Wapping strife in the North

Express Building Manchester

The former Daily Express building in Great Ancoats Street, Manchester


By BOB CUMMINGS

I worked at the Express in Manchester from 1970 until 1989, firstly as a comp and then for the last couple of years as a composing room overseer. I had no particular management ambitions but we all knew the inevitable result of introduction of photo-composition was staff reductions. In the case of the composing room, it would mean abolition as journalists were allowed to input their own copy and overseers had a better pension and redundancy package. 

A couple of weeks ago there was a radio programme which brought together various sides of the Wapping dispute from 1987, Brenda Dean, Kelvin MacKenzie and various union members. After a very short period of time all the all old wounds were picked at and it was as if the dispute was still ongoing.  

ancoats

I seem to remember that the Manchester office agreed to print the News of the World contract and it was only Miss Dean that prevented the wagons leaving (or is that a myth?). What I would say is that the main suspicion and hatred that I saw (apart from at  Winwick Quay, of course) was between the Ancoats NGA members and their London colleagues. Eric Hammond’s EEPTU managed to trump that which led to some exciting times when there was a problem with the computer system as the first edition was in full swing. “If that scab touches a keyboard in there we are stopping work!” being the refrain I was once greeted with.

Express Newspapers, as least as far as the Manchester production staff were concerned, managed to introduce the inevitable in a civilised way. I left voluntarily, was able to fund a return to full-time education and a complete change of career at 39. I became an IT trainer, teacher and eventually a software developer at a Further Education college, retiring four years ago.  

I have a lot of stories about great characters – Claude Lescure, sometimes referred to as the ‘one eyed’ crow due to his wonderful old black suit that went shiny with age – the comps would have jumped out of the window for him such was their respect.

Just one snippet before I go – I remember being on the bottom of the racing page on the stone in the hot metal days. Jim Ford gave the page to Sam Heywood, who had become a perpetual old soak. He leaned over to me and said sotto voce “Why have they given me the racing page Bob, they know I’m pissed!“

I had no answer – why? But somehow we managed to get it out between us, allowing Sam to nip out for another pint.

Danger Mouse and bagpipes

Beaverbrook’s 75th birthday party



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