‘You look like a crazy rock star,’ said my six-year-old granddaughter staring at a 1980s photo of me in my prime. ‘Did you write books when you were young?’
The answer, sadly, was no. A journalist for much of my career I’d always wanted to be an author but despite many attempts, I never got as far as writing The End. Work and bringing up a family always seemed to get in the way.
A lovely bracelet made for me by my grandchildren
So how did my desire to write begin?
I was born on Christmas Eve in a post-war maternity hospital on the tiny Channel Island of Guernsey. My father wanted to call me David – until he saw my new pink bonnet. That’s when his dream of having a son to follow in his footsteps as a football journalist came to an abrupt end. A few years later Dad gave up his ‘safe’ job as sports editor on a Midlands evening paper to start a football magazine called Soccer Review, a dream he had held for a very long time. And, although I was still at school, I got more and more involved in the production of the magazine.
Very early one Saturday morning, he drove me to Middlesbrough Football Club and left me in the middle of a deserted football stadium while he went to the directors’ lounge for a pre-match drink. ‘Get me three stories – from the fans – from anywhere,’ he said, ‘but just get them!’ Somehow I did what he asked and the following week my first by-line appeared in the Review. Several more followed.
At 17, when I was half way through my A levels, Dad dropped a bombshell. We were moving from the Midlands to Lytham St Annes. Back then the only thing I knew about the town was that it hosted TV’s It’s a knockout – oh, and was close to Blackpool – another place I had never visited!
I left senior school for the very last time one sunny Friday afternoon and started work the following Monday as a cub reporter on the Lytham St Annes Express. The Blackpool Gazette and Express Office in St Annes housed nine male journalists, none of whom had ever set eyes on a female news reporter before, let alone one who wanted to be ‘one of the boys.’ This was the 1960s when female journalists were supposed to look good, say little and write about cookery or fashion. Needless to say, none of these applied to me!
My grandparents on their wedding day in 1923 without whom I would never have been a Guernsey girl!
.I remember my first big assignment at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens when the Labour Party Conference came to town. My news editor had given me the job to frighten me off – and he almost succeeded! Trembling, I joined the crowds outside the main entrance, desperately looking for the party’s PR man.
‘Mr Griffin,’ I yelled, spotting him at last from the description I’d been given. ‘Can I have a word?’
‘Not now,’ he barked. ‘I’m waiting for the chap from the Gazette.’ ‘I am the chap from the Gazette,’ I replied.
Today, when we have our second female prime minister, and same-sex marriage is almost commonplace, it’s hard for the next generation to understand how different things were in the so- called swinging sixties. Despite the much heralded sexual revolution, women still had their place. And believe me, it wasn’t in the newsroom.
For the next few months I covered public enquiries, the town Council and magistrates court, where in 1972 I came face to face with a murderer – a very scary experience. On a lighter note, I also stood on the touchline in the pouring rain to do a match report for our local team! (Dad got his wish after all.)
Then, after two years as a general reporter I was ‘promoted’ to women’s page editor. The irony wasn’t lost on me. Looking back on those days, I was fanatical about equality in the workplace, sometimes to the exclusion of all else. I interviewed female solicitors, female scientists, female magistrates – and even a female bus driver – in an effort to champion women’s rights.
While the editor longed for the good old days of syndicated fashion and cookery features, I was standing on my metaphorical soapbox and burning my metaphorical bra!
Go to Part 2 here.