Thursday, 22 August 2013

Trevor Upton - the backbone of the subs' room


I am so saddened to hear of the death of my old Northern Echo colleague Trevor Upton. Trevor was already at the Echo - on his second stint - when I arrived in 1979 and he was there when I left as editor in 1993. It seemed he would be there forever, the backbone of the subs' room. When I joined the subs' table Trevor was a senior player, a veteran with Fleet Street experience, and I hung on his every word. He knew all about points and picas, he could rattle off broadsheet pages to fit perfectly, had a great eye for a picture (not least because he was also a trained photographer), could turn a badly written piece of copy around in minutes and he also knew how to deal with stroppy printers and precious news-editors. It was as a headline writer, though, that he was most impressive. He wrote some classics and was always willing to lend a hand if a young sub was struggling. I remember chief subbing the paper one night when a late story broke. A house had been wrecked by a gas explosion. The householder had found the leak and blocked it by carving a carrot to the exact size of the hole in the pipe. The gas built up behind the carrot and the whole thing went bang. We were on deadline and the subs were all desperately trying to think of a headline. There had to be something clever and witty. As they flicked through their thesauruses looking for puns (I think What's Up Doc? was even suggested), Trevor came in from the stone asking where the page was. I explained the story that was holding things up and, without pausing to think, he simply said: "The carrot that blew up a house." Genius. Trevor was a great character and a lovely man. I enjoyed many a break-time pint in the Red Lion or Golden Cock, listening to his newspaper stories and his wise words. He became assistant editor and remained the Echo's production mainstay until he retired in 2006. Trevor died in Darlington today, aged 69, after a short illness. He leaves wife Chris, daughters Alexandre, Stephanie and Caitlin and grandchildren, Freya, Tiggy, Ralph and Velvet. He also leaves behind some very sad former colleagues - and some vivid memories. 

David Kernek (formerly Flintham), who also worked with Trevor writes:
I worked with Trevor during my stints as deputy editor and, later, editor of The Northern Echo. I think he also had the burden of subbing some of the copy I bashed out during my years at the House of Commons as the Echo's political correspondent.
Despite the normal production pressures of getting the multi-edition Echo out every night - and often in later years the turmoil generated by worldview changes at Westminster Press, local NUJ issues, editorial department re-organization, and the press in York - Trevor was never less than calm, cheerful, constructive - in a low-key, London sort of way - and supportive. He was especially helpful when I tabled not widely welcomed proposals to align the shift hours of senior subs with those of the news desk. His copytasting instincts and Page 1 design skills were consummate.


David Kelly, retired, former managing editor of The Northern Echo and managing director of North of England Newspapers/ Newsquest North East, writes:
My time at The Northern Echo was more or less synchronous with Trevor's. His experience and skills were matched by his confidence in adding his view, full of experience, journalistic nous. His views were strong and clear - and mostly right!
He got on with stuff whether or not that was ensuring the last page was on time or checking the crossword grids.
We worked together through very good times and others that were rather more challenging - not least the performance of the press at York where, if we were not together in the office in the early hours, we were talking on the phone about what pages of editorial and advertising we had to dump.
We got our hands very dirty cranking up the redundant Darlington press (no printers!) to get out a paper when the York press completely failed (e.g. a General Election night), an experience that few journalists will have had. Trevor got lots of that - as did other journalists we had to ferry down to York to help bundle papers there. Those times were 'life or death' issues. Can you imagine if your daily paper had not appeared...? Not many production editors have had that experience and carried us through time after time.
I always felt the paper was safe in Trevor's hands: he only called in the small hours when he knew the issues were significant.  We had many small hours conversations...
Part of measuring any colleague is how they perform when stuff hits the fan. He was special.
Mostly I will miss him because we had an open and honest professional relationship, robust at times, but when he was there I felt the paper was secure. He always had Friday nights off... sleepless night for me!
Perhaps more than all that, we could be open and honest with each other.
His commitment - with dear and special, dedicated Chris - to his family was a remarkable example of huge commitment to their children and their families. That was/is formidable involving great sacrifice and financial commitment.
It was a delight that I finished up in a hilly village where one of Trevor and Chris's very special daughters lived. Both in retirement, Trevor and I would meet from time to time, chew a bit of cud.
In the different generations that make up the life of newspapers you come across some - and it is not a few - who are special to their time at that time. Trevor was certainly one of those. Pray for his family who have been robbed prematurely.

Trevor's funeral will be held at Newbiggin, Richmond, on Friday, August 30, at 1pm.

The Northern Echo's tribute is here.

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