David Lister on Gordon Farnsworth

Rather
like the Walter Matthau character in The Front Page, my first editor,
Gordon Farnsworth, used to stand over reporters on the Bristol Evening
Post as they typed a story. For the first half minute you would ignore
him. During the next half minute you became a little nervous. Finally,
you would pause. That was what he had been waiting for. \”Why have you
stopped?\” he would demand. \”I\’m thinking,\” the hapless reporter would
reply. \”Don\’t think! Write!\” Farnsworth would exclaim with a ferocious
poke in your shoulder.

In other ways, he was not quite as smart as
Walter Matthau. Farnsworth edited the Evening Post at a time when the
first wave of switching from broadsheet to tabloid was in full swing. A
number of regionals were doing it; and nationally, the Daily Express
had already made the move.

Never one to follow the herd, Farnsworth decided to switch the post from tabloid to broadsheet. Circulation plummeted.

Farnsworth was an imposing man.

He
was extremely large and extremely nice. And, to a young reporter, he
was both helpful and accessible. He hired me as a graduate trainee and
told me he wanted to bring graduates on to the paper because he thought
they had something to offer. I was to discover that not all his senior
colleagues thought likewise. But he sensed the way journalism was
moving, and may have been a bit ahead of his time in that respect.

An important lesson for me on the Bristol Evening Post was the danger for a paper that had no direct competition.

Bristol
is a city in which arts, industry, sport and commerce throw up no end
of story possibilities; but it was hard not to be a little complacent
when you had the field to yourself.

Farnsworth\’s Evening Post may
have been guilty of that. But he was an editor who nurtured his young
employees and created a constructive and positive atmosphere, with an
emphasis on team spirit.

He also had one rather curious
idiosyncracy that I have not encountered anywhere else. He was not keen
on too many of his staff having the sacred word \”editor\” as part of
their job title. And so the man who was, to you, me and the world, the
features editor, had to call himself the chief features sub-editor.

It probably served him right for thinking instead of writing.

David Lister is arts editor of The Independent

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