He mumbled through an interview, referred back to my application, and finally said: “You do Pitman's shorthand?”
He picked up a copy of The Guardian and read that day's Leader out loud, at a fair rate of knots.
“Get all that?” he said, when he finished the whole piece.
“Yes,” I said.
“Good. Very good,” he said, and sounded impressed. The strange thing was he never asked me to read it back. Which was just as well as I'd been struggling after the first paragraph.
He offered me a job and I resigned from Durham (£16 a week) to move to Blackpool (£20 a week) at the start of the summer season. The town's proud boast was they had eight top class variety shows running every night. There were more stars in Blackpool than the West End. As if to prove the point, I got a first floor flat in Church Street that had previously been occupied by the tap dancing double act The Clark Brothers from Philadelphia. They had left owing a rather large bill for trans-Atlantic telephone calls.
I shared the flat with different journalists: the brilliant Al Thomas, who had a way with ladies and went onto the Sunday Mirror and then The People; was sadly re-united for a short time with the self-taught incompetent from Durham who also trekked to the West Coast; and Ted Turner, one of a line of very tall chums I seem to have attracted throughout life.
As if being at the seaside, in a resort packed with show business stars wasn't enough, the chap who became my best pal at the office was a very good reporter called Mike Berry who really wanted to be a comedian. He was just starting out and gigging in clubs around the North West. His stage name was Lennie Bennett and I became his roadie, which entailed driving him to and from venues and carrying his stage suit to the dressing room. Lennie eventually became a major star but at that time he was juggling two demanding jobs.
It was a full life at a very vibrant newspaper that was still family owned and lorded over by the patriarchal editor-in-chief Sir Harold Grime who arrived in chauffeur driven Rolls Royce every morning. Ah, those were the days.
This was proper journalism with three editions a day and four on Saturday including a sporting pink. The area stretched inland over the Fylde countryside and along the coast from Lytham to Fleetwood with four district offices. There was always something happening in a town that pulsed with showbiz stars and holidaymakers eager for a good time during the summer, and crime and conferences and the ever present promise of drama at sea during the winter.
The 60s were beginning to swing and the Gazette was possibly, to echo the Heineken advert, the best newspaper experience at that time for any young journalist anywhere. The office was full of characters and I loved my eight years there.
When it was time to leave, to travel abroad with a wife and young baby, I asked Sir Harold for a reference. He provided one on parchment which was glowing and signed with a flourish and impressive enough to keep me out of an Albanian jail. I also called in the broom cupboard to see the editor.
'I'm leaving next week. Could I possible have a reference?'
'What? Oh yes. Of course. What's your name?'