My career in journalism only lasted about 5 years and it came about by accident. My part of the newspaper didn’t concern news at all, only the peripheral parts of journalism like quizzes, crosswords and even astrology! One assignment that came about through my journalism which I enjoyed was writing a businessman’s guide to the town of Cambridge. That involved catching the train to the town and getting around a bit, but mostly my kind of journalism was very hard work just sitting at my desk. The work involved a shallow type of thought, but it produced genuine headaches, which more profound thinking has never done in my case.
I must explain that in those days there was a London evening newspaper called the Evening News and to distinguish it from our local journal ours was called the Eastern Evening News. When the London paper disappeared the Norfolk paper became the Evening News; later it was renamed the Norwich Evening News. My journalistic career began when I wrote to the paper stating that I did not think much of the standard of the quiz they were then running, and that I could something better myself. Quite unexpectedly they took me at my word, and before long I was writing ten questions a day, six days a week. The novel feature of my quiz was the inclusion of a number of questions which needed local knowledge.
The editor put a lot of effort into making the new quiz a success. My picture was plastered across the front page of the paper every evening for a week or two following its launch, and a banner advertised its presence inside for much longer. They also produced a book that was published in 1988.
There were a number of spin-offs from this unexpected publicity. I had a brief period running live quizzes as question master; that was until the organisers discovered that there were plenty of people who although less well-known were prepared to it for free, unlike me. I did not especially enjoy writing quizzing; for me it was just a job. I also branched out into related areas of journalism like crosswords, and these I enjoyed doing rather more.
Eventually with the arrival of a new editor of the Evening News I was dropped from the paper; I wasn’t sorry to end what had become a weekly chore. That, however, was not the end of my media career. As a minor local celebrity I was called in to assist on the production of a television programme based on local quiz questions. This was being shot in Norwich by Anglia Television. In the early 1990s when the programme was made Anglia was still an independent company with a flourishing TV production unit in Magdalen Street.
This series was called Paper Chase. It involved teams from schools across the Anglia Region who were placed in a set that imitated a veteran car; the competitors were ostensibly driving around the countryside answering questions on the places they passed through. Rather unwisely the producer (from London) had decided he could produce the series without doing a pilot programme first. As things turned out he couldn’t, and the whole series had to be binned.
Rather than give up completely those in charge decided to treat the failed series as the pilot, and went ahead with another series and a new set of competitors. I felt rather sorry for the first lot of school children who had expected to appear on the box, but I don’t suppose anyone else did. This time the whole run of programmes got an airing, and it was a weekly early evening treat for me to see my name on-screen at the end of each episode as Researcher. It was not that great a success, and there was no follow-up broadcast. Two things arose out of my experience. I got an introduction to the technicalities of television production, but I also decided that I did not much like most of the people I met in the industry. I did get on quite well with presenter though, and even took him out to a meal in Norwich; at a vegetarian restaurant of course!
It was never more than a part-time career. I was also running my optical instrument making business all the while I was writing quizzes. If I had succeeded in getting a job as a fact-checker with the BBC on Mastermind (Magnus Magnusson was just starting his last series) things might have been different, but although I got an interview in Manchester I was pipped to the post. I have no regrets. I am a dyed-in-the-wool East Anglian, and that could never have gone with a career in national television. I am not sorry that I remained in Norfolk.
THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIA