Thursday, 25 August 2011

John North goes South

So the enigmatic columnist John North has finally shuffled off his mortal coil. Today his last column appears in The Northern Echo. Writer Mike Amos (above) is retiring JN before his own retirement in October. The column, described as "a quirky view of the region's people and places", has had many guises. When I joined the Echo in 1979 it was written by John Simkins who went off to the FT. He was replaced by Bill Hearld, later deputy editor of the Yorkshire Evening Press. Others included Stephen Brenkley, the Independent's cricket correspondent, and Terry Ramsey who became TV editor of the Standard. When John North was on holiday there was an occasional woman's perspective by Jane North. But the column mainly belonged to Mike, who celebrates 46 years at the paper this year. He relinquished it while he was the Echo's news-editor but came back to it as a weekly column years later. In its heyday the column was daily. It was a full-time job and the brief was to be out there picking up the interesting snippets, the oddities, the grassroots stories that were peculiar to the North-East. The JN chair in the office was always empty. It was also one of the most high pressure jobs in the business. Every day JN had to find fresh, compelling material and, unlike the national columnists, he was on his own. There was no team of researchers, no juniors or back-up staff. And Mike, who doesn't even drive, delivered day in day out. In these austere times there are few regional papers who can afford a full-time, off-diary writer. But there was no doubt JN brought in readers, gave the paper an essence and a unique voice. There are many reasons why regional newspapers are in decline but I am certain that one of them was the whole 'value for money', high story count policy peddled by the beancounters. Legs of briefs on car boot sales and choir rehearsals may be easy pickings but they are of no interest whatsoever to the general reader. What JN offered, and what all newspapers need, was a reason to buy the paper every day. So RIP JN, he will be missed. But I wouldn't be surprised if, somewhere down the line, he doesn't make a comeback.
Hat-tip to Neil Hacking
Mike Amos picture


  1. I also wrote the John North column (1974-78) when Mike Amos was on holiday. It was a privilege to be asked and of course I never came anywhere close to the wit and eclectic wisdom that Mike displayed. I recall one day Mike had nothing to write about. So he simply got up and walked home (about 14 miles) and then wrote his column about the people he met along the way. Genius. I wish him a very happy retirement, doubtless cleaning all those journalistic awards he has garnered over the years. He could have been a legend in Fleet Street had he not been addicted to Shildon (or West Auckland). George Dearsley

  2. Good memories George. I never knew you were JN. Hope to see you at Mike's retirement bash.