When Sundays Brought the Post
Jill and Bill’s talk eschewed the usual Powerpoint presentation. Instead we were treated to some very personal insights on their experiences during a combined 75 years working on The Sunday Post.
The Post is as Scottish as Tunnocks, midgies and Irn Bru, we are told! In the Post’s heyday, in the 1970s, three out of five households in Scotland never had a Sunday without it. At this time the Guinness Book of Records recorded the paper as having the highest per capita readership anywhere in the world!
Jill asked of Bill, “what was your most memorable story?”, “who was your most memorable person?” and so on. Bill helpfully came back, “Thousands,” cleverly revealing the journalists’ biggest nightmare, an unhelpful interviewee who doesn’t want to be interviewed. Not only are journalists left with thin fare for an article, but causing them to worry if they can do the job. Not pleasant at the outset of one’s career.
Jill’s career started with a letter to DC Thomson in Dundee looking for a job. This led to an interview with the Post’s Glasgow Editor. Clearly passing muster, this was then followed by an interview with Bill Anderson, the then overall editor of the publication. He himself had started as a reporter and made his mark as the legendary HON Man. It stands for Holiday on Nothing in case you did not know! He became editor in 1968, a post he held until1990.
Jill started as a junior reporter in January 1975 at a time when females working in newspapers were few and far between though times were changing. The very first story she ever had in print was about a bagpipe retailer who supplied a customer in India. Instead of paying the invoice in money, jars of chutney arrived instead.
Bill’s entry into the newspaper world started when he became an office boy at the age of 16 acting as gopher and tea boy for nine months. Then he was introduced to the full spectrum of Post jobs from the printing presses to compositing and reporting. At that time the paper was produced with old technology when health & safety was somewhat different to what it is today. One example Bill gave was petrol from an open can being used to clean ink from the type – while some colleagues walked around smoking! Accuracy, of course, was everything across the newspaper industry and Bill lamented with some regret the fact this quest for detail has been somewhat lost in the production of some present day newspapers.
Journalists at the Post are expected to recognise a story, said Jill. “God Bless Mrs McGinty,” the autobiography of the Post’s editor, Bill Anderson explains it all. Bill’s reader was an imagined “Mrs McGinty” and he would ask his journalists ‘Would Mrs McGinty want to read that?’ In short, the Post is all about people; the whys, hows and wherefores of happenings in their lives. Not just celebrities who usually have something to “market.” Surely the enduring quality of the newspaper.
Are reporters emotionally affected by a story? Bill illustrated this by sharing his experience following a group of East Dunbartonshire school pupils on a visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau. They all saw the infamous “Arbeit Macht Frei” gates and
the remains of crematoria during these visits. Despite the sinister surroundings, it had been a beautiful day. However, at the end of the visit there was a service conducted by a Rabbi and the pupils were given candles to light in remembrance of those who had died. At this point one of the girls started crying and this opened the floodgates for many others to shed more than a few tears in an outburst of emotion. Bill found the experience so surreal and when he returned home he found himself looking at his notes to confirm it had happened.
One had to sympathise with Jill giving an Army Training Course a go. It was designed to “build character” having to traverse a rugged course. She found herself described as a PONTI – a person of no tactical importance! A put down she took in her stride. Bill also found his nemesis as a Scotch Pie Judge. After manfully tasting 75 pies, he was invited by the host to take a number of the leftover pies home! He did not share his response! And so the stories rolled out, often tugging the heart strings, re-affirming the Post’s commitment to connect with people.
This is just a sampling of Jill and Bill’s tales and the journalistic insights shared at the Probus meeting. Their talk was an extremely enjoyable walk down memory lane. Many thanks to both Jill and Bill