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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Teeline and typwriters

It's 30 years since a nervous bunch of school-leavers and graduates gathered in a Portakabin in Plymouth to be taught how to be journalists. Here I am, on the left, with Julie Skentelbery.

This Saturday most of us return to the city - my ancestral home - for a reunion. We will start our sojourn in the Holiday Inn where John Pilger was memorably short changed.

Back in '79, I was a fresh faced school-leaver who saw an ad for a trainee reporter in local paper The South Devon Times. I'd always wanted to be a journalist but as my deputy head mistress memorably put it, "Gail is too shy to get her foot in the door".

I somehow managed to get my foot in the door by mentioning at the interview how I read everything, including sauce bottle labels. That struck a chord and I was hired.

The course was run by Mirror Group Newspapers as a training ground for their string of regional weeklies (paid for at that time) and their nationals the Mirror, People and Sunday Mirror.

The first six weeks were spent in the Portakabin gaping at the graduates when they came up with words like "juxtaposition". We had to pass exams in numerous disciplines including Teeline shorthand, which was taught by the redoubtable Ella Furze. I still remember the outlines for "accident blackspot" and "to the best of my ability".

We were being paid a pittance at this time but nonetheless deductions were taken for the Olympia Monica typewriters we had to buy. No computers in those days.

We were occasionally marched off to courts and morgues to get a taste of life as reporters. We made hideous errors in those first reports. It is fortunate for habitual criminal Ernest Foxy Fowler that these were never published.

Having a press pass meant we could sneak into all sorts of events and situations, and Margery and I drove to St Austell where she was interviewing The Stranglers. We were very excited and all dressed up, but they kept us waiting for ages and were then bored and sarcastic. How rude!

After the six weeks were up we were sent out to the outposts of Devon and Cornwall to staff regional papers. I worked on the South Devon Times. Sometimes it was a struggle to come up with the big stories and then we'd have to lead with "Lettuce soon a Luxury" or "Asda to open on Monday".

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