Tony Berry on Don Touhig

“Who’s that?” a colleague asked me as we watched a Welsh backbencher making an apology on TV.

“That,” I replied, “is my old editor.”

In a row over a leaked select committee report, the Labour MP for Islwyn was suspended from the Commons for three days.

Back
in 1983 Don Touhig was editor of the Free Press of Monmouthshire group
but had the look of an ambitious assistant bank manager. At my
interview for the job of Chepstow reporter, he told me the word “Free”
referred to its historical freedom from English influence.

Nice welcome for a Lancashire lad, I thought.

He
then drove me from the Pontypool head office to Chepstow, which was too
English and too Tory for Don. As the son of a bookie, I applied only to
towns with racecourses, and Chester and Cheltenham had turned me down.

Don’s
manner was usually abrupt and humourless but he was a busy chap:
editor, county councillor, education authority chief and agent for a
Labour MEP. The editorials supported the miners’

strike, except for one week when he was on holiday and his deputy strayed from the agreed script.

At
my first Christmas lunch, he went round the table giving each person a
long hand-shake. When he released my hand, I found in it a crumpled £5
note – my Christmas bonus.

One of his duties was to escort the
Free Press’s owners, the Bailey brothers, on their occasional tours of
the district offices. There was a Young Mr Bailey and an Old Mr Bailey.

When
the Baileys decided to launch in the Forest of Dean, Don ordered me to
provide the copy. I wasn’t being paid extra – he let me claim an extra
meal allowance.

Our relations were soured by the Anthony Hopkins
affair. The actor – an old friend of the ad manager – opened the
paper’s new HQ, and Don presented him with a decanter, which was a
curious gift for a recovering alcoholic.

An occasional drinking
pal, Western Daily Press reporter Chris “Big Bird” Anderson (now a Mail
on Sunday executive), wrote a “red faces over decanter” story. Don
decided I was the source and this was the only time he screamed at me.

To
get my copy to the subs in Pontypool, I stuffed it in a buff envelope,
ran up the high street and gave it to the driver of the 303 bus. A
sub-editor collected it at the other end. When I missed the bus, Don
would ring to admonish me.

Did fax machines exist back then?

Probably. But Don didn’t seem to want to splash out.

Tony Berry is a freelance journalist

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