Malcolm Starbrook on Laurie Huddlestone

Laurie Huddlestone was a giant of a newspaperman. But when I knew him, he had shrunk.

The
story was that he had been ill and had lost a ton of weight. But his
wife was so tight that she insisted he continued to wear his old
clothes.

So his scrawny size 12 neck raised itself out of a size
17 short collar. His thick sweater was tucked into the waistband of his
trousers in an attempt to pad it out and he really did need a belt and
braces to remain on the safe side of decency.

He was my first experience of a newspaper editor; the East London Advertiser was my first newspaper.

Mr
H might have been only 5ft 4in in his cotton socks, but he was big in
the East End. He had covered the siege of Sidney Street and the Mosley
riots.

One famous newspaper photograph dominated his office. It
showed Mosley’s fascists at the start of the riot and Mr H in the
foreground with his customary fag and notebook.

He was not a great teacher, though.

You
were told to get a story and write it “for what it’s worth…” The copy
was then delivered to him and he would look at it, sigh and take a
blue, indelible pencil from his waistcoat pocket, lick the end and
proceed to demolish your purple prose.

By the end of the day, his
lips were stained a woad-like blue and junior reporters were hard at it
deciphering the proofing marks to get the story the way he liked it.

It
got so that I hated to see the colour blue. But it was his insistence
on attention to detail that gradually seeped into our journalistic
brains.

Get it right. And don’t leave the reader asking questions.

“If a reader has a problem understanding the story, it is the writer’s fault,” he would tell us.

The
other lasting lesson we all learned as juniors was the ability to be
imaginative, meticulous and painstaking: with our expenses.

Every expense claim was treated with Scrooge-like exactitude: you would think it was Mr H’s own pockets we were picking.

He even kept a ruler on his desk marked with the bus fare stages of the London Transport routes.

The
claim for a bus trip to the Isle of Dogs was literally measured on a
map he kept in his desk – and altered with the characteristic blue
pencil.

You had to be clever to get anything past him.

Malcolm Starbrook is editor of the East London Advertiser

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