Former Surrey Herald deputy editor Bert Gray, of Weeting, Norfolk, has died aged 93.
Bert, whose full name was Albert, started work on the Herald in 1927. A journalist, author and lifelong dog lover, Bert lived in Fordwater Road, Chertsey, for many years.
He was apprenticed to the Surrey Herald immediately after leaving Strode’s School, Egham. At the time his four-year indentures bound him legally and required him to be consistently sober.
As a young reporter Bert cycled many miles a day for the Staines and Egham News and back to Chertsey at night with all the stories and advertisements from the Staines office.
Deemed unfit for military service during the Second World War, he worked for a unit of the War Ministry at Fairoaks Airfield, repairing shot and crashed aircraft. He became a supervisor and also did service in the Home Guard. During this time his home was damaged by a flying bomb.
After the war, Bert became a salesman for Chase Garden Products of Pond House, Chertsey, demonstrating at the big shows in the UK and travelling in style in Colonel Chase’s RollsRoyce.
Later Bert became secretary and director of a Chase offshoot, Intensive Gardening Press, based at the Grange, Chertsey. In those days of shortages, DIY tobacco growing was in vogue and Bert wrote Better Baccy – Grow and Smoke Your Own, under the pseudonym Charles WyseGardner.
Bert returned to journalism with the Woking Herald, before moving to the head office in Chertsey as deputy editor, a post he held for 10 years.
For some years after his retirement he wrote a gardening column for the Herald. In a special edition of the paper celebrating its centenary in 1992, Bert wrote about his start in journalism: “Getting an audience with the editor, the great AT Ledger, had not been easy, but I was not without some qualifications.
“After all, had not my school, with the aid of an antiquated duplicating machine, kept the people of Egham abreast of current affairs during the General Strike? Moreover, I was armed with proof of literary ability in the form of a Wild West romance and quite a few rejection slips.
“I think it was the cowboy book that did the trick, for it delighted the editor’s young son, himself destined on merit to become a valued member of the firm.
“Whatever the attractions of newspaper work – and there were many – money was not among them. My starting wage was 12s 6d (reduced in my case by 2s for six months because I had over-estimated my shorthand speed).
“I was 17 then, and was 21 before setting my sights on the final stage of 27s 6d – by which time, with holy matrimony on the horizon, it was suggested that I should seek fame and fortune elsewhere.
“Fortunately Bill Norsworthy, in charge at Staines, was in need of a young fellow like me, used to night jobs and burning the candle at both ends, able to provide his own bike and make a detour via Staines in wind and rain to deliver copy to Chertsey.”
Former Herald editor Peter Hurst paid the following tribute: “Bert Gray was a fine all-round newspaperman of the old school, who gave unstinting loyalty and support to three Surrey Herald editors.
“He was a key cog in the newspaper’s success for many years and his example, advice and encouragement were an inspiration to generations of young journalists.
“I shall remember with some affection a kind, modest, uncomplaining colleague, who always had a twinkle in his eye and an apt word of wisdom. Bert was both a gentle man and a gentleman.”
Bert’s wife Ivy Denny, whom he married in 1932, died in 1988. He leaves two sons, Peter and Paul, and a grandson, Ian. Bert’s funeral took place at Weeting Church, Norfolk, on Tuesday 9 December.
Surrey Herald staff