Sunday, 31 August 2014

Roger Parlby: An editor of grace and gravitas

Roger Parlby and daughter Joanna examining the new-look Advertiser in 2010

I was saddened to learn of the death of Roger Parlby, chairman and editor-in-chief of the Newark Advertiser, earlier this month. I was fortunate enough to meet him and his daughter Joanna four years ago when he asked me to redesign the title
I was immediately impressed by the man and his deep knowledge of design and typography principles. He had a very clear view of the evolutionary approach the Advertiser needed. The changes we introduced had to be subtle. He knew all about fonts, their history and those he wanted to keep.
The masthead had to retain its Ultra Bodoni typeface while splash heading caps were dropped in favour of lower case Century Bold. It was refreshing to work with a family-run independent newspaper where those who were empowered to make the decisions also had a love for the paper and its history. The paper's editorial, written by Mr Parlby in the relaunch edition, summed up the changes nicely: A refreshed Advertiser strives to please relying on the solid foundation of years long gone. Samuel Wesley said it all way back in 1700 when he wrote: 'Style is the dress of thought, a modest dress neat but not gaudy will true critics please. 
Roger Parlby had worked at the Advertiser since 1941, succeeding his father Cyril as editor in 1967. He became editor-in-chief in 1984 and was awarded an MBE in 2005. He died earlier this month aged 89. 
He was one of the newspaper industry’s great characters - a man with gravitas, grace and a lively sense of humour. It is a sad time for the Parlby family but I know that the title will be in safe hands with Joanna as MD. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to meet them. It was a real pleasure - working with dedicated and genuinely nice people with real journalistic values whose motivation is to keep both readers and advertisers happy. The sort of work I would happily do every day.  
The Newark Advertiser tribute to Roger Parlby is here.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Why did Derby become the editor factory?

Top row: Current newspaper editors - Booth, Bowyer, Clifford, O'Neill and Sassi
Bottom row: Former newspaper editors Irwin, Perch, Hall, Cook and Lowe

What was it about the Derby Telegraph newsroom from 1991 to 1996 that was so special?  Five of today’s regional daily editors, one daily MD and a publisher all cut their teeth in that set up. The latest to take a step up is Kevin Booth, who has just been appointed editor of the Leicester Mercury. Congratulations to him. The others are Jeremy Clifford, editor of The Yorkshire Post and YEP; Mike Sassi, Nottingham Post; Richard Bowyer, The Sentinel in Stoke and Simon O’Neill, Oxford Mail. Steve Hall, formerly editor of the Express & Echo in Exeter and the Derby Telegraph, is now MD at Derby and Simon Irwin, formerly editorial director at the Kent Messenger Group, is publisher at Archant's Kent titles. Then there is Keith Perch, deputy at that time, who went on to edit three of Northcliffe's daily titles (South Wales, Derby and Leicester) and was MD of Northcliffe digital. The late Mel Cook was also in the team … and he became editor of the Scunthorpe Telegraph and was editor of the Nottingham Post when he was cruelly taken by cancer last year. That’s without mentioning the main man, Mike Lowe, who was editor in those halcyon days. He went on to edit the Bristol Evening Post and is now editor of Archant's Cotswold Life.
Can any other newsroom claim to have spawned so many editors? I doubt it. So what was the secret of this medium-size 90s' provincial newsroom that made it the editor factory for the regional Press?
Well, it was a very different time. Editorial was the most important department. Circulations were strong, revenues good and digital was only just becoming an issue. Newsrooms weren’t run by committee and didn't suffer interference from other departments. In Northcliffe in particular, the editor was king. And in Mike Lowe, the Telegraph had a strong king. Simon O’Neill, assistant editor at the time, says: "Derby was definitely not a democracy. Mike ruled and that was that. Strangely though, we all had latitude to do pretty much as we wanted, in terms of expressing ourselves.
"Standards were high, to the point of being brutal and with so many talented people around the place, everybody was hell bent on not being the one who let the side down. We tended to drive ourselves and each other forward each day.”

Mike Lowe himself can't put a finger on why Derby nurtured so many execs. He says: "I don't know why that relatively brief period should have turned out so many editors. We were very lucky in recruiting good people and we tried to create a newsroom environment in which they could thrive. It was quite traditional and hierarchal, which some people wouldn't have liked, but we turned out excellent newspapers and, importantly, we had a lot of fun doing it. We also had the backing of good MDs in Steve Anderson-Dixon and Tim Kitchen (both of whom were from a commercial background, rather than financial).”
I remember the Derby team from those days. It was very macho - not a woman in sight - hard-drinking, hard-working and highly competitive. 
The Telegraph sent a football team on tour and I remember them playing The Northern Echo side ... and, boy, were they brutal. They were the only team our side ever refused to drink with afterwards.  So maybe that was it. Mike Lowe (a lifelong Manchester United fan) ran his newsroom like a football team - talented individuals in the right places with clear goals and strong leadership. They had a bunch of hardmen in the middle who were prepared to have a go. They also had self-belief and a real fear of failure. It wouldn’t work these days, of course. Would it?

The Derby team circa 1992. Back Row: Clive Fidler (former ad manager at Derby) Kevin Booth (editor at Leicester Mercury, formerly at the Burton Mail, Yorkshire Evening Press and Peterborough Telegraph), Jeremy Clifford (editor at Yorkshire Post, formerly at Sheffield Star and Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph) Keith Perch (formerly editor of the Leicester Mercury, Derby Telegraph and South Wales Echo), Lewis Panther (ex-News of the World), Mike Lowe (editor of Cotswold Life, formery editor at Bristol and Derby), Mike Sassi (editor at the Nottingham Post, formerly at The Sentinel, Stoke, and at Lincoln), Unknown, Simon O'Neill (editor at the Oxford Mail, previously at Swindon). Front: Dave Welford (Derbyshire Times), Richard Bowyer (editor at The Sentinel, Stoke), Ruddy Brooks (sport), Phil Cattermole (ringer), Mel Cook (former editor at Nottingham Post, previously editor at the Scunthorpe Telegraph and deputy at Hull Daily Mail), Neil Manship (BBC).

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Why I'm close to giving up on Newcastle Utd

Here is my latest football article for the Irish Examiner. It's a heartfelt piece on why, after 50 years, I am on the verge of giving up on Newcastle United and, indeed, on football itself. The Examiner does not put its pre-season supplement online so if you can't read the page, the article is below. 

My 50-year affair with football is going through a sticky patch. In fact, it may be the end. It has been going wrong for years but last season things came to a head.
The affair started in 1964, when Newcastle United were in the second division. My brother took me to my first games, Newcastle were promoted and I was smitten. I was nine. The train journey from Whitley Bay, the walk through the narrow lanes up to Gallowgate Hill, the singing in the Leazes End, the closeness of the players, all heroes, gave me a sense of belonging. I went to all the home fixtures and, as I grew older, many away games. I went to every home game in the glorious Fairs Cup victory of 1969. I bunked off school to see Bobby Moncur bring the trophy back to St James’s Park. Lately, I have taken costly corporate tables. My three sons have sported every kit the club has thrown at us. If I counted how much I have spent over 50 years, I could have bought a villa in the South of France.
I played too, for my school, college and workplace. When I stopped I set up a boys' club and took my coaching badge.
So what went wrong? The unease started with the players, using the club to get a Premier League foothold. They were no older than my kids and were swaggering around in flash cars, behaving badly. There were other irritations. Two club directors called Newcastle’s women ‘dogs’ and laughed at the fans for paying over the odds for shirts. It was an early indication of the lack of respect for the city.
Then along came Mike Ashley. In his seven-year tenure the high street retailer has fallen out with those we hold dear, specifically Kevin Keegan and Alan Shearer, sold Andy Carroll, appointed Joe Kinnear, who made the club a laughing stock, and changed St James's to the Sports Direct Arena.
And then came last season - getting into bed with Wonga, banning the local newspapers and Alan Pardew headbutting a player. This is behaviour I would condemn in any other walk of life. On the pitch the team were the first Newcastle side to lose five consecutive Premier League games and were beaten twice by Sunderland. The club also made it clear, to fans desperate for silverware, that cups were of no interest. Premier League survival is the limit of the ambition.
So, watching a lack-lustre parade around the pitch after the last home game, I decided I'd had enough. I have no respect for the management, its business methods or its money-motivated players. I deplore the disdain the club has for the supporters. The only thing I admire is the history and the shirt.
My lack of respect isn't just for Newcastle United, but for football itself. I fear it is rotten to the core. Bribery, corruption, the fixing of bids, the selling of favours and greed hover over the game like a toxic cloud. The 2022 World Cup in Qatar is a joke. And any organisation that has the preposterous Sepp Blatter at its head, does not deserve my support. That's not to mention, the racism, a man who regularly bites people in the workplace but is feted as a hero, the diving and absurd ticket prices.
Last season, football and me were through. I thought the World Cup would reaffirm my stance. But England and Luis Suarez aside, I enjoyed it. Newcastle's close season signings have also been promising. Nine players, including Remy Cabella, who I have seen at Montpellier, and Ajax captain Siem de Jong, have joined. The outlay, while not in the same league as Arsenal. Liverpool or Chelsea, has been more than €33million. Of course they are mainly players looking for a lucrative ride on the English gravy train and Ashley will be looking for big profits. But at least there are new faces. I am also receiving calls from friends asking which games we are going to. 
I was wavering … but one event changed my mind. It was the deaths of John Alder and Liam Sweeney, blown up on flight MH17 as they travelled to New Zealand to watch Newcastle play. The reaction has been remarkable. Rival Sunderland fans have raised €40,000 for the Bobby Robson Foundation and the Marie Curie Hospice in Newcastle. John and Liam will be commemorated at the opening game against Manchester City next Sunday. An Alder Sweeney memorial garden is being built at the ground It took me back to 1964 and why I fell in love with the game – a sense of belonging. So whereas every rational cell in my body says walk away … I will be giving football, and Newcastle United, one final chance. Even though I have no doubt they will let me down.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

A memorable day with the great Norman Cornish

Norman Cornish: Self Portrait
Norman Cornish died on Friday. He was 94. He worked as coal miner before becoming a professional artist, part of the Pitman's Academy set up in the North-East in the 1930s. He, and his extraordinary work, featured regularly in The Northern Echo and on one occasion, features editor Brian Page went to his home in Spennymoor to interview him. After Norman's death, I asked Brian to write a piece on his meeting. Here are his words:

I arrived at a modest terraced house in modest Spennymoor. Passersby trudging down the street stared with open curiousity, in that County Durham way, before then nodding and giving me an “all reet”.
There was a wind whisking cast-aside sweetie papers and bits of newspaper up into the air and the threat of a damp drizzle in the sky.
I took a deep breath. Knocked on the door. A slight shiver of anxiety sweeping from head to toe.
They say you should never meet your heroes.
And yet here I was. At the door of the house of Norman Cornish.
“Are you the lad from The Northern Echo,” a friendly voice answered my knock. “Howay in, pet, Norman’s upstairs, he’ll be with you in a minute. Would you like a cup of tea?”
Sarah, Norman’s wife, beamed a smile. “Come on in and sit down a moment,” she said. And smiled again.
A moment later an unsmiling Norman Cornish arrived. He shook my hand and looked in my eye. He was a lean man, smartly dressed, swept back hair, dark eyes, watchful. He sat silently down and waited.
I blathered for England. Or at least for The Northern Echo. We wanted to do a major four-part series based on the newly published book on his life and work, the first part would be our interview, the other three based on the book itself and…
“Do you know anything about art?”
Er, no… not really. I mean I, that is, er, well, no, not really…”
A long pause. A fixed look.
“But I can tell you this Mister Cornish, I would have beaten half the newsroom to death to get this interview…
He looked at me. Waited. And then nodded. “It’s Norman,” he said. “Norman will do just fine.”
And that’s how it started, an interview that was meant to last an hour but ran to most of the day, with an interuption only when the wonderful Sarah insisted I stay and “have some liver and onions for your dinner”.
(For the non North-Easterners among you, dinner in County Durham is the proper term for what other folk call lunch).
Once Norman had worked out that I really did know his work, from early days to the latest paintings about to go on an exhibition tour, he warmed. And behind the shy and self-effacing exterior Norman Cornish was a warm man.
He spent long moments explaining to me about the sweeps and the curves and the geometry and the lines and angles of a painter-draughtsman’s craft.
And then he would look at me keenly. “Do you see,” he would say.
And I did. I think.
One painting, in particular, had always fascinated and, in some way horrified me, I told him. It was of miners making their way over a bridge, the pit wheels looming and a string of wired cross-head pylons pointing the way forward.
“Ah,” he replied. And for the first time smiled. “Calvary.”
And it all dropped in place. The pylons were there like a line of crucifixes, leading the way to the dreaded pit and the deep descent into an underground world…
At last there was a glimmering of understanding, of knowing.
And the day stretched on, cups of tea and more moments of insight. More glimpses of the wonderful world of the artist who had once been a miner.
When it was (long past) time to go, we shook hands at the door. Sarah smiled and Norman nodded. And then he, too smiled.
It was one of the best days…

You can view some of Norman Cornish's work on his website here.

A book of condolence is available at Northumbria University Gallery or by email to An illustrated memorial lecture and appreciation of Norman’s life and work by his biographers, Bob McManners and Gillian Wales, will take place at Spennymoor Town Hall in September. Details will be published at and members of the public are welcome to attend.

Brian Page is a former deputy editor of The Northern Echo and an award-winning feature writer. He now runs his own freelance company, Page One Publications, based in York. He is the author of Still Lives, a novel based in the newspaper world and has a new book, Divided We Fall, due for publication in the autumn.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Regional papers happy to mention the war

The national newspaper front pages are torn between the Commonwealth Games finale, Gaza and the anniversary of World War I today. The Sun and The Times both lead on the war and The Independent uses it as the main picture. Others put the war in the blurb ... promoting some some very good supplement inside. Some, including The Guardian and Metro, don't mention it at all on Page 1. The regional papers, though, are in no doubt about what is the story of the day. Although there aren't many people alive who can still remember the outbreak of war, the local papers know what it means to their communities. The Bournemouth Daily Echo, The Sentinel in Stoke and the Hull Daily Mail opt for impressive wraps. Here's a selection. If you want yours included, please email it to me at

There are some interesting supplements too, with many papers reprinting their front pages from 100 years ago. Here are a few:

Don't forget to turn your lights out and light a candle from 10pm-11pm tonight.

Friday, 1 August 2014

A fight to the death over use of grammar ...

After I commented on Weird Al Yankovic's Word Crimes (if you haven't yet watched it, you really need to),  I received a message from Tobias Hector.  He pointed out that  Weird Al would get his pedantic ass kicked at Grammar Rumble and sent a link. It's a video in which gangs fight to the death, using knives and the Chicago Manual of Style, over grammatical disagreements,  Watch it here. It makes Weird Al look positively normal.