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Backwords: A Reporter's Lot

“A packet of strong mints was as essential as a notebook and pencil for a cub reporter like me who liked a swift pint on the way to a church bazaar…’’ Mike Shaw remembers his early days as a newspaper reporter.

A packet of strong mints was as essential as a notebook and pencil for a cub reporter like me who liked a swift pint on the way to a church bazaar.

Pillars of the village church or chapel over 50 years ago would hardly have taken kindly to a young journalist who turned up breathing alcoholic fumes over ladies on the soft furnishings stall.

As a sports-mad teenager, I’d much rather have been spending Saturday afternoon playing football or cricket. But duty demanded my grudging presence at winter sales of work or summer galas.

Sometimes it was possible to work out an itinerary which combined business with pleasure.

Like the evening when I dashed straight from batting for Marsden juniors to report on proceedings at the annual meeting of the village football club.

Mints were often on the menu again for what reporters regarded as one of their most undignified chores when they were called on to collect mourners’ names at funerals of local dignitaries.

Standing on the church steps in pouring rain, trying desperately to write in an increasingly soggy notebook, was not our idea of what journalism was all about.

For the bigger funerals it was a two-man job, with reporters stationed strategically on either side of the door.

Even so, when human traffic was at a peak, it was a daunting prospect, especially when the editor expected precise spellings and detailed information about sometimes obscure organisations that were represented.

Inevitably, there were occasions when people slipped through the net. This posed a real quandary for all but the most dedicated name-takers.

One intrepid hack, who had a Mountie’s enthusiasm for making sure he got his man, ignored the sombre silence inside the church by pursuing his quarry down the aisle.

He was even know to have clambered over a pew or two before emerging triumphant with the much-prized names.

Helpful undertakers slipped out of the service to hand us a list of family and close friends in the cortege. His co-operation was duly acknowledged at the end of the funeral report with a paragraph which started: “The funeral arrangements were carried out by….”

Thankfully, funeral reporting -- on that scale at least -- has long been a thing of the past, along with adverts on the front page of all but the most conservative of weekly publications.

Regular personal calls on parsons, bobbies, firemen, club stewards, pub landlords and others often unearthed bizarre off-beat stories.

Like the Linthwaite undertaker who hewed his own coffin from a chunk of oak …and climbed in during its making to test it for size and comfort.

Or the mill girls from Barnsley who sneaked into Slaithwaite Church and swapped a recording of the bells for a swinging pop hit.

Or the day when soccer star Denis Law, best man for his pal Gordon Low, drove off from the reception with the newly-wed couple’s honeymoon cases in his car boot.

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