Another claim to Frame

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ALAN FRAME reckons claims by Tony Boullemier and the late Guy Bellamy to have been the youngest sub editor to join the Daily Express are mistaken. He can beat them both by five years – unless you know better!

Following two years as a trainee reporter and sub, both news and features, on the morning Belfast News Letter I joined the Art Desk subs of the DX in Manchester in May 1966 a month before my 20thbirthday.

I had the great privilege of working (and learning) under Art Editor Bob Staton, subbing Photonews and handling, among many others, an extraordinary sequence of pictures chronicling the fatal last run of Bluebird on Coniston. That was a brilliant period in Ancoats where we were all convinced what we produced was better than anything London could come up with. And we were right most of the time!

Incidentally, my desk was wooden and carved into it was a signature: Fyfe Robertson, later a much imitated – parodied even – roving reporter for the old BBC TV current affairs programme Tonight.

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The Northern Editor was John McDonald (pictured right with Ted Hodgson) whose thirst and consequent incoherent mumbling made taking a briefing from him a job for the code breakers of Bletchley. John came up with the very good idea of a Monday morning page, sometimes a spread, called the Best Set, based around the life style of George Best. 

I was called into his office one Sunday afternoon to be handed a bundle of copy, pictures and drawings – along with a layout that might have been an early draft for The Scream and the sort of Ikea-like instructions which lead to confusion and inevitable failure. This was to be the launch of the feature and I hadn’t a clue of what I was supposed to do. But somehow it appeared the following morning and if it was not what the Editor wanted he had long forgotten.

They were happy days indeed and there can have been fewer greater training grounds for the young and ambitious with the likes of Ted Hodgson and Tony ‘Why Does Everything Happen To Me’ Fowler as mentors. 

My contemporaries included Mike Hughes, Tony Grantham, Dick Derwent, Norman Luck, Jim Davies, James MacManus and so many more, all of whom ended up in Fleet Street with me. When I left in ’69 to join the Sketch in London a new and latterly distinguished group arrived in Ancoats, among them Roger Watkins and Dick Dismore. 

So here’s the challenge: How many others joined the Express editorial ranks before their 20th birthday? After all the greatest editor of them all, Arthur Christiansen, was just 29 when he was installed by Beaverbrook.

Tony Boullemier comments: I knew it wouldn't be long before someone beat my modest claim. Well done Alan for your very early start in Manchester – and for coping so well with John McMumble.
But is there anyone else out there who was less than 24 when subbing in the Fleet Street office? 


© 2005-2017 Alastair McIntyre