The Way We Were: The Northern Echo & the Evening Despatch

A look at newspapers, journalists 
and colleagues from years gone by

Frank Peters v John Pifer

The Mike Amos retirement bash
on October 7/8 at Hardwick Hall
My farewell card to Mike, the Echo also
gave him a mock front page
After 46 years at The Northern Echo Mike Amos, once news-editor but mainly an award winning columnist, hosted a party at the place of his birth, Hardwick Hall in Sedgefield, on Friday to mark his 'retirement'. As was fitting for a writer whose columns included Eating Owt, the food was excellent and the beer flowed. Peter Barron, the Echo's editor, told the 150 revellers that Mike had made a greater impact on the paper than any journalist in history - including WT Stead and Harold Evans. High praise indeed. I have often wondered what would happen to the Echo's circulation if Mike left. There are certainly those, particularly from his beloved Shildon, who buy the paper mainly for his musings. Fortunately this won't be put to the test just yet as he is to write two weekly columns from home. Mike, who was awarded the MBE, for his services to journalism is also the Chairman of the Northern League. On Saturday after the party, his 65th birthday, he took a bleary-eyed gang to Shildon v Bishop Auckland ... a rainsoaked 2-2 draw. In the George and Dragon in Heighington before the match, Mike and his former newsdesk sidekick Steve Hobman dismissed stories of a culture of lunchtime drinking at the Echo in the 70s. It had, they concluded, been exaggerated. Four pints in the Britannia each lunchtime, pah! Hardly a drinking culture. Amazing how age gives you a selective memory. It was great to see so many faces, some who I had not encountered for 20 years or so. They included the aforementioned Barron and Hobman, Mike Gibb (chief photographer) Jon Smith (chief sub), Stan Abbott (reporter), Brian Page (deputy editor), Liz Page (head of content), Peter Chapman (chief librarian) and his wife Janet, now canon at Birmingham Cathedral, Ian Reeve (Business), Colin Tapping (deputy editor, now editor at the Hexham Courant), Jenny Needham (features), Chris Lloyd (deputy editor), Petra Stanton (graphic artist), David Kelly (features editor, deputy editor, MD), Sue Kendrew (sub), David Coates (current MD), Ray Robertson (Middlesbrough FC reporter), Mike Clark (Teesside reporter), Dave Franklin (former inky, now IT guru) and of course Mrs Amos, a former Northallerton hackette and women's editor, aka Sharon Griffiths. Mike's two sons Adam and Owen were also there. I am proud, I think, to report that I was the last man standing. Quite an achievement at a Mike Amos session - and something I could certainly never have claimed back in the day. A great night and a fitting send off for a North-East legend.
Last men standing - I finally manage to last the
pace of a Mike Amos drinking session

The Despatch reunion on September 24/25 in Leeds. 

I lifted these pictures from Alison Steel's Facebook page - where there are 16 others, so worth a visit. Plenty of old faces including Neil and Sue (nee Easby) Hacking, Neil and Miranda Richardson, Stan Abbott, Glyn and Helen Middleton, Mark and Polly Tulip, Alan Gilliland, Gary Horne and Hazel Kellett. Real blast from the past stuff.

Remembering the Evening Despatch
Watch this Despatch video featuring Robin Thompson, Barry Macsweeney, Ged Clarke, Don Ludlow, Kathy Cook, June Hawdon and Sue Easby.

Here's an indulgent walk down memory lane that will be of no interest to anyone except those who were there. I recently received a Tweet from the lady on the left, Teresa Thomason (PR Teresa), which didn't mean much until she gave her maiden name Teresa Kennedy. We knew each other on the late Evening Despatch in Darlington 30 years ago. Her career took her away from newspapers - "owning four fashions shops, some property development and PR consultancy" - in the North West. It led me to dig out an old Despatch newsroom picture featuring, from left to right, Neil Hacking (now with the BBC in Newcastle and married to Sue Easby one of the editorial assistants), Glyn Middleton (chief executive of True North Productions), John Dean (director of Inscribe Media and writer of crime novels), Kathy Cook/Marshall (working in a school in Darlington) and Ged Clarke (broadcaster and author of 50 Years of Hurt, a History of Newcastle United). Another Despatch colleague Jimmy Gilchrist popped up on my doorstep recently while visiting the UK. He is now working for Al Jazeera in Qatar. Teresa and I end up swapping notes and, with the help of others, came up with this 'where are they now' list. The editor was the inimitable Robin Thompson, now law lecturer and trainer, and his deputy was Don Ludlow. Robin's secretary was the late Val MorleyTony Watson, who went on to edit the Yorkshire Post and is now MD at the Press Association, was on the newsdesk, succeeding the late Barry MacSweeney, a renowned poet. Another news editor, Andy Birchall, went on to be an early pioneer at BskyB. Sadly Andy died in February. There is a tribute to him here. Another news editor was Gary Horne who is course director at London College of Communication. Ian Holland went on to be editor of the Sunderland Echo and died far too young. His wife Maxine Cawston was Press officer at Cleveland Police. She still lives in Sunderland. John Lewis is living in Ingleton between Darlington and Barnard Castle (see his comments below) and writing and producing songs. Check out the videos and download the songs on his website I succeeded Peter Greenwood as chief sub. He made the headlines recently as the former editor of the Craven Herald who made a reappearance in Darlington, supporting the NUJ pickets. On my subs desk was Mickey Burke, now at the News of the WorldSue Kendrew, Neil Patrick and the late Mike Gilligan. The late Brian Redhead was briefly there too. I was succeeded as chief sub by Andy Brownstill in Darlington on the D and S Times and his deputy was Sally Taylor. Sally was chief sub when the paper closed and remembers that there was a sub Sally Williams who arrived from Wales with reporter boyfriend Alan Eaglesfield and that Pauline Thompson, Robin's wife, was also there at the end. Sally, married to old Echo sub Geoff Taylor, has commented below. She is also still in Darlington having recently taken early retirement from the Advertiser series. Reporters, other than those pictured above, included: Red Williams, syndication editor at Archant; Alison Steel, former director of communications at Glasgow university; Pat (Lewis) Lakinski, went on to be deputy editor of the Argus in Brighton and is now with Southern Water; Stan Abbott, publisher of in-flight magazines; Philip Young, PR course director at Sunderland University; Helen Logan, director at a PR company; Jennifer Wilson, working for John Lewis in Newcastle; Mark Tulip, sports presenter on Look North; Russell Ward, who went on to news-edit the Sunderland Echo; Ruth Campbell, who was later my supplements editor at The Northern Echo and is now Ruth Savage and mum of five;  Robert Shrimsley, who went to the FT; Dick Tempest, who also died too early; Chris Bishop, Janet Leech, Tony Beck, Sue Roscoe and Janet Cape, who I saw many years later when she had become Janet Hall and was news-editor of the Northumberland Gazette. Red also remembers a trainee Gary Oswald who left when his probation period was up and is now an air traffic controller at Heathrow. Others included June Hawdon and Dorothy Bainbridge (Butler) on features and Peter WayJohn Aspden and Steve Butterworth, later of the Daily Star, on sport. Photographer Alan Gilliland went on to manage the Daily Telegraph's graphics department while Ian Weir, a great friend and the photographer at my wedding, died of a heart attack in his 30s. His wife Maggie Weir still lives in Darlington. Another photographer Peter Reimann is at the Teesside Gazette. The two editorial assistants who worked alongside Sue Easby were Elaine Hodgson, now working in Barclays Bank in Darlington, and Wendy Park. The paper was a small evening, living in the shadow of The Northern Echo, but shone largely because of the charisma and drive of its editor. It certainly bred an array of stars - several editors including two who were in charge of large dailies, many senior national newspaper hacks, broadcasters, trainers, PR executives and authors. The Despatch was closed by Westminster Press in 1986, 25 years ago this year. It feels like it could be yesterday. If I have missed anyone, which is a certainty, let me know on 
There is a good article from Mike Amos in The Northern Echo on the Despatch reunion of 2007 here
The Despatch Dynamos 
Thanks to Red Williams for sending this picture of the Despatch Dynamos football team after a poor showing against the sales department in 1980 (before I started, or the result would undoubtedly have been different). The Despatch team is from l-r, Peter Greenwood, John Lewis, John Dean, Red Williams, Tony Watson, Jim Gilchrist, Andy Brown, Robin Thompson, Geoff Williams (Red's brother and a ringer), Tony Locke, Mickey Burke, Andy Birchall. I recognise some of the sales team too - David Faulkner, Eddie Cavill, Barry Cuff and Barry Durham. Anyone know any others?
David Palmer from the sales department at the time writes:I can name a couple. Front row - first guy was Steve (cannot remember his second name). The family owned fish and chip shops in Spennymoor and Shildon. Next to him is Des Close. I still see David Faulkner every year when I go on a golf tour to Spain.
The Despatch song

This is the original manuscript of the Despatch song written by Neil Hacking and Ged Clarke and sung by them at the paper's wake at the North Briton. Some great references to columns and pages I had forgotten here - Steel on Stage, Listen Ear, Newton's Law, Printer's Pie and Clarkie's Clubs. Hadn't forgotten the Glittering Star though. As Neil, who uncovered the ancient manuscript says, what a talented pair they were. Double click on the page to read it. 

The High Row Incident
Grateful (I think) to Neil Hacking for reminding us all of the High Row Christmas debacle in 1983 and sending the cutting above. It started as a great promotional idea. Santa (Robin Thompson) and his cartoon helpers (the newsroom) would descend on High Row with free presents and mince pies for the town's kids. Neil recalls: "The whole thing was well promoted in the paper, so much so that half of Darlo turned up. And not the half you would have wanted.Things turned ugly, the promotions caravan was nearly tipped over (with the girls still inside), Santa had to take refuge in Greggs the Baker, and we were left to confront the mob. Sue Easby (Andy Pandy) had to rescue a kid holding a baby, who’d lost his parents. Donald Duck (me) fought his way to the Binns end of High Row with a bin liner full of presents. When a woman got on her knees and ripped the bottom of the bin liner to grab said presents, Donald Duck told her to **** off." Very festive!
Alison Steel says: "I was Minnie Mouse and a bloke tried to put his hand up my dress but because of my restricted vision I couldn't see clearly enough to thump him."
The subs weren't involved as I remember. I took a bit of a po-faced attitude saying that serious journalists who had to report on inquests and tragedies shouldn't be prancing around dressed as Fozzie Bear. My girlfriend (now wife) Pamela Hutchinson was the paper's promotions exec and said I was a boring old killjoy (she still says that today). Anyway, I sanctimoniously went home. Later I picked her up at the Glittering Star/Pheasant ... to be greeted by the pallid faces of genuinely shook up hacks and their stories of mayhem. I don't think I have ever felt so smug!! Glyn Middleton initially failed to recall this incident but, when prompted by Alison, coughed to being  "a kind of Sid Snot figure, with leather jacket and peaked cap". "Quite how that fitted in with Mickey Mouse and Andy Pandy I don't know. Presumably the subs cut me out of the paper on grounds of taste." 
The cast was: Santa, Robin; Minnie Mouse, Alison; Fozzie Bear, Ged; Sid Snot, Glyn; Kermit, Janet; Clown, Jennifer; Miss Piggy, John; Donald Duck: Neil; Andy Pandy, Sue; Soldier, Tony. Which means we don't know who Mickey Mouse was. Sally Taylor thinks it was Val Morley (see below). 


Sally Taylor: Great stuff.....and I remember the day well. I was subbing on the Echo then, but had taken my little ones (Ben and Anna) into town, full of promises of free goodies from Santa. Ho, ho, no.....I never got near the scrum and we went home empty-handed. I think it may have been Val Morley inside Mickey Mouse. Love, Sal x

Ged Clarke: Ok Sands - do I take this personally, as I was indeed the "serious journalist who had to report on inquests and tragedies... prancing around dressed as Fozzie Bear" !?

Peter Sands: If the Fozzie Bear hat fits ...

The way we are (growing old gracefully)
As a result of this piece some of those mentioned have sent in some contemporary mugshots, to show how well they have resisted the ravages of time. Here are the contributions so far:

An up-to-date John Dean ... well, not that up-to-date. 
The Northern Echo stopped being a broadsheet nearly
 four years ago.
Stan Abbott ... 'here’s me with a suitably
ridiculous picture in front of that famous Darlo train.'

Alan Gilliland ... 'haven’t changed much, I
 know – just a little posher, that’s all.'
Alan Gilliland - the real one
Peter Sands - 'me and my two youngest
 bobbing around on the Med.'

Alison Steel - 'still pulling faces
for the camera...'

Jimmy Gilchrist - and daughter
Neil Hacking and Sue Easby (now Mrs Hacking)
and their sons  - 'the Hackings in no way
endorse Thomas Cook, unless there's 
a cheque in the post'
Tony Locke - 'Some say I have the look of
 Fabio Cappello. I'm better looking than him ...
and I'm probably a better manager.'
Sally Taylor with husband Geoff, former Echo
 sub and Wigan Athletic supporter

Andy Birchall ...a picture found on the
RNLI website by Teresa

Glyn Middleton...'a recent photo, designed to 
make me look as avuncular as possible.
 Note the way I’ve deliberately flecked
 my hair with grey to give me an exaggerated
 sense of wisdom and authority.'

Red Williams...'with my lovely wife Loraine 
after running the 1st Rutland Water Marathon. 
My nephew Calum, 17, a Darlington lad, was killed climbing 
Eagle Crag in Buttermere last June. As you can imagine his 
death devastated our family. I was already committed
to the race and decided to raise cash for SARDA Lakes
 - a crack mountain rescue dogs' team whose colleagues battled 
to save Calum. As you can see we're wearing T-shirts 
I had specially printed to highlight the race and cause.'
Red and family ... 'me, Loraine, Brad, Hollie and Lloyd'
Red and Robin ... 'Two Despatch Dudes for the price of one..
We get close up and personal when we were down in Hastings on hols 
in Aug '02 and popped in to see the Priestgate legend that is Robin Thompson.
He concocted one helluva curry that didn't come along till midnight 
but had the kick of a manic mule and killed all known germs.'

Old picture gallery
Sue Easby and Robin Thompson before the
 Christmas High Row Incident.
A standard Despatch scene ... Alan Gilliland, Neil Patrick,
Neil Hacking, Mickey Burke and a table full of empties 

The height of 80s chic - Alison and Glyn

General Comments
Jimmy Gilchrist: That is so, so good - so many emotions reading it. Lovely pic of the footy boys, and so many names - Teresa wow! And some gone but not forgotten - Barry, Dick and Ian Weir whose foto with Ged at Joker Park hangs at my mum's in Eyemouth. So many people still around thankfully. And thankful to a truly brilliant nursery from which will we ever see the likes again? Everything I know today stems from Darlo - would I have been able to write a strap this morning on Al Jaz about shagger Berlusconi and his teenage Moroccan without the influence of Sands, Burke and Thompson? 
CROSSING THE 'RUBY-CON'? Geddit? Whatever happened to Dave Lewis? Tony Locke? and Elaine H with the impossibly tight trousers? Yes, it does feel like yesterday - and what a week that was.
Love from the sands (of Qatar).

Tony Locke: That footie pic stirred a few memories. If I remember rightly just after Robin Thompson arrived in 1979 he started a sports/social section and a combined Despatch/Advertiser team took on advertising/circulation. I didn't know Robin and our first introduction was at the match at Darlington RA. He must have been impressed. We were one up when Barry Durham went clear on goal. I took him out chest-high and the ref (a qualified Durham FA from the Gestapo school of officiating) sent me off. Mind you he had warned me a couple of times about my robust challenges. Another match that springs to mind is the editorial v printers clash in 1977 when we went out on strike and they came out in sympathy. John Aspden was one of the substitutes and he was itching to get on. One of our players (Ross Forbes I think) went down injured or exhausted and Aspden dragged him off the pitch and went on himself. Our secret weapon, with his more than ample belly hanging over his shorts, then wandered aimlessly round the centre circle shouting for the ball. Nobody gave the ball to him and he came to a halt. Dave Lewis, who like me was pulling his puddings out to win the match, shouted to Aspden: 'If you don't move soon a dog will come and piss on you.' I couldn't have put it better myself.

Sally Taylor: Ah the memories. Pauline Thompson must also have been subbing around this time. I think there was also a sub called Sally Williams (from Wales), who had arrived with her boyfriend, reporter Alan Eaglesfield.
I have a picture of Andy Brown, Gary Horne and myself getting Cordner awards (splash sub, Young Journalist and design sub) but it didn't do us any was just weeks before the paper folded. Heavily pregnant, I was chief subbing the Despatch the day it died (Andy having debunked to the Echo not long before). It should have been an easy day because our demise was to be the lead and I had the front page mentally planned, with a simple headline 'Goodbye.' But no, there were not one, but two bodies discovered in Darlo that morning. I think I drove Mickey Burke mad with page changes and the result wasn't as perfect as planned. As former Echo chief sub Roger Boar, also sadly no longer with us, wryly commented it was 'Goodbye from us, and from him and him' (typical Sun humour). Once again, Mike Amos wrote a neat tribute about that last day. It is difficult for me to get the chronology right because I was also at the Despatch in the early Seventies...the era of Brian Nicholls, Bob Page, the Brayshays, Colin Davison, Don Ludlow as chief sub and (the late) Brian Redhead, of whom I was terrifed. But wasn't Andy Lamb a Despatch snapper at some point? I am so old my memory is beginning to fail me ... the pic is of me and Geoff, about five years ago. Love Sal x

Teresa (Kennedy) Thomason: Amazing! This virtual reunion just gets better and better. And hello Jimmy G! So good to hear from you. Come in Red please with your current piccie - can't believe you've gone shy on us! The old one you pitched was fantastic but doesn't count.  Am sure you haven't changed a bit anyway. Last time I heard from Ross Forbes I was working with Stan the Man and just happened to take a call from him. So maybe Stan's still in touch. Think Ross was then working for one of the NE local authorities but can't be sure. Over to you Stan? And Robin, where are you? Your old boys (and girls) need you to drop in for a virtual catch up. Would be really great to hear from you.

Sue Hacking (nee Easby): When Brian Redhead was mentioned I started to think of other earlier Despatch people.  I joined in around 1973 (God, I’m old). I’m struggling with some of their names but on the sports desk when I started was a chap called Mike Smith, another called Martin L………..(could be Lineker) and at some point a guy called Hugh McDonald. Pauline Ward was the editorial assistant on the sports desk. On the subs desk was Bob Page, Judy Grainger/Allanson, Dave Blackburn, and John Butler who did the TV pages.  Neil Patrick was there in 1983. David Wynn Jones was an Editor I think, but could be wrong. There was a photographer called Mike Gibb and the head of the photographic department was called Charles Westberg. Was Jane Chilton on the Despatch or the Echo? Other editorial assistants were Christine Metcalfe/Geldart, Jean Bowman and Jenny Kirk. My brain’s exhausted now.

Stan Abbott: Does anyone have any pictures of the amazing Despatch panto, Robin Hood, written by Peter Greenwood, with Kathy Cook as Robin, me as Mother Tuck and music by Malcolm Wright, who crossed over from the Echo just for the honour of being our music maestro, even if he did get pissed and missed his cue...

Mike Amos: The Despatch certainly did seem to have a remarkable array of talent. I remember Bazza trying to put John Lewis out of a third floor window. Tell John I saved his life. He, incidentally, was last heard of in Ingleton - between Darlington and Barney - doing a bit of poetry writing and publishing.


  1. Great to be reminded of everyone. Thanks, Pete.
    My memories include the 1979 General Election, when Robin insisted I stay at his place on results night to ensure I was in promptly to prepare an early early edition on the Friday. We went for "a couple of drinks" in Catterick and got so blathered we overslept and arrived at the office two hours late... after everyone else had done all the work.
    Then there was the night the Despatch put on a staff panto alongside the Echo's own annual effort. Our version of Robin Hood, featuring Andy Burchall, Alan Gilliland and (I think) Mike Cowling as ballet-dancing policemen, was scandalously alleged to have been an elaborate device to get Kathy Cook into green tights. Robin was given one line: "Why, it's mickey mouse, man!"
    There was a story, possibly apocryphal but, kmowing the person concerned, possibly not, that one female Despatch trainee had been spotted go-go dancing in a cage at the Top Hat club in Spennymoor by tutors from a Durham weekend school.
    I also have fond memories of the Despatch's penchant for understated bills: "Shildon Killer Prawns Terror" being a particular favourite.

  2. Naturally, Mike couldn't get it absolutely right.
    A great look into a strange and distant past. My little lad couldn't believe I had so much hair in the footie pic.
    Having seen off two Despatch wives, I'm now in year 15 of third marriage with a wonderful son and living - as Mike says - between Darlo and Barney in an ancient farm cottage.
    Ill health forced me out of "Fleet Street" and staff journalism in the mid 90s.
    Instead, I went for music and had two top ten hits in the Independent Charts in the USA.
    Mike says it's poetry I write. Nope, music.
    And being hurled out of the third floor? THANKS MIKE!
    Check out our music at

  3. So many names, so many memories. Good to see the North Shields Weekly News Mafia get a name check (Ged and Neil). Happy times indeed. As a sub on the Northern Echo I remember the odd casual shift on the Despatch. And Jimmy Gilchrist! Good to see you are still going strong. Me? Still working in newspapers for Trinity Mirror. Life in the old dog yet. Regards to all.

  4. The Advertising/Circulation Stealth Eleven L to R were;
    Alan Hymer,David Faulkner, Ian Dickinson ?,Gary X, Barry Cuff, Eddie Caville, Steve Oxenham, Desiboy Close, Barry " lock up yer daughters" Durham, Neil ? Alderson - hired hand & son of Circulation Manager Norman, Peter Greenwood.

    1. sorry, think it might be Stuart Alderson not Neil ?.

  5. long shot - but I'm looking for a photo of my grandad that (I think) appeared in the Despatch when he retired - his name was Herbert Metcalfe and sold the paper on the corner of Crown Street for many years, as well as having his own delivery round based in Dodds Street. Any info/photos gratefully received at - thanks in advance!

  6. Sally Williams and Alan Eaglesfield got married, had two kids, divorced maybe 5 years later. Alan died about 5 years ago, Sally now lives in Sussex with second husband.