So farewell, Keith Newbery...

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I stand beside the stationary car for a few moments expecting the occupant to look up and greet me warmly.

Instead, he sits there, grim-faced, gripping the steering wheel, eyes fixed firmly ahead.

So I tap the window and am ignored again. He looks furious. I knock more aggressively. Slowly the pane slides down.

Keith Newbery (64) at his home on the Isle of Wight with his granddaughter Betsy ''Picture: Malcolm Wells (13849-6444)

Keith Newbery (64) at his home on the Isle of Wight with his granddaughter Betsy ''Picture: Malcolm Wells (13849-6444)

‘Yes. What do you want?’ he growls. ‘I’m fed up with bloody Jehovah’s Witnesses pestering me. What is it about my street? Why do you lot always pick on me?’

I’ve worked with Keith Newbery, on and off, for more than 30 years. It’s several years since we’ve met and it’s clear he doesn’t recognise me. It’s the first time anyone has accused me of being a Jehovah’s Witness.

It’s not the first time Newbs has had me in stitches. His way with words is legendary. Pithy, to the point, controversial, calls a spade a shovel.

I reveal my identity and this bear of a man launches himself out of the car full of apologies for me, but none for the group of dark-suited people who have followed me up the road. For, yes, it is them. Again.

‘Quick, let’s get inside before they collar us,’ he says as we head inside his beloved Isle of Wight home he and wife Denise have had for three decades.

The curt style of that greeting will be more than familiar to readers of The News, who have either enjoyed or endured Keith’s words for more than four decades. Love him or detest him, he has built up a phalanx of followers for whom today will be filled with gloom.

For on page 20 today you will find Keith’s final column for The News – 42 years after he penned his first.

As ever, he’s in sparkling form on one of his favourite topics – politics in general and Tony Blair in particular. You can sense his glee as he tickled his keyboard to give birth to this phrase: ‘The former prime minister – who now looks like the product of an unlikely coupling between David Dickinson and Charles Hawtrey... ‘

Newbs, an energetic 64-year-old who loves few things more than walking his dogs on the downs close to his home and playing verbal fisticuffs with ramblers or stroppy guns who hurl abuse at him when he roams too close to a shoot, is quitting for two reasons.

‘In a couple of months the government will be paying me back some of the money I’ve been paying them for 40-odd years. That’ll be nice.

‘But the main reason is my seven-month-old granddaughter Betsy. I don’t want her to be looked after by strangers while my daughter and her husband are at work. So Denise and I will do it – 8am to 4pm every day. She’s the absolute apple of my eye and I can’t wait. Surely that’s what families are all about?’

Ah, nuclear families. Roots. It comes with the territory of having been born and never having left (permanently) the Isle of Wight, he says.

‘I was once tapped up to see if I would like to meet Ian Wooldridge [the legendary sports columnist on the Daily Mail] with a view to a job on the Mail.

‘I never took it up because if you’re an Islander there’s this enormous taproot which goes very deep. It anchors us here.

‘Perhaps I always wanted to be a big fish in a small pond...’ he shrugs. ‘But I was happy here. I’ve seen my family grow up. I haven’t been off covering World Cups or test series in Australia and missed children’s nativities and I’m now reaping what I’ve sown.

‘My lack of ambition manifested itself in wanting to be close to the family.’

There’s little doubt that Keith would have flourished in Fleet Street. His first love is sport and that first column in 1971 was written about the Hampshire League while he worked on the sports desk here at The News Centre.

He won the Sports Writer of the Year title at the British Regional Press Awards a record four times.

But it was his achingly funny television columns which won him national acclaim. In the early 1980s he was one of four shortlisted for the TV Critic of the Year gong in the British Press Awards. ‘I was up against some bloke called Clive James, who won it quite deservedly, Nancy Banks-Smith, of The Guardian, and some architectural critic from The Times.’

On a table in the corner of his sitting room is a framed picture of Keith looking dapper in a suit. There’s no sign of the trademark shirt tail flapping below his waistband. He’s with the family outside Buckingham Palace having just received an MBE for services to journalism in 2004.

At one time Keith was writing a weekly sports column, news column, TV column and celebrity interview feature for The News each week.

Week after week he churned them out even while he was editor of the now-defunct Isle of Wight Weekly Post and, from 1992 until he retired in 2006, editor of the Observer series of weekly papers based in Chichester – both sister papers of The News.

It all began when he was 12. ‘I knew then that I wanted to be a reporter. My mum remembered me saying to her that I wanted to be the next Peter Wilson, the sports writer with the Daily Mirror.’

That burning desire continued through his teens until, at 16, he had two O-levels (English and History). ‘My mum said that all journalists needed shorthand, so she found an old boy in Sandown and twice a week I would go round to him in the evenings after school.

‘All my mates took the mickey saying that I was going to end up as a secretary, but I had the last laugh.

‘I was 16 and there was me and about 10 girls all aged 17 and 18 in the class. Lovely stuff.’

His 100 words-per-minute shorthand got him his first job with the two-man Isle of Wight Times based in his home town of Ryde. He stayed 18 months before landing a job with The News in 1969 and a posting back to the Isle of Wight as a general reporter.

‘Then a vacancy came up on the sports desk. I applied, got the job and landed in paradise.

‘I couldn’t believe I was being paid to sit around all day talking and writing about sport.’

Payment for his work is key. Keith adds: ‘It’s only ever been a job, never a vocation. I work with words in the way brickies work with bricks and carpenters with wood.

‘Words are my tools which is why I’ve never written anything I’ve not been paid for.

‘I could no more bother to write one of these new-fangled blog things than fly to the moon. If nobody’s going to pay me, why bother?’

But surely he’ll miss the routine? ‘No, mate. I won’t. I’ve been doing it for more than 40 years, day in, day out.

Always having to read the papers, listen to and watch the news, always searching for ideas and always thinking of new ways to say things.

‘That’s the key you see. Keeping it fresh and always trying to be original.

‘It’s the right time to step back and say goodbye. If I’ve entertained a few people over the years: good.

‘If I’ve upset more – even better. I’ve done my job.’

Click here for Keith Newbery’s sign-off in his last column for The News