always a little bit frightened of my first editor, Ian MacKenzie, when
I joined the South London Observer at the age of 17.
Ian was a
big man, rather brusque, who made sure from day one of my three-year
indentureship that you did everything right – woe betide you if you
On my first morning he threw a whole pile of church
magazines at me and told me to ferret out as many stories as possible
and find plenty of fillers.
I was faced with undertaking this task with an old typewriter which gave off high-octane cigarette fumes from a previous user.
couldn’t type a word so I took all the magazines home with me that
night and was up until 3am the next morning on my £8 second-hand
Underwood machine bashing out the pieces with two fingers. I never did
learn to touch type.
Ian taught me to proof read in the old way –
using a galley straight from our printer in the back yard with the raw
copy, reading it usually to the chief reporter, Charlie Wareing, while
he smoked woodbines non-stop, kicking the used butts down a hole in the
After a couple of months, Ian took a bit of a shine to me
I thought, because I got offered a lift home in his convertible Triumph
Herald. He liked the idea that I was attending night school to make up
for my dismal failures at O-Level and to study shorthand.
turned out that Ian was a mathematics fanatic, and at lunchtimes,
between subbing stories, he could be found engrossed in his applied
maths which he was studying, also at night school.
us to sell our stories to the nationals and London evening papers and
we would often make more than our weekly wages doing this. In those
days we would probably spend more than an hour phoning our stories
around to news and features editors. “MacKenzie Southwark here,”
I would say and to this day, when I dictate something, I always say “point, par”.
thing I should mention is the fact that Ian’s eldest son Kelvin was
around at about the same time – on another local newspaper in south
London, and ended up becoming arguably the best ever popular tabloid
And last year I met Kelvin when I was privileged to be at the funeral service of his 83-year-old father.
Ian Mean is editor of the Gloucester Citizen