look like a schlumper,” said Eric Gordon, peering over his glasses with
amusement at my scruffy jumper and jeans. “But why don’t you come in
tomorrow and we’ll see how it goes?
Just remember – shirt and tie.”
next day I schlumped my way into journalism at the Camden New Journal .
In the newsroom, through a fug of cigarette smoke, I could just about
make out a huge rusty spike, loaded with copy amid overflowing
ashtrays. I was consigned to the gloomy basement to sub.
Friday I surfaced to grab a brown envelope of cash from the office
accountant, Mr Guna. He would even advance you a few quid mid-week if
you were a bit short. So far, so 1950s.
The thing is, it was 1996.
the Journal was also an oldfashioned local paper in the best sense. And
it reflected the editor’s personality: gloriously chaotic, socially
concerned, and taking mischievous delight in being a thorn in the side
of the ever-incompetent Camden Council.
I also remember an
endearing fondness for old left-wing causes, as well as serious
coverage of books, music and theatre. It might have been free, but it
was no freesheet.
Working with Eric was hilarious and
infuriating. I added to the chaos by floating in outrageously late. A
typical press day might start with him playing the ogre boss as he gave
me a spectacular bollocking (“Two hours late! This is ridiculous!”).
Later he would soften and go avuncular – perhaps looking up from a
proof to puzzle over my personality flaws.
“The thing with you, Amit, is you’ve had it too easy,” he would say.
Mao was right – people like you should go and pick rice. Oh, and
where’s your shirt and tie?” (Older readers may recall Eric caused a
minor international incident in the late 60s when he was put under
house arrest in China during Mao’s cultural revolution.)n Then, late at
night, with the formal deadline long gone and the pubs long closed, we
would be comrades in adversity – sipping red wine out of plastic cups
as he decided on the hoof to rework entire pages.
I left in 1999,
but Eric’s still editing the Journal – which goes from strength to
strength. It has vastly expanded, has shiny new macs, a website,
salaried journalists and no smoking. But I often meet other graduates
of the Gordon School of Journalism (including the features editor of
this very paper) and wax nostalgic about Eric and that frenetic
Amit Srivastava is a sub-editor at The Times Educational Supplement