy and a part of Regatta Week is renewing old friendships and swapping stories about growing up in the prettiest village in East Devon.

Led by energetic chairman Kim Baulch, the Regatta has a very lively and hard working committee who manage to come up with a vibrant programme of events every year.

The organisation of Beer Regatta typifies the community spirit in the village - and one thing is for sure, there will undoubtedly be a few sore heads in Beer this morning!

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