William Hall on Arthur Sly

My
first editor, Arthur Sly, wore a green eyeshade when he interviewed me
for a job as a cub reporter on the Fulham Chronicle. Aged 17 and fresh
from school, I was mightily impressed.

Afterwards he put the
eyeshade away in a drawer of his rolltop desk, and over the next three
years I only saw it come out when he wanted to impress visitors – or
job applicants.

Mr Sly – I never called him by his first name,
and he always addressed me as “Hall” – was an imposing figure.
Grey-haired and portly, he had a small office behind frosted glass
windows, which he shared with the accountant. An occasional abruptness
in his manner concealed a kindly man who took a personal interest in my
progress through the NUJ training scheme, which involved one day a week
at a polytechnic studying shorthand, law and local government.

Three
of us occupied a cramped newsroom under chief reporter/subeditor John
Pryke, a seasoned veteran who was a stringer for every national paper
and encouraged us to file lineage as “Pryke of Fulham”, with Mr Sly’s
approval as long as it was in the Chronicle first. We sat at a long,
wooden desk hammering away at our typewriters, facing the rear window
and looking out at a brick wall, which gave no excuses for distraction.

To
my surprise, I learnt that Mr Sly had made a name for himself in Fleet
Street by breaking the story of the notorious murderer Neville Heath.
In the Sixties, Fulham was a hotbed for the criminal fraternity and the
North End Road street market was a marvellous place to pick up gossip.
Mr Sly had been in the chair for 20 years and knew every street and
probably every villain in the manor. He had close links with the local
nick – often our doughty trio of reporters would be asked to take part
in an identity parade.

As well as being an editor of integrity,
respected by the local community, Mr Sly taught me much that would
stand me in good stead throughout my career as I progressed to Fleet
Street and 21 years on the London Evening News.

Those three years
were among the happiest of my life. The Chronicle was sited above a
bookbinder, which may have had something to do with it, since the air
was permeated with the heady smell of glue. Passive gluesniffing? Maybe – but I remember Arthur Sly with enormous affection. And
when I’m called to that great newsroom in the sky, I hope I’ll find him
waiting to welcome me. Wearing his green eyeshade, of course.

William Hall is a celebrity biographer and film critic for Candis

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