Patrick Nicholson, long-time chief sub-editor of The Sunday Times Magazine, from 1976 until he took early retirement in 1991, died on 6 September 2023 aged 93.
Patrick was a journalist of the old school, starting his career as a junior reporter on The Kentish Mercury in South-East London aged 16, long before there was any formal training. He used to say the only tuition he received was half a day in the magistrates’ court with a senior colleague before being left to cope on his own.
National Service, which was in existence at the time, was something of a busman’s holiday for Patrick, since he edited a garrison newspaper at Catterick Camp, Yorkshire, during his two years of military service. He did the layouts, wrote most of it, subbed all of it and delivered copies on a bicycle.
After demobilisation he returned to the Mercury for a while before going north as a reporter on the Hartlepool Mail (then called the Northern Daily Mail), the Liverpool Echo and Liverpool Daily Post. He moved to the Manchester Evening News, where he was a diary writer (finally diary editor) and feature writer.
Patrick went to Fleet Street as a sub-editor on The Daily Telegraph and later The Times, leaving briefly to be an assistant to the TV editor of Radio Times. He returned to The Times and became deputy chief sub in the Special Reports division.
He joined The Sunday Times Magazine at the invitation of Harold Evans, then editor of The Sunday Times, with whom he had worked on the Manchester Evening News.
A Life in the Day
While he was chief sub, he also specialised in writing profiles of legendary comedians including Arthur Askey, Tommy Trinder, Cyril Fletcher and Stanley Holloway.
Hunter Davies, who edited the magazine for a while, wrote in an anniversary issue how the famous back of the book column, ‘A Life in the Day’, came into being:
“I tried the idea round the table one lunchtime. ‘Let’s get the trivia inside someone’s day, not the working part of their life, just the routine, mundane tasks and thoughts we all have.’
‘Oh, it’ll be boring,’ they said.
I looked round the table and said to the chief sub, Patrick Nicholson, ‘Come on then, Patrick, do you lay out your clothes the night before or do you decide when you get up?’
‘I consult my diary,’ he said. ‘I’ve always kept a note of exactly what clothes I’ve worn, so I can check to make sure that today’s clothes have not been worn in the last two weeks.’
We were all silent. Absolutely nothing of importance, just a little chink of his real character shone out. Who knows what we might get by asking Famous People such trivial questions?”
‘A starship commander’
In 1979 the management suspended publication of The Times and The Sunday Times in a desperate attempt to solve the problem of industrial action by the print unions that was crippling both papers.
Philip Norman, who had been a staff writer for some years, wrote a long time later:
“I doubt if we could have weathered the year-long suspension in 1979–80 as the present staff did, continuing production in the persistent hope that a settlement would come within the six-week lead time. I remember, in the darkest hours, coming upstairs to find Patrick Nicholson, the chief sub, alone at his desk like a starship commander, piloting his craft single-handed through the strike-deserted galaxies.”
In retirement, Patrick continued to write but most of his work was fiction. It was widely published both at home and abroad and also featured on the internet. He was 79 when his first novel was published, Drink to the Devil, the story of a Fleet Street journalist.
He was a member of the National Union of Journalists from the age of 16 until his retirement when he was made a life member.
Patrick Nicholson wrote this himself before his death.
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