Murray Hood taught me that a spoonful of brandy helps the galley proofs
go down. He was editor of the Hawick Express, a weekly in the rugbymad
Scottish Borders town, when I joined as a trembling 16-year-old during
the last school summer holiday before Higher Leaving Certificate exams.
father, who had played rugby for Hawick, knew Mr Hood (I never called
him anything but), and arranged for me to intern during the holidays to
test my determination to be a journalist.
Mr Hood had come to Hawick after retiring from the Manchester Guardian.
The Hawick Express, small but sound, was highly respected in the town. So there could be no better test.
mental picture of him in 1960 is of a broad-shouldered man, untidily
dressed in tweeds and tie, seated behind a desk strewn with paper. His
face was ruddy, deeply-veined, and his nose would glow an angry red
when he encountered an egregious error.
My first job was to check
the galleys before they were hammered into hot type. I would read the
originals, stories and small ads, while he would check the proofs and
slash them with corrections in broad-pointed pencil.
I set him
alight when I read out a jobs ad for “a tractor or a man”. He was
incoherent, but managed to gasp out “TRACTOR ORRAMAN” before he began
coughing and spluttering and gasping for breath. He waved and flapped
at his top drawer. I opened it and found a half bottle of brandy and a
teaspoon. He flapped some more. It dawned on me. I poured, fed him the
teaspoonful and he quickly regained his composure.
“An orraman is a a jack-of-all-trades on the farm, and this one would be handy with tractors,” he explained.
“Old Victorian term. Widely used in the Borders. Don’t forget it.”
was a tyrant for the truth and a stickler for precision in words and
speech. But he was also one of the kindliest editors one could hope for.
A year later, when he offered me a full-time job, however, I was already heading to DC Thomson in Dundee.
Hood’s lessons and example are rooted within me. And I’m not the only
one to have benefited from his wisdom. Rugby commentator Bill McLaren
wrote for the Hawick Express before he became famous with the BBC. He
says he owes his career to John Murray Hood. So do I.
Rodney Pinder is director of the International News Safety Institute