Sunday, 12 October 2014

Hacks reunite to celebrate Despatch's centenary

Party time in the King's Head
I spent the weekend chasing, and finding, ghosts in Darlington. On Saturday evening my wife and I joined 30 or so former colleagues to catch up and celebrate the 100th anniversary of a great regional newspaper - the Evening Despatch. The paper began life on September 5, 1914, in order to bring despatches from the frontline back to the people of County Durham. It was closed by Westminster Press in 1986. 

Growing old disgracefully 

I joined as chief sub in 1982. I was only there two and a half years but it was a very special time. The paper was edited by Robin Thompson, my old boss from my first paper in Tyneside. He was an inspiration - a young editor determined to make changes and make a noise. He turned the paper into a vibrant tabloid which broke amazing stories. His real achievement, though, was to surround himself with highly talented, enthusiastic young journalists and encourage them to ‘give it a go’. 

A couple of Despatch wraparounds from the 1980s ... long before other papers latched on to the idea
For a small evening paper in provincial Darlington it certainly threw up some stars. Some went on to be editors, including Tony Watson, the news-editor to my chief sub, who edited The Yorkshire Post and is now MD at the Press Association; Ian Holland who was editor at the Sunderland Echo before his life was cruelly cut short and Peter Greenwood who edited the Craven Herald. Some - Neil Hacking, Ged Clarke, Jimmy Gilchrist, Mark Tulip and Andy Birchall - became renowned broadcasters. Many went to nationals - including Mickey Burke, Steve Butterworth, Guy Keleney and John Lewis. Photographer Alan Gilliland headed up the Daily Telegraph’s art department when the paper was in the vanguard of information graphics. Some, such as Theresa Thomason (nee Kennedy), Jennifer Wilson, Alison Steel, Maxine Holland and Helen Logan chose the PR/marketing road. Others, Dot Butler and Stan Abbott, became successful entrepreneurs. Glyn Middleton founded television company True North Productions. The late Barry MacSweeney was a prolific poet, publishing more than two dozen titles between 1968 and 2000 when his drinking finally killed him. John Dean and Ged have also had books published. Some Despatch journalists, for example Sally Taylor, Andy Brown and Red Williams, carved out good careers in the regional press too. And Robin Thompson, of course, became one of the industry’s leading law specialists. There is a full list of all those I remember here.
I made many lifelong friends during my short time at the Despatch so when Ged suggested a reunion - in the King’s Head next to our old offices - how could I refuse. 
These things can sometimes fall flat, but it turned out to be a wonderful night. Although it was due to start at 7pm, many of us went for a walk down memory lane to the paper’s old pub, the Red Lion. Afterwards there were photos, pages and videos from the old days projected on to a screen and there were great speeches. Ged and Neil resurrected the brilliant Bye, Bye Evening Despatch (to the tune of American Pie). The drinks flowed too. I created some live pages in old Despatch style too (once a chief sub, always a chief sub).

The Despatch lives again ... a couple of souvenir pages from the night
It was a night to remember - with memories of by-elections, floods, murders and campaigns to save Darlington FC. Thanks to Ged for organising it … and to all those who turned up. In 2016, it will be 30 years since the Despatch closed. Maybe, if everyone's head has recovered, we should do it all again …

Those who came were: Robin and Pauline Thompson, Ged Clarke, Tony Watson, Peter and Pam Sands, Neil and Sue Hacking, Glyn and Helen Middleton, Peter and Carol Greenwood, Alison Steel, Alan Gilliland, Andy and Carole Brown, June Hawdon, Neil and Miranda Richardson, Hazel Kellett, Mark and Polly Tulip, Helen Logan, Sally Taylor, Stan and Linda Abbott, Teresa Thomason, Tony and Kathy Marshall, Maxine Holland, Maggie Weir, Dot and Derek Butler. The Northern Echo's editor Peter Barron and his wife Heather also called in to say hello.


  1. I still have the original hot metal plate from that ‘Monsoon’ picture - plus the page, of course. (Alan Gilliland)

  2. That Monsoon page was my favourite from my chief subbing days - fantastic picture and so simple but so effective. Great to see you Alan. Enjoy Lincs.

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