Friday, 25 December 2009

Christmas on newspapers - then and now

I'm finishing off an extremely quiet Christmas shift at the Herald, filing remotely by wireless in the middle of the Berkshire countryside.

The boys on the newsdesk in Glasgow seem happy enough with their Tunnocks teacakes and mince pies. I was reminding one of them of my first Christmas shifts at the Herald, way back in the early 1990s.

I had flown back from a feature assignment in Barcelona to Glasgow late on Christmas Eve to an empty flat, some sour milk and a note from my fiancee to say she had gone home for Christmas. By lunchtime the next day I was starving and after asking around the newsroom in the Herald offices in Albion Street I ascertained that the only place that would be open was an Italian trattoria in the middle of town.

I made my glum way to a single, red-chequered basement table and was about to put in my miserable order when the waiter approached to say there was a phonecall for me. As the only diner there he had no problem recognising me but it was the first and last time that a phone was ever brought to my table at a restaurant.

On the other end of the line was one of the staff from the Herald library on the first floor, which in that pre-google era, was kept open on Christmas Day the same as every other day.

They had heard of my plight and although they hardly knew me (I was the new boy) they invited me, fast as my feet could carry me, back to the library to share their food - turkey, roast potatoes, pudding and all.

It was one of the best Christmas dinners I've have ever had. They even made their own crackers with restaurant receipts inside instead of jokes so you could claim the whole lot back on expenses. Okay, I made that last detail up but these were days of wine and roses at the Herald.

Back upstairs we were faced, as all Christmas newsrooms are, with the challenge of the empty page. Allan Laing, legendary Herald journalist, solved it by scraping the wires for news from around the world. Very cleverly he wove the stories from Rome, Toyko, Sandringham and elsewhere together so that the first letter of each paragraph, each one set in capital 24 pt, read out MERRY CHRISTMAS. It was genius on a wing column down the outside edge of the front page.

I tried repeating the trick years later on the Sunday Herald during a Christmas shift but, what do you know, the subs cut the middle of the story to make it fit the page! Mine read MERR ISTMAS. So a Merry Istmas to all the subs out there too, if there are any subs left out there.

1 comment:

  1. I am sure you would get a "piece" at anyones door !!