Anila Baig on Perry Austin-Clarke

I saw my first editor, Perry Austin- Clarke of the Telegraph & Argus in Bradford, as a bit of a father figure.

Well, they both have beards, a fuller figure and look slightly disapproving.

I
joined the Telegraph & Argus in an unconventional manner. My boy
had been born a few months before and while he was crawling around
getting his fingers trapped in cupboards I would read the paper and
enjoy the musings of columnists like Jim Greenhalf and Helen Mead.

I
thought it was highly significant that there was no specialist column
on Friday, the holiest of days for Muslims, so wrote in suggesting I
fill that vacancy. I’d had my first article published in the T&A
when I was 16 and sent in other bits and pieces, and I’d had this vague
sort of ambition to be a journalist when I was younger but it had been
all but beaten out of me.

I didn’t hear back for ages but then
received a letter from Perry saying he thought it was a good idea, and
could I send some examples of my writing.

I fired off four columns on my favourite subject (me) and waited. And waited.

When
I summoned up the courage to ring, the editor’s secretary said: “Oh
yes, they were very good. They are going in from Friday.”

The
photographer came round to take a new byline picture, which was a
relief because the one I took at 16, complete with Deidre Barlow-style
glasses and mono-eyebrow, was shocking. And I became the Friday
columnist.

I didn’t really have much to do with Perry until I
joined the paper full-time as a trainee. I’d done a teacher training
course in the meantime, but didn’t fancy shouting at a load of kids all
day.

So I became a reporter where people shouted at me instead.

Perry’s
best advice was to read the paper thoroughly and know it inside out.
The plan was to turn me into a news reporter and it wasn’t long before
the column was axed.

After four years I was ready for a fresh
challenge – and the hours were better so I applied for a job on the
Yorkshire Post. I couldn’t believe it when I was offered the job.

Perry
was really sweet to me the day I left. I told him how I owed everything
to him and he said he felt vindicated and was pleased for me, adding
that if it didn’t work out at the YP I could have my old job back: “As
long as we have a vacancy, of course.”

But I loved the YP. I got
a chance to do features and the first week my column ran I had a page
one picture blurb. I bumped into Perry in Marks & Spencer.

“Back where you started?” he said. But I’m sure, even in his disapproving look, there was a twinkle in his eye. Or maybe it was just the lighting. 

Anila Baig is a feature writer at The Sun

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