Melody Ryall on Ferelith Hamilton

I was
barely 17 years old when this tall, striking character cloaked in a
creaking tweed suit peered at me over the top of her specs and agreed
to take me on as a “junior journalist”.

Miss Hamilton explained
she needed someone who could read and write and use a typewriter and as
I was desperate to be a reporter I seemed “just the ticket”, she said.

further convince her I also had to let her think I was tremendously
interested in pedigree dogs – she was after all editor of the
big-selling weekly Dog World Newspapers and I was a ludicrously eager
young pup.

I was so in love with the idea of a career in
journalism (and had been from the age of 12) I would have told her I
was interested in bathroom tiles if it would have secured me the job.

those days Miss Hamilton was in her forties. She had an awesome
reputation in the dog show business and was a cracking,
sleeves-rolled-up, all-round journalist too.

She was always known
to staff as Miss Hamilton. No one dared be too familiar and call her
Ferelith apart from her husband – the late great Stafford Somerfield –
former editor of the News of the World. Stafford also got away with
calling her “Feffie” and when I was invited to dine with them sometimes
in Brighton after a hurly burly Tuesday night getting the paper off
stone she’d show that softer side again and call him “Staffie”.

a week Stafford (known to the staff as Mister Somerfield) would potter
in with his stick to write his column, Men, Women and Dogs. He’d often
reminisce about his days at the helm of the NoW, talk whimsically about
Christine Keeler and the Profumo affair until Miss Hamilton would
stride over and remind him deadline was ticking and his column was
needed “right now” for page nine.

Of course, Miss Hamilton talked
a lot about the world of show dogs. She was (and remains so today) an
international show judge and a big noise at Crufts. But what did she
teach me about journalism? Contacts, stoicism, accuracy, never, ever
miss a deadline, work into the early hours if necessary to make sure
the paper is as good as it can ever be. She taught me the difference
between Times bold and Helvetica light, and sent me out to expose an
illegal dog trading racket that won me my first and still treasured
byline. Along with Mister Somerfield she’d use thrilling phrases like
“chase that story” or “file the splash” and I’d hear him describe how
he banned NoW subs from leaving “dog legs” of copy on his pages. Halcyon days.

Melody Ryall is group editor of Kentish Times Newspapers

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