Barrie Devney’s revenge

A story to delight all who
were pushed aside by
self-loving local bigwigs


14BARRIE DEVNEY2.jpg

Expressman Barrie Devney, who died aged 81 in December 2014


By DAVID THOMPSON, Mirrorman

Barrie Devney, the brilliant former Industrial Editor of the Daily Express, learned his trade as a trainee reporter on the Mansfield Chronicle, one of three weeklies in the town. 

Competition was fierce between them and the district staff of the two Nottingham plus the Sheffield morning and evening papers. Very little of what happened in Mansfield was missed.

I was a trainee on the Mansfield and Sutton-in-Ashfield Reporter and Barrie and I were often at the same job. Nothing was shared except for details about the worst job of our trainee years.

The job? Standing outside the parish church in Mansfield Woodhouse, a town immediately bordering Mansfield, taking the names of mourners as they arrived for the funerals of well-known figures. It often rained: wetting notebooks.

Mansfield Woodhouse had the most arrogant, conceited and rudest bunch of local councillors, all Labour, I had — and have — ever met. It also had an equally matching partner, the most arrogant, conceited and rudest bunch of small-town businessmen, all Tory, I had  — and have — ever met.

As the mourners arrived, we asked for their names. Some did give them. But from councillors and businessmen hurrying by there was a variety of responses. They were: Get out of the way, a dismissive wave of the hand, no reply, you should know who I am, a surname and no initial (initials, not Christian names, were used in reports). 

To cap it all, the vicar disliked the Press and after the service refused to help in any way.

Worse was to come. Every Friday morning, publishing day, the three weekly editors would go through the names of their and the other two papers. If their paper didn’t have a name the others had, there would be an inquest. If their paper had a name the others didn’t have, there would be an inquest. Bollockings followed.

Later on Friday, mourners whose names had been left out, even those who had refused to give their names, would complain to the editors. More  bollockings.

Name-taking at funerals was the only job where Barrie and I swapped details.

Fifteen years after Mansfield, we met at a TUC Conference. Barrie was then the Industrial Editor of the Express and I was then Chief Parliamentary Correspondent of the Daily Mirror.

Chatting about the old days, Barrie told me of his revenge, inspired as it was, by Mansfield Woodhouse. He said that I was free to use it if ever I wrote about my career.

On his last day as a reporter on the Sheffield Telegraph, Barrie was one of a team sent to take names at the funeral of a very important local figure.

Most mourners gave their names, some just walked by and were missed and one man made a point of pushing through. 

Barrie called after the hurrying man: ‘Name, please.’ The man shouted back: ‘Derby.’ Barrie called again: ‘Initials, please.’ The man shouted back: “Earl of..”.

The next morning, there was panic at the Sheffield Telegraph. Something was very, very wrong. The name of the most distinguished mourner did not appear in the list of distinguished mourners. It did not appear in the list of other very important mourners. It did not appear in list of lesser important mourners.

It was, at last, found in the final list, headlined other mourners present, as Mr E.O. Derby.

Barrie missed the row, the inquest and the sack. He had caught the first train out of Sheffield that morning to Manchester and the Daily Express.

His revenge was sweet.

*There were three more Mansfield/Sutton trainees who went on to work for the Express. Shelley Rohde, sub-editor John Westoby, and a Sunday Express diary writer/editor whose name I will remember, hopefully, soon.

David Thompson, former Chief Parliamentary Correspondent and later the Leader Writer, Daily Mirror. After Fleet Street, he ran national and regional PR campaigns, worked in local government and launched and edited an English-language daily broadsheet, the Bahrain Tribune. Early in his Fleet Street career, David was in the launch team and then picture and art editor of Lord Beaverbrook’s failed baby, Farming Express, and briefly, very briefly, a Daily Express sub-editor.



© 2005-2019 Alastair McIntyre