first job as a journalist was on the Local Government Chronicle, a
venerable, if somewhat dry, weekly magazine based in Dickensian little
offices in the City of London. I joined as a staff writer in 1975 when
I was 22. The editor, Geoff Smith, was in his mid-40s and a bit crusty,
like Walter Matthau in The Front Page. But he was likeable and had a
wry sense of humour.
Naturally, I was pretty green behind the
ears, and while I can’t say he taught me everything I know about
writing, I certainly learnt the basics of story construction from his
terse, no-nonsense directions. And they have stood me in good stead
over the decades in some diverse forms of journalism.
- July 12, 2018
- July 11, 2018
- July 5, 2018
other nuggets of wisdom, too. When I told him I’d written a piece for a
local newspaper without payment, as a favour to an editor, he peered at
me disapprovingly through his specs. “Only a fool ever wrote for
anything but money,” he declared.
“Remember Samuel Johnson.” I never made that mistake again.
a proud new member of the NUJ, I was taken aback when he told me he had
quit the union. I assumed it was because of some high-minded principle.
he said it was just that he’d got sick of paying endless surcharges to
enable “a bunch of Marxists” to go on strike every other week. In time
I came to agree with his view of what was then a very po-faced and
doctrinaire organisation, and I quit, too.
Geoff didn’t get
everything right, though. I remember coming back to the office very
excited one afternoon, after attending the press launch of Ansaphone –
the first telephone answering machine – and telling him all about the
revolutionary new piece of equipment. He just snorted and said:
“That’ll never catch on. Who wants to talk to a bloody machine?”(Sorry, Geoff. Couldn’t resist.)
He liked the good things in life and knew a lot about cooking. I was
newly married and knew zilch. So from time to time he threw me a handy
culinary tip, that you had to “blanche” potatoes before roasting them.
He even explained how to make Irish stew.
What more could you want of an editor?
I worked at LGC for
three years before leaving to have a baby. Geoff was there until he
retired many years later. I haven’t seen him since 1978, but I’m
pleased to hear he continues to enjoy life, as before.
Monica Porter is a freelance journalist and author.