Freelance journalist Derek Bellis took a rare day off work to attend his 75th birthday party this week.
The celebration was attended by journalists from across North Wales and organised by BBC journalist John Shone, who described the 75-year-old as an ‘inspiration”.
‘Derek is a shining example and mentor,’he said. ‘At 75 he’s still out there every day covering courts, councils, climbing accidents in Snowdonia, and the inevitable sea rescues off the Welsh coast.”
After leaving school in 1950, Bellis began his career as a junior on the North Wales Pioneer. He left for national service in the Royal Marines, but he returned to the weekly for six months before moving to the Northampton Evening Chronicle, and then working as Wallasey district reporter for the Liverpool Daily Post.
He joined the News Chronicle in Manchester in 1957 for three years before it folded, and then went to the Daily Herald before returning to North Wales and setting up Bellis News Agency in 1963.
‘It wasn’t too hard to set it up on my own,’said Bellis. ‘In those days the papers were published in Manchester which eased things a great deal. I also did Saturday shifts in Manchester for many years at the News of the World, which kept my contacts base up to date.”
Both Bellis’s sons have followed in their father’s footsteps. ‘Either they saw how much I loved it or just knew I’d give them a job,’Bellis said.
The eldest, Nigel is an award-winning TV documentary maker, now working in the US, while Glyn has worked for the agency for the past 25 years.
Bellis has a slightly more relaxed lifestyle now, and has a lot of support from Glyn – ‘my Mr Reliable’– but believes the slowdown is as much a consequence of the vastly changed news agenda.
‘In those days the demands were far greater because the nationals were all interested in news. Now the appeal isn’t there; they’re not so bothered in news stories. There’s certainly a bias against the North,’he said.
‘When I started there wasn’t this obsession with soap operas and celebrities. That’s something that’s come in recent years. A lot of the stuff is very artificial.
‘We’ve always existed on news and the occasional feature, and that’s still the way we operate. I still get a buzz from breaking good stories, like one in the Mail on Sunday last year revealing that a baby was on the police DNA database. FoI is a wonderful tool for exposure.”
Despite the general move away from hard news, Bellis still holds The Times in high esteem, ‘and I always enjoy The Sun”, he said. ‘We need a cheeky, vibrant newspaper and I think The Sun today is what The Mirror was back when I first started.”
It’s reassuring to hear that this hard-working hack still values his holidays and time off. ‘When I started off I was working on my own for 20 years, but I always insisted on taking holidays: They’re so important. We’ve been to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and, of course, the US, to visit our son.”
So does Derek have any retirement plans? ‘As long as my health is good I intend to work on – having a declining pension with Equitable Life is a great encouragement. It’s not that I’m a workaholic – I’ll still enjoy holidays and my Man Utd season ticket. But it’s difficult – the work’s not just a way of life, it is your life.”