As today’s football, cricket and rugby reporters wrestle with wonky wifi to enable them to file their copy, there are some in our trade, such as NORMAN GILLER, who provide a link to the days when our business used carrier pigeons and hot metal
Anton Rippon’s revelations about the woes of non-working wifi sent this old hack’s mind spinning back in time to when it took a human relay to get my precious prose into print. This was when I was earning my daily bread as a football reporter with the Daily Express in the 1960s and into the ’70s.
There was a different sound and scent about our business back then. Fleet Street rumbled and thundered with the noise of huge presses, and had a pungent smell of print that inspired the nickname Street of Ink. Today it is an overflow of The City’s financial district, and has the stench of money and greed; now more the Street of Chink. I much preferred the days of headlines and deadlines (the working title of my 100th book, an autobiography, you will be desperate to know).
There will still be some ancient, battle-scarred sportswriters and sub-editors out there who recall when we dictated to copytakers and hammered out our words on typewriters, drank in smoke-filled Fleet Street watering holes and, when reporting from abroad, were free of any tracking down once our stories had been told in those gloriously frustrating pre-STD days. It was two typing fingers to the office as soon as our copy was filed.
As reporters on my old beat prepare to submit their copy on the lonesome wifi trail with the start of another football season, it is worth recalling that to get a match report into the newspaper “in my day”, took a convoy of at least nine people.
Come with me back to, let’s say Upton Park. West Ham home to Manchester United, under floodlights, circa 1966. Geoff, Bobby and Martin playing for the Hammers. Denis, Bobby and Georgie boy on parade for United.
I start my running report 10 minutes after the kick-off at 7.30 on a blower provided by Hayter’s. On the other end of the line, Ted Lee the copytaker asks:
“Norman Giller at Upton Park,” I yell above the roar of the crowd.
Louder: “Giller. It’s Norman Giller.”
“Stop pissing about, Ted, and take this down. It’s for the nine o’clock first edition.”
My ad-libbed running report would be taken in short bursts by a copy “boy” (usually veteran Cockney geezer, ex-guardsman Jack Phelps) from Ted’s noiseless Remington typewriter to the chief sub (Don Woodward).
He would skip read it before handing it down table to a sub (possibly Tom Clarke, later to become the sports editor of The Times, Daily Mail and Evening Standard, and the Editor of The Sporting Life).
Tom would polish the words to make me seem a writer worth reading, add the print sizes and widths for each paragraph by writing in the margins, and then hand it on to a second copy “boy”.
This copy boy would place it in a brown Bakelite canister and send it whooshing through an air-pressure pipe to the print desk on the floor below our open-plan, third floor editorial office in the Black Lubyianka building that was designed in the 1930s as a joyous anthem to Art Deco.
The printer would put type codes on each page and then share the folios out among two or three linotype operators. They would retype what I had written so that my words came out as slugs of lead, which would be transferred to the composing room and fitted into the page, following a blue-pencilled layout from Don Woodward.
There would be four chunks of running copy written by me and prepared in this way, followed by a hurried intro from me at the final whistle.
Twenty minutes later I would be filing a considered report for the 10.10pm edition, adding quotes (or “Nannies” – Nanny Goats as they were called byPeter “The Poet” Batt).
And in that whole chain of production, I’ve missed out the revise subs and proof readers, and probably others, too.
It is little wonder that the likes of Rupert Murdoch decided this whole process from copy to the printed page could be done more efficiently and cost-effectively. Now, some reports are going straight to page, bringing the sports desk “relay team” down to just one.
The mind of this Old Git boggleth over.
And what would JG (Jack) Orange think if he came back to see the modern technology at work? He was a Victorian-born chief football reporter on the London Evening News, when I started work as a copyboy in 1955.
He used to tell me of when he first started reporting, taking two carrier pigeons with him in a wicker basket. “I would hand-write my report of the first half, and then place it in a tube around the pigeon’s neck and send it flying back to the office,” he said.
“Then I would repeat the process at the end of the game, using the second pigeon.”
I wonder what JGO, as he was known, would make of wifi? I think he would have given it the bird.
- What have been your good, and bad, wifi experiences when working at sports events? What is the stadium best-served by wifi? And the worst?
- The SJA wants to hear from our members – photographers as well as reporters, broadcasters and editors – of their tales of technological triumph and disasters.
- Email your comments to email@example.com, with “Wifi” in the subject field. That’s if you can get your wifi to work, of course…
MANY MOONS AGO I was chief associate in a PR/features company run by my late, old mate Peter Lorenzo, who was a respected sports columnist and broadcaster. His son, Matthew, has followed very successfully in his footsteps, and is co-producing an in-depth documentary film on Bobby Moore, called Bo66y, and to coincide with the 50th anniversary of his lifting the World Cup as England captain in 1966.
Matthew has asked me to use my SJA platform to bring the following request to the attention of anybody who can help in his research:
“We’ve just started a social media campaign aimed at collating photos and home movie footage from anyone who was around during Bobby’s career
“Bo66y is an intimate feature length documentary film charting the incredible journey on and off the field of the sporting and cultural icon, Bobby Moore.
“Our film is currently in post-production and set for release in cinemas next year. Bo66y features interviews with Pelé, Sir Geoff Hurst, Paul Gascoigne, Frank Lampard, Gordon Banks, Harry Redknapp, Greg Dyke, Terry O’Neill, Russell Brand as well as a host of other football heroes and social commentators.
“We’re seeking personal photos and filmed footage surrounding England’s 1966 World Cup campaign, from the fans, media people, and members of the public who were there; images from the games at Wembley and the final itself, as well as images from up and down the country of the celebrations – from Kensington High Street to the northern borders.
“We’d love to hear from anyone who has photos or footage. We will give a fee and a credit on the film for any images we use.
“If you have images, please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org”.
As I am among those interviewed for the film, you will realise it is a quality production (Norm, I thought you wanted to help Matthew … Ed).
Bring back the pigeons, I say.
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UPCOMING SJA EVENTS
Mon Sep 14: SJA Autumn Golf Day, Muswell Hill Golf Club
Tue Oct 6: Entry forms for 2015 SJA British Sports Journalism Awards published
Thu Dec 17: SJA British Sports Awards, sponsored by The National Lottery