MEMORIES: The Express building in Glasgow is no longer occupied by the newspaper
By BILL WHEELER
When it came to job interviews the Glasgow office, outpost of the Express empire, did it with style. I had seen the paper during a memorable holiday touring the Highlands in my Triumph Spitfire with tent strapped to the boot lid. Well, I only earned £35 a week as a features sub on the Bristol Evening Post. Gordon Farnsworth, the Post editor will be remembered for a lot of things but excessive generosity is not one of them.
Anyway, a few weeks later an advert appeared for sub-editors on the Scottish Daily Express and I posted a letter off to the managing editor, Jack Campbell. I was only 24 and did not hold out much hope as I had only been subbing for six months.
Nothing happened for a couple of weeks and then one wet Monday afternoon the phone rang in the features department of the Post. "Mr Wheeler?" a Scottish voice inquired. "Jack Campbell here, managing editor of the Scottish Daily Express. Could you pop in and see me on Wednesday at 2.00pm?" he asked as if he were on the next floor. He was 500 miles away and the train journey there and back would have taken two days!
"Sorry, I can't. I can't get the day off," I said. "I can get Thursday off although I shall have to fly." No problem, just bring the ticket receipt, I was told. These were the days when newspapers paid your expenses for interviews. And I was off by bus, train and plane from Heathrow at the crack of dawn, having blown my meagre cash reserves (the flight cost £27).
I duly presented myself in Jack Campbell's office at 2pm on the dot which seemed to impress him. Right, he said, let's sort out your expenses. First item on the agenda! I presented the flight receipt, apologising for the cost but he never raised an eyebrow.
"You will have caught a taxi," he said. "Well, I caught the b..," I mumbled. "Say £5," he said. "And the same back to the airport. Lunch and dinner a fiver each? Shall we call it £50?" he said as I tried to mumble that I had brought sandwiches.
A messenger was summoned and I was taken to the cashiers and a pile of Scottish blueys were counted into my hand. This was in August 1973 and my net wage was less than £30 a week! It was like winning the pools.
Four years before I was lucky to clear £15 as a trainee reporter. After a couple of questions about my fledgling career the charming Mr Campbell said: "Would you consider joining us for £65 a week?” You try to bloody stop me, I thought! "Most acceptable," I said, still not sure if he was offering me a job. And off I went for the long trek home and two large G&Ts on the way, paid for with a Scottish bluey. Two days later a letter arrived "confirming my offer of a job at £67 a week”.
So I had got the job. Eureka! It all seemed too good to be true ... and, of course, it was. Seven months later, in the midst of a financial crisis (surprise, surprise), the Beaverbrook operation in Albion Street, Glasgow, closed and the Scottish Daily Express was produced in Manchester for the next 20 years.
The Scottish edition of the paper sold 560,000 copies a day and the fiercely independent Glaswegians were in no doubt their publication was better than anything London and Manchester could produce.
The Glasgow NUJ chapel was fearsome. I read afterwards that the paper had suffered 52 stoppages of work in the last 12 months of Glasgow production. The last edition never reached the streets because a story by the unions' "Action Committee" condemning the management and promising a new paper run by former Beaverbrook employees was slipped into Page One.
The presses were stopped. I managed to grab one of the few copies of that final edition that were printed along with a proof of the last Page One. I nearly got beaten up in the press hall. Some printers blamed the journalists for the closure. I still have the paper and the proof.
That day - March 30, 1974 - was one of the saddest I can recall in a 46-year career. Twenty one years later, after a journey through the West Midlands, the News of the World, The Sun and the Express in London, I found myself back in Glasgow briefly as chief sub, along with Terry Manners, Ken Parker, Rod Jones and Wendy Fuller helping to relaunch production in Glasgow. The first paper was off stone as scheduled at 9.30 on the dot. A night to remember.