FAREWELL then Mike Lowe.
He was my first boss and he terrified me and fascinated me in equal measure.
Mike Lowe died last week at the far too young age of 68 after a short illness.
He was accurately described by media website Press Gazette as “a legendary editor from the heyday of local newspapers”.
It went on to say: “Mike was a regional newspaperman from the era when editors would wave imitation firearms around and throw typewriters out of windows when they wanted to make a point. He was remembered by colleagues for his skill, creativity and quick wit.”
I can testify to that.
He was the editor who gave me my first job as a junior reporter on the Derby Evening Telegraph in September 1993.
My career in journalism didn’t start particularly well.
I went on a three-week holiday to Thailand with friends prior to starting the job and got pneumonia and had to delay my start date by a week.
That had already raised concerns in the ultra macho newsroom Lowey had created at the Derby Evening Telegraph.
And when I finally turned up on my first day wearing a petrol blue suit I’d had made in Bangkok and a loud patterned tie I’d acquired on a previous trip to Los Angeles it probably didn’t help my aim to integrate seamlessly into my new workplace.
The news editor took one look at me and stuck me on the “districts” desk populated by an assortment of eccentric journalists responsible for producing the stories that went in the editions of the paper covering the diverse districts of Derbyshire.
My new colleagues included a veteran reporter who used to grope unsuspecting female members of staff in the office library, another who used to shout across the office at no one in particular and a bloke from Chesterfield who called everyone “mi duck” and used to spend part of his day with a paper bag on his head.
Today the Derby Evening Telegraph doesn’t have its own office or its own editor.
Like almost every other local newspaper in Britain it is a pathetic shadow of its former self, sleep walking swiftly towards certain oblivion, let down by the arrogance and ignorance of the men (and they were all men) that thought they knew how to run newspapers.
What I didn’t realise when I started work was that I was fortunate enough to be involved in the last great days of regional newspapers.
Newspapers dominated their local towns and cities, charting the throbbing heartbeat of their communities.
Editors were gods and Mike Lowe had a good call to be Zeus among them.
And he’d have punched you if you didn’t agree.
Stocky, mustachioed and shaven-headed, Lowie was the kind of bloke who you could listen to for hours in the pub.
Then he’d come back to the office and launch an imitation tomahawk at the head of the nearest reporter.
I remember seeing that happen and not being shocked at all.
I was just pleased he hadn’t picked on me.
At one office Christmas party at a local Greek restaurant the traditional plate-smashing at the end of the meal got out of hand and the staff started smashing plates over each other’s heads with a stray piece of porcelain nearly taking the eye out of the office YTS boy.
I reflect back on those early working days of long hours, low pay and office bullying and I’d never want to go back to them.
But I wouldn’t swap them for anything.
They made me and many others resourceful, streetwise and hardworking.
Mike Lowe’s newsrooms were macho, dog-savages-dog environments where staff let off steam by playing football and going to the pub.
I was quite good at the latter but not much cop at the former.
Derby Evening Telegraph football tours were legendary.
And not in a good way.
The DET team earned themselves a reputation as the Wimbledon of regional newspapers – the Crazy Gang led by Vinnie Jones and John Fashanu.
They went on tour one year to play northern teams from the Northern Echo in Darlington and the Hull Daily Mail and the description of the matches was prefaced with the word “bloodbath”.
Peter Sands, the former editor of the Northern Echo, now a respected journalism consultant and trainer, remembers: ”For the first time ever our team refused to go for a drink with the opposition.”
The Telegraph team played Sunday league football and every Monday morning at least one of the players would limp into the office.
The assistant news editor was admitted to hospital after one match where an opposition player had embedded his studs into his groin.
My absence of footballing skill and lack of bravery meant I avoided the office football team like the plague.
Until one year when they were short of bodies for a football tour to Cardiff to play the South Wales Echo team led by its editor and Mike Lowe’s former colleague Keith Perch.
I’m pleased to say that I made one position my own in the team.
It was called “unused substitute”.
I think they did actually let me onto the pitch for the last couple of minutes and I don’t think I touched the ball once.
But that meant I walked off the pitch with all limbs still attached and my groin unscathed.
We repaired to the upstairs bar of the Albert pub, an historic hostelry owned by the Brains brewery on St Mary’s Street in Cardiff.
Stories and jokes were told as the Brains beer flowed and, inevitably, our Welsh hosts started to sing.
After they had finished their hymns and arias they challenged their guests from the Midlands to loosen our larynxes and match their efforts.
There was discussion among our team on what should be sung, but before a quorum had been reached, I, the Brains beer having given me Dutch courage, stood on my chair and launched into ‘A You’re Adorable’, the tune sung by Morecambe and Wise in their sketch with Angela Rippon.
You might remember it goes: “A You’re Adorable, B you’re so beautiful, C you’re such a cutiful doll.”
And it includes Eric pointing at Ernie and singing: “But what are we going to do about him?”, before launching into another verse.
I got about three lines into it before I realised I didn’t know any more words, so, given I was standing on a chair in the middle of the pub, I needed to extricate myself swiftly.
I repeated the first few lines and then said: “But what are we going to do about him?” and pointed at my editor, Mike Lowe.
There was a moment of complete silence, Lowie looked at me stony faced, before bursting out laughing.
I gratefully stepped down from my chair and embraced anonymity again in a far corner of the pub.
I thought my career might be over soon after it began.
However when I later applied for a job as a senior reporter on the South Wales Echo, I secured a trial for the role because they remembered me singing in the pub.
MIKE Lowe was editor of the Gloucester Citizen before the Derby Evening Telegraph and went on to edit the Bristol Evening Post and, perhaps surprisingly for a gruff, tough Mancunian who loved football, finished his career in journalism as the editor of Cotswold Life, a magazine for the wealthy, refined folk who reside in that picturesque corner of England.
His father was a sports writer in the northern office of the Daily Telegraph, covering Mike’s beloved Manchester United.
Mike himself began his career at a Hull-based news agency before working as a sports writer in Lincoln, at the Hull Daily Mail and then at the Sentinel in Stoke-on-Trent.
His time as an editor was clearly influenced by Kelvin MacKenzie, the Aussie editor of The Sun responsible for the memorable headlines: “Gotcha” and “Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster”.
Derby wasn’t a hotbed of headline grabbing news stories so Mike and his team made the best of what us reporters could find.
I remember one story I brought in about Derby County’s Baseball Ground digital scoreboard crashing because of a computer virus.
It was headlined: “Sick As A Parrot”.
There was great celebration in the newsroom one day when a reporter brought back a story about a pensioner waking neighbours in his sheltered housing scheme with late night parties.
His name was Gordon Bennett and the headline simply read: “Gordon Bennett!”
When another neighbour rang the newsdesk to complain that Gordon had once flooded her flat below his own apartment, a photographer was dispatched to take a photo of the angry woman brandishing a mop outside her front door.
The headline on the front page story was: “Gordon Bennett II”.
Obituaries of Mike Lowe mentioned his memorable headline from the Bristol Evening Post when Prince Charles announced his upcoming wedding to Camilla.
It simply said: “Tetbury man to wed.”
FOR several years Mike Lowe was the anonymous author of the Grey Cardigan column in the Press Gazette, the acerbic views of a world-weary sub editor clad in a cardigan with custard stains on it who worked on the fictional Daily Beast newspaper.
The column railed against the cuts introduced by newspaper management and included a politically incorrect cast of characters including:
Mungo, a peripatetic Glaswegian sub who kept a house brick in his desk drawer “just in case”
Tommy Cockles, the photographer with a mail order Thai bride
Eminence Grease, the beancounting MD
And editors including The Boy Wonder and Crystal Tits
They might have been fictional characters created by the mind of Mike Lowe, but I worked with real-life versions of all those people named above.
ONE of my old reporter colleagues on the Derby Evening Telegraph went on to become a journalist with the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph and is now an experienced and respected operator in the world of public relations.
It was his stag do I went on in Brighton earlier this month and he claims to be an avid reader of this blog.
I wasn’t totally convinced until I received the following email from him after I mentioned the performance of the singer Celeste at the Jubilee concert at Buckingham Palace.
“Dear Sir, While I thoroughly enjoyed your blog this week (as always), I would like to point out one error. You say Celeste is an American singer which, while it is technically correct – she was born in Los Angeles to a British mother – she was brought up in Brighton and now resides in London. Please try to be more accurate in future, you northern monkey!
Richard Bruce Horton Alleyne esq.
PS how the devil are you?”
Friends. Who needs them?
THIS blog is taking a break next week as I’m off to see family in Canada.
Given I get more out of office responses than readers during August, it will return in September.
Have a great weekend and a lovely summer.