Mansfield, Sutton-in-Ashfield and the World Press
by David F Thompson
At its industrial peak, and in relationship to its size and population, Mansfield and Sutton-in-Ashfield produced an astonishing number of national and international journalists. Between the late 1940s and the mid-1950s alone at least 15 young journalists who learned, or improved, their craft in the area made their way later to Fleet Street, newspapers in Canada, Africa, the Gulf and Australia, television, international public relations and trade union leadership.
They included a future Fleet Street editor, a Gulf newspaper editor, senior reporters, columnists, commentators, a TV star, the Asia chairman of world-wide PR company, and the general secretary of the National Union of Journalists.
Chronicle and the Reporter, and one in Sutton-in-Ashfield, the Free Press, all of which trained local boys and girls, starting at 15, 16 and 17. There wasn’t a journalist graduate in those years in Mansfield.
The four weeklies occasionally imported senior staff, including editors. The Derbyshire Times and the Newark Advertiser reported events on the outer fringe of the Mansfield area. There were also the district offices for three morning and evening newspapers, the Nottingham Guardian and Evening Post, the Nottingham Journal and Evening News and the Sheffield Telegraph and Star. Their reporters in Mansfield were usually in their early 20s who had trained in Mansfield and on weeklies elsewhere.
Mansfield and Sutton-in-Ashfield were unique in that nowhere else in the country were so many newspapers competing with each other and competition was intense at every level. There could be up to six reporters at a variety of events. In the early 1950, six reporters were at a Pleasley Parish Council meeting when two councillors, both Labour, went outside for a fight.
It was usual for reporters from all the weeklies to attend council meetings, the court, garden parties, Christmas fairs and sporting events. Each young reporter was assigned a portion of the area in which to tramp round by foot, or by bike, collecting items of news from local clubs, factories, companies and churches. If one of the weeklies did not have a news item, or a name, which appeared in the others there would be an inquest.
- There were no office cars or van, if the trainees had bikes it was because they had bought them. There were no mobile phones or computers, reports were written by hand and the use of the office phones were strictly monitored.
- The learning experience was remembered years later with affection by almost all those who had loved it and sometimes suffered it.
- Who was there then, where did they come from and where did they go?
- Tony Miles (Nottigham Evening Post), who started aged 16 on a Buckinghamshire weekly, moved from Mansfield to Brighton and then to the Daily Mirror. He became editor of the then mass-selling tabloid and later chairman of Mirror Group Newspapers.
- Tony Miles once said that he had applied for a job on the Nottingham Evening Post because he had read it when living in Nottinghamshire, near Langar, where his father was building the RAF airfield early in World War II.
- He said: “I expected to enjoy the bright lights of Nottingham but instead was sent to Mansfield. It was a cultural shock for a 19-year-old from leafy Buckinghamshire who had never seen a pit. But I enjoyed Mansfield and it was great training ground. I learned a lot from Ted Hall, a great journalist and kindly man, who was the Mansfield editor of the Guardian and Post.”
- Shelley Rhode, from Nottingham, (Free Press), joined the Daily Express before becoming a Granada TV presenter and interviewer.
- Ken Ashton, from the North West, (joined Mansfield Reporter as chief reporter), later general secretary of the National Union of Journalists).
- Norman Crossland, Sutton, (Free Press) who became The Guardian’s Bonn correspondent.
- Bill Edwards, Sutton, (Free Press), believed to have gone to Hollywood.
- Barrie Devney (Chronicle), then Nottingham, Sheffield and the Daily Express becoming Industrial Editor. Acknowledged in obituaries this year to have been an outstanding journalist the best trade union contacts in his business.
- Peter Bostock, Sutton (Free Press), worked in Canada, wrote a book about hitch-hiking from Canada to Brazil and worked his passage home on a cargo ship. He was a reporter and later Air Correspondent, Daily Sketch, RAF press officer, Asia boss based in Singapore of a world-wide PR company. He then founded his own PR company in Malay and Australia. Peter Bostock retired to Melbourne.
- Ted Goring, (a Nottingham daily), Daily Mail columnist.
- John Westoby, from Nottingham (Mansfield Reporter), worked in Africa, then the Daily Express.
- Craig Robertson, known as the Flying Scotsman (Chronicle), Nottingham Evening Post and later The Guardian.
- Ann(e) Beveridge, Sutton-in-Ashfield (Free Press), Nottingham Evening News and later The Sun.
- Ralph S Brooks, from Bedfordshire (editor, Mansfield Reporter), later a Luton weekly group executive, then Reuters news agency.
- There were several photographers, home-grown and from outside. They included:
- Denis Thorpe, Mansfield (Mansfield Reporter) leading on to The Guardian. He was outstanding and won a number of national photographic awards. Another photographer, from outside (also Mansfield Reporter) was for a time on the Daily Mirror in Manchester.
- One trainee (I do not remember his name), Edwinstowe, (Mansfield Reporter not long before it closed in the mid-1950s) became a Sunday Express columnist.
- A number of the area’s youngsters who trained on the four weeklies preferred to work locally or on leading regional publications. They included Jane Lemmon, Skegby (Mansfield Reporter) and Anne Waterfield (Advertiser).
- Skegby author Ernest Ashley, a short story and crime novel author under the name Francis Vivian, wrote feature articles for the Mansfield Reporter and later was a senior reporter on the Free Press. He was an admired and much-liked mentor to trainees on the Reporter and Free Press.
- This account of Mansfield’s breeding ground for journalists 65 to 70 years ago was written by David Thompson, Skegby (Mansfield Reporter) who, after newspapers in Nottingham and Newcastle upon Tyne, went to Fleet Street on the News Chronicle at the start of 10 years sub-editing and chief sub-editing on other Fleet Street newspapers. He became the Daily Mirror ’s chief Parliamentary correspondent and later the Daily and Sunday Mirror leader writer. David Thompson led an unsuccessful £100 million staff journalists bid, backed by two merchant banks, for Mirror Group Newspapers pre-Maxwell.
- After leaving the Mirror, he became a PR consultant, then revamped the Daily Times, Malawi, and launched and edited the daily newspaper, the Bahrain Tribune, with an international staff. Of 14 young trainees only one spoke English as a first language. Returning home, He ran communications for two London boroughs and for the Lord Mayor of the City of London.