AFTER PARTING COMPANY WITH THE PAPER which gave me my start in journalism I always had trouble describing to people what that sort of publication it was.
A Northerner trying to explain to Londoners a title that had its roots and astonishing readership strongholds in the North and in Scotland led to me chunnering on with phrases such as, “a sort of a nice weekly magazine for the whole family, but in newspaper format.”
Usually the headscratchers were left none the wiser; you really had to see a copy of The Weekly News to know what it was about.
During lockdown I bought a copy of the final print edition of “The Paper With The Feelgood Factor”. Underlining its longevity since 1855 as a backbone of the family-owned D C Thomson publishing empire, my 64-page paper was issue number 8,600 – that’s how many weeks there are in 165 years!
Sadly, my own relationship with this north British institution did not make it even to half a year: given a six-month trial in The Weekly News’s relatively small Fleet Street office, I lasted just five-and-a-half months until I was summoned down to a previously unseen floor late on a Friday afternoon to be told that I “was not on the wavelength of the paper”, presented with my P45 and told there was no need for me to return on Monday to work out my notice.
This was brutal, though effective, personnel management. I’d had no indication that my modest writing efforts were anything less than satisfactory. No warning. Just goodbye and mind how you go. Some 42 years later, I still resent the way I was sacked.
Hilariously, given that I subsequently wandered into a 40-year career writing about the fashion industry, I suspect my individualistic approach to office attire was what did for me. During the late 1970s I was in what I like to class as ‘my Humphrey Bogart period’. Most of my clothes I bought from charity shops and second-hand shops, emporia we are now expected to call vintage stores!
This did not meet with the approval of Mr David Norrie, the crusty editor of D C Thomson’s London outpost, a dour Scotsman straight out of central casting. His first complaint to me was that I should not been seen around the office wearing trousers held up by braces “as there’s lassies aboot”.
The idea that some strips of cotton-covered elastic pulled taut over my less-than-Grecian figure would give female colleagues an attack of the vapours had not occurred to me, but Mr Norrie was insistent that I had to wear a waistcoat or a keep my jacket on. Please note, this was Nineteen SEVENTY Eight, not 1908!
Sometime after this exchange I made what in retrospect may have been a fatal error: turning up for work in a collarless shirt. This time the editor posed to me the somewhat rhetorical question, “Now what would you do if you were suddenly called to Buckingham Palace to interview the Queen?” As a lowly specimen in the strict hierarchy of this old-fashioned firm, I rarely left the office. A trip to the Press Association cuttings library down Fleet Street was the limit of my journalistic wanderings.
Above me ranked ten far more senior writers, so if HM suddenly had an urge to share her inner thoughts with the fanatically loyal readers of The Weekly News – loyal both to Her Maj and to the paper – I would certainly not have been the one reaching for my notebook.
I was so shocked by my Friday afternoon defenestration that I could not tell any of my colleagues about my sacking for fear of bursting into tears. So I went home and burst into tears.
The following Monday, I turned up for work as usual (after all, I hadn’t been barred from the place) largely because I had the tiresome job every Monday of ringing around the nation’s police stations to glean tiny, crime-related NIBs (‘News In Briefs’ as journo jargon has it) and I did not want to land this job on one of my pals.
During our fixed and unmissable morning coffee break – we had a fixed and unmissable afternoon tea break, too, such were the ritualistic rules at D C Thomson – I broke the news of my departure to my workmates. To their credit, several of those most trusted by Mr Norrie protested about my treatment but to no avail. That was my last day on The Weekly News.
Still, I was saddened to read in April that Dundee-based D C Thomson was to close the paper after 165 years in print as it had become “less relevant” in the digital media era. Astonishingly, its sales reached a peak of nearly 1.5m a week in the 1960s and 1970s. By June 2018 that figure was only just over 12,500.
Having started out as a weekly newspaper, it evolved over the years into a vehicle for homely features, cartoons and, latterly, for a lot of nostalgia, all for £1.40 a week. I still have trouble explaining the editorial mix of its heyday and explaining why it was so popular with old ladies like my grandma in Leeds.
As if to encapsulate this difficulty,the final cover, dated May 30 2020, featured “the 10 biggest icons in Weekly News history”. They are Pat ‘Elsie Tanner’ Phoenix, Queen Victoria, Elvis Presley, Doris Day, Cliff Richard, Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Sir Winston Churchill, Diana, Princess of Wales and HM The Queen (the one I never got to interview).
So, RIP The Weekly News. Thanks for giving me the (false) start in my chosen career.