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Panpa Bulletin : March 2011
www.panpa.org.au The PANPA Bulletin | MARCH 2011 | 17 The fire engine chaser “M I LK, two sugars.” And then came the second-best piece of advice I ever received from an editor. “Don’t stew it.” Disaster was mo- ments away. The sugar bowl had been spiked with salt. Ten minutes into my first journal- ist’s job and the editor had spat my coffee over his typewriter and now spat a volley of abuse over me. He then gave me a pair of scissors. “Cut up the paper and file the sto- ries over there,” he said, waving in the general direction of shoeboxes marked A to Z. The room was full of smoke and the clatter of Olivetti machines. It was September 10, 1979, and aged 16 I had entered a wondrous world of journalism and, more specifically, The Sidmouth Herald. I first filed for the paper aged 14, when my rugby coach David Keast said he could not be bothered to write up our under-15s match in which I had scored three tries. I wasn’t going to stand for that. Having spent the summer of ’79 writing weekly cricket reports, edi- tor Philip Evans thought I was worth a punt, offering a £23 a week job that was paid by Maggie Thatcher’s Youth Opportunity Scheme. The Sidmouth Herald was a much- loved and sometimes despised local rag in a small east Devon town in the south-west of England. The town was – and still is – all about summer holidays and gentile tea shops. With three other reporters, a sex-crazed photographer and a cigarette-sucking former Fleet Street splash-sub as my proprietor, it gave me three of my best years. Despite the coffee incident, I was let loose on the sports pages. The sports editor was Chester Barnes, a BBC correspondent when the Japanese invaded Malaya, if I recall correctly. He was knocking on 80, incontinent and capable of dishing out almighty bollockings. He’d slap the desk and yell across the room, “Oh, Mark, how can you justify that!” My fellow reporters would laugh and then slink out the various doors, leaving me alone to cop 20 minutes of “Mr Barnes”. By my first Thursday – our edition day – I was sent to help the senior reporter, ex-Fleet Street hack John Kirk. Innocently, I agreed to meet him at The Swan. I emerged three pints of Guinness later, being guided to the Black Horse. By 9, head bar- man John Leask was hosing down the toilets. And so, I became known as Hosepipe Hollands. Journalism and I were going to get on just fine. My first front page was a few weeks away. I was (unusually) doing the washing up when a fire engine raced past my house. I jumped on my 5 0cc Honda and gave chase through the country lanes. A barn was ablaze and I had my scoop. Some stories were not so much fun. I hated death knocks. And I lost count of the times people spoke of loved ones, crying through the inter- view. I was 16 – and goodness knows how I must have acted. The worst death knock is one of my happiest memories. In the town were two young doctors; husband and wife, young family, and cancer claimed her too young. No one wanted this one. I got the short straw, which was a broken biro snapped for such occasions. I remember walking up the path to their cottage at least six, prob- ably a dozen times; getting to the door but not having the courage to knock. I decided to chicken out and claim there was no one at home. As I was walking away for the last time, the husband sang out, ‘hey’. He had been watching this muppet in a motorcycle helmet marching up and down his front path for 10 minutes. He knew me and what I wanted. We wrote the obit together. Everyone in the community knows you when you’re a reporter on the local rag. Sometimes this is good. Other times, it’s not so good, especially when covering local court. Punishment was not the fine or a lecture from the magistrate, Sir Charles Cave; it was finding your humiliation all over the Sidmouth Herald on the next Saturday morning. I never appreciated what it was like until it was my turn. I’d moved from a moped to a 1966 Triumph and got done for a bald tyre. My case was called. I rose from the press bench and stood in the dock. “What are you doing,” Sir Charles asked. “Oh, this is you. 25- quid. Next case.” “Hang on, I haven’t pleaded yet,” I protested. “Your insanity is duly noted, get out of the dock.” I wrote it up, including the “insan- ity” reference – and the whole town took pleasure in my misdemeanour. There were a thousand crazy things we did on that newspaper; even writ- ing this has reminded me of how I smashed my right leg in four places playing rugby on the day before we launched a new newspaper, the Exmouth Herald, to take on the Ex- mouth Journal in a newspaper war. The editor came to visit me that night when I was in traction and full of drugs. He abused me and then gave me a bag of grapes and a can of Heineken. Tell me an editor who’d do that today. BACK IN MY DAY Tell us about your first newspaper. Email email@example.com and we’ll make it happen. Mark Hollands NPA 1. Mark’s first typewriter, a Sliver-Reed. 2 . The Sidmouth Herald 3. Mark’s first contact book. 4 . 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