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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Arthur Cushing

I had sad news yesterday. My first boss, the former editor of the South Devon Times, Arthur Cushing, died at the weekend. I had sent him the annual Christmas card & letter, and received an email from his daughter Katy telling me Arthur had had cancer for six months and died peacefully in St Luke's Hospice, Plymouth.

I told Ms Julie (Julie Skentelbery, my pal since our Mirror Group Training Scheme days) who recalled how Arthur had sent us to the shops to get his tobacco, and how once, in a rare rage, he had impaled himself on the spike (where all the used copy was placed) when shouting at Chris Bartlett.

Arthur was a very mild-mannered man usually. Goodness knows how he managed to stay so patient, when his beloved newspaper was staffed only by hapless trainees straight from their six week induction course. He was an old school, old style editor, with attention to integrity, grammar and building relationships with the local community and police to collect stories. How I hated being sent on a "prowl," where I had to befriend the local undertaker amongst others. I was always puzzled about the etiquette of this; should I enquire "how's business?" or beat around the bush over a cup of tea for half an hour?

Arthur didn't drive so he was very appreciative when Julie and I took him to the Seven Stars or the Cherry Tree for lunch in her Morris 1000, which had a giant stone in the boot (for sentimental reasons) and a non-operational speedometer. The landlord of the Seven Stars, Mr Stout, was extremely generous with his portions and his name bore witness to that.

Initially when I started work at the South Devon Times we were based in West of England Newspapers' main building in Honicknowle, Plymouth. It had a state of the art printing press which barely gathered speed for the small run of the SDT. Arthur would get mildly stressed on press day as the proofs came back, more subbing was needed and the printers were getting difficult. Then, around 4pm, he would rush into the office beaming, holding some copies in his hand.

The Sunday Independent shared the same offices and the staff considered themselves much superior, so inevitably someone would be scathing about the headline. It's true that sometimes we struggled for news. I remember one of my more dubious stories was "Lettuce soon a luxury." A lot of the content was supplied by a network of old ladies who supplied stories about the Women's Institute, Townswomen's Guild and various religious groups. Some of these ladies were quite fanatical about the paper , particularly one Kathleen Luscombe in Ringwood, South Hams, who would ring up and shriek down the phone that the paper hadn't yet arrived there.

Arthur finally left the SDT and went to Muscat to edit the Times of Oman. He was thrilled to have a chauffeur driven car. After he retired, he would write occasionally with news of his travels.

I will raise a glass over Christmas in memory of Arthur, the man who launched my journalist career and that of many others, among them Val McDermid, Robert "Ned" Bowden, Nikki Slight, Henrietta Knight, Alan Nixon.


Srianthi Perera said...

Yes, I too was truly saddened to hear of his death - his daughter wrote to me. He launched my career in journalism also, when I first approached him in the offices of the Times of Oman, newly married and with some stringing experience in journalism but little else. He was my mentor from that fateful day. We kept up a steady correspondence through the years, he visited me and my husband Siri in Vancouver, Canada, twice and we have many memories of Arthur, whisky glass in hand, reminiscing into the night. We joked that he was using his annual quota of conversation in a week. I am now a reporter for The Arizona Republic in the USA and owe a measure of my success to Sir Arthur. May he rest in peace.

Bala Menon said...

Hi Gail,
Arthur Cushing and I worked together for many years in Muscat. Is it possible for you to pass on my email address to his daughter Katy...
Would be much obliged.
Bala Menon
Toronto, Canada