Nicholas Jones on Bill Wilkinson, late news editor on The News, Portsmouth

I can
feel myself getting tense just remembering those days 40 years ago when
I had to make the first telephone call of the morning to my news
editor, Bill Wilkinson. Each district reporter was given three or four
minutes to describe the stories they intended to cover that day.

Then
it was Wilkie’s turn to take miscreants like myself to task as he
listed the stories that I had either failed to report properly or had
missed altogether.

Looking back I realise how much I learned from
the disciplines imposed by those prickly encounters. I had to have a
clear idea of a story line for every diary item; I also never went into
that phone box without first checking the Southern Evening Echo or Isle
of Wight County Press. Woe betide the district reporter who had not
kept abreast of the competition.

Wilkie was always on the ball.
Even the sub-editors seemed to alert him to my mistakes or
misspellings. After reporting the 1963 Cowes Carnival I was roasted by
Wilkie for writing about six schoolgirls carrying homemade guitars.
They had capital letters on the front of their dresses that spelt
‘beetles.’ Wilkie was at his most sarcastic: Hadn’t I heard about what
was happening in Liverpool.

Each year, readers were invited to apply for the News’ Christmas hamper.

Hapless
reporters like myself would be sent off, post haste, to check out
possible recipients. On returning, we were always in deep trouble if we
had missed one vital piece of information: did the letter writer have
nicotine-stained fingers?

Smokers did not deserve a Christmas hamper.

One
abiding memory of being rebuked was my failure to get a quote from a
couple rescued from the Solent and whose story appeared in the Southern
Evening Echo. ‘What do you mean, there was no reply? Did you go round
the back of the house and look through the French windows to see if
they were in? I bet that’s how the Echo got the story.’

I thought
about Wilkie’s strictures on joining BBC Radio Leicester in 1972. One
day I offered to check out whether a family was at home.

‘Nick, this is the BBC. We don’t go looking through French windows

We’ll get a freelance to do that.’

Former BBC correspondent Nick Jones is chairman of NPF, the Journalists’ Charity

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