Geoffrey Shryhane’s Wigan World

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LAST week I recalled it was 55 years to the day since I left school. Today is the 55th anniversary of little me starting work on this fine old newspaper.

I caught the 8.40 bus into Wigan and was knocking at the door of the office in Rowbottom Square as the Parish Church Clock struck nine.

Charles Dickens would have been proud of the place. Time had stood still. And the place had been inadequately warmed by coal fires until 1958.

Old typewriters littered the big table in the reporters’ room. There was just one wonky old telephone. News was written on white paper, sport on yellow. After being shown to the still deserted second floor office by MD John Dakeyne, there was the realisation I was in the big world of work. Thank goodness school was out forever.

First reporter to arrive was tall John Benn, then a news and sports journalist, then Jack Winstanley, (future Editor) followed by veteran reporters Cyril Dickinson and Taffy Williams. Fred Dove, the Editor, had his own office downstairs.

I was 15 and a few days old and was still a bit of a kid. Jack “Wink” Winstanley asked if I could knock a typewriter to bits. And Cyril wanted to know if I was a red neck (a Catholic). In those days, the Observer employed protestants and the Wigan Examiner (which was to close in May of 1961) Catholics. The twain didn’t meet until the early ’60s. Amazing.

In my new Burton’s charcoal coloured suit, white shirt and maroon tie, my first job was to accompany dear old Cyril to the County Magistrates’ Court where criminal cases took up pages in the paper. The afternoon inquests on miners and road accident victims were held by Coroner J Hopwood Sayer. These took an age because “Hoppy” as he was known wrote everything out in longhand.

In the morning, we reporters trooped to the Minorca for coffee and in the afternoon to the Wimpy Bar on King Street. Brews were never made in the office.

And so came the publication of my first Observer, 47,000 copies from the old Victory Kidder press in the cellar.

Changes in the production of all newspapers have vastly changed over five and a half decades. But in the end, the paper is the one and only object to tell Wiganers just what’s going on.

Your Wigan World writer is the last surviving member of that 1960 team. The last man tottering. And even now, there’s nowt like the thrill of writing a great story and seeing it in print on page 1.

Thankfully, in these modern days, newspapers are re-cycled and not, as in the good old days, cut up and hung behind the lavvy door.

THIS week the Queen became the longest serving monarch, having reigned for 63 years and 216 days.

Elizabeth II has never put a foot wrong and historians of the far future will praise her and may even describe her as “the monarch who never, ever rocked the boat”.

Of the modern royals, she remains the only one not to have given an interview. She has a quality of total untouchability.

We don’t know what she thinks. Her opinions and her views remain a mystery.

In fact, respect and love her though most of us do, I suspect we don’t perceive her as “real” any more. In fact, perhaps we take her for granted.

She’s had her fair share of troubles, strife and grief, but the mask has never slipped. Not for a moment. Oh yes, there was a tear (just one) when the royal yacht Britannia was decommissioned.

It’s true we longed for her to pick up a baby or a puppy. Ruffle the hair of a little lad. It didn’t happen.

It’s true, we have seen her smile her way through her long reign. But we’ll never witness her true sense of humour and her abilities as a mimic?

In her decades as Queen, she’s never tripped, never tumbled, never (unlike her husband) used a bad word.

Her Christmas message has never had a spontaneous verbal heart. As from tomorrow, she breaks another record. Victoria will have to settle for second place.

But at least Queen Elizabeth II smiled and smiled on her visits to Wigan. It only leaves me to say those immortal words: “GOD SAVE THE QUEEN.”

TO rugby league fans, he was Billy Whizz thanks to his speed-of-lightening running abilities. His real name – Jason Robinson.

Flicking the telly buttons the other night, I landed on a superb documentary in which the former Wigan player talked about his life and career. It was refreshing to hear the iconic player talking so frankly – and admitting that at one time, he came near to suicide. The Leeds-born lad’s story had great elements of happiness and sadness and he told how as a kid he helped his hard-working mother with her school cleaning duties.

He also told of his delight at going to play bingo with his mum and played rugby for Hunslet Boys’ Club at 16. He said the club kept him off the streets and while he was never the biggest player on the field, he was the fastest.

He signed for Wigan and his playing career was a remarkable success.

But the bad times came and Jason talked about his misery and of the night he sat holding a meat cleaver, not wanting to live. But good friends came to his rescue. He said that he owed a particular debt of gratitude to Vi’aiga Tuigamala. And he derived great comfort from religion.

For more from Wigan World see Tuesday’s Wigan Observer