Ex-sports editor and Watford correspondent reflects on Observer career

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I was in for a shock on the first day I reported to the Watford Observer in the late summer of 1968.

Hitherto I had spent eight years at the West Herts Post working out of a former shop and two-storey flat on The Parade overlooking The Old Pond.

The printing and make up (in metal) was undertaken in Luton and Leighton Buzzard.

But in the low Art Deco building that housed a former perfumers at the top of the drive in Rickmansworth Road, there was a large composing room where the pages were made up in metal plus a specialised area for CH Peacocks specialised printing.

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There was a large photographers’ base and dark room, a circulation department and the composing room was in fact surrounded by a myriad of offices.

Among those offices was an extreme rarity – a readers’ department. Every written piece was copied and sent to the readers where corrections were made and sent.

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The corrected items were returned and corrected. The odd error got through but very rarely.

Readers’ departments were faded out as new tech came in, as did so many printing trades.

At the back of the building was the bindery. This was where Peacocks were commissioned to adhere inside or on the front of magazines printed elsewhere as inducements for sale: such as shampoo, special combs or ointments for the less sophisticated magazines.

There just seemed to be so many employees, so much activity and a busy purposeful atmosphere. Employees were called to the telephone over the tannoy. There was one compositor who had dated a London Palladium dancer. When his name was called a chorus of whistles of the final Palladium theme greeted. I remember it as a happy place.

The Watford Observer helped but I had a 45-year career in which I never had a Monday morning feeling.

There was a 60-foot canteen and rest room outside which would take 40 at a time.

The days of the peak circulations were in vogue and the Mid Week Watford Observer was launched in 1969.

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Soon after that I was appointed Sports Editor. Two years later the sports pages were increased from three broadsheet pages to four. Our status was improving and it was further improved when I bought in cartoonist Terry Challis.

Working at the old High Street office had been difficult. You secured a parking place in the morning but it was only temporary because you had go out on assignment or an interview. Then you came back and looked for a parking place… and looked. Some man hours wasted there.

The old printing press that used to thunder out from Loates Lane/High Street had been briefly moved to Rickmansworth Road and then, shortly before I arrived, the Watford Observer and sister paper the Hendon Times were printed in High Wycombe and the Rickmansworth Road printer moved out again. Local newspaper economics had already commenced a sad reflection of the realities of the market place.

Then at the beginning of this century it was our time to get on the Palladium wheel and wave goodbye as we moved to Watford Business Park.

Sometimes, when inching past the old Ricky Road site in traffic, I fancy I can hear a faint whistle of the Palladium theme. Happy memories.

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