An advert for a junior reporter in this newspaper was the beginning of an amazing career for a young boy from Hayling Island. It led to him reporting for some of the UK’s top newspapers from locations all over the world. TREVOR FISHLOCK tells his story in his new book Reporter. Here he talks about some of the adventures he encountered along the way.
My old portable typewriter stands in a corner of my attic. It’s my old chum, my talisman. I tap it for old time’s sake, squeeze a few hundred words from it, listen to the old keyboard chatter.
If ever they send me to that desert island it’s the thing I would take with me, along with the eight gramophone records. It’s full of words and you don’t need a battery.
It has played its part. As a newspaperman, author and broadcaster, I’ve spent my life travelling the world and writing stories, seeing and reporting the lives of others in India, the Americas, Africa, Australia, Russia and elsewhere. I made homes in Delhi, New York and Moscow.
I grew up in Portsmouth and Hayling Island with inky fingers and followed the adventures of the foreign correspondents.
My father, Edward – after a career with the Royal Marines – became entertainment manager of the Coronation Holiday Village at Hayling Island. I was six when we went to Hayling. For me it was ever our island of adventure.
From the age of 12 or 13 I wanted to be a reporter. My nose was always in the three newspapers that came through the letterbox every day. My mother and father were the same, trading snippets from the papers. They never lost the newspaper habit.
I was educated at the Portsmouth Southern Grammar School but left at the age of 16 when I saw an ad in The Evening News: ‘Wanted for this newspaper, junior reporter’.
I applied for and got the job of my dreams – it was the beginning of a 50-year career as a journalist.
So, I became an apprentice reporter, learning the ropes from older and experienced journalists on The News.
I loved it. It was a life full of variety – two pounds and five shillings a week, and a wonderful education.
I never forgot my years of learning the reporter’s craft on The News and I still keep in touch with Pompey-bred colleagues John Bull, Tim King, Mike Knipe, Roy West, Peter Michel and others. Leslie Thomas, author of The Virgin Soldiers, encouraged me to try for Fleet Street.
I have given my new book a simple one-word title: Reporter. Sub-editors at The News always stressed the virtue of brevity and this has stayed with me.
In my twenties I went to Fleet Street and joined The Times as its correspondent in Wales.
I had never been there, had never seen Cardiff or a wagonload of coal or a steel works or Snowdon.
I had to learn a country, learn the story of the people. That was a great part of the job. I had plenty to write about when I reported Wales from 1969 and into the 1970s, years of political, industrial and cultural turmoil.
History was being made and the new breed of Welsh historians were scribbling hard to keep up. I made enduring friendships among journalists in Wales.
In 1977 I won a travelling fellowship in the United States, eight months of criss-crossing the land, learning America, its politics and people, a wonderful education.
Back in Britain The Times offered me a three-year posting in India. The territory included Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Burma. It was a thrilling time, travelling great lands, catching the dawn flight and heading off to a new story, new amazements: me and my typewriter.
I had a different style of life, but equally exciting, when I went to live in New York, to travel and report the Americas for three years. It was a job that included travelling in Canada and the Arctic, political horrors in Argentina, a devastating volcanic eruption in Colombia, a mercifully brief war in Grenada, the suffering of Haitians under a cruel regime.
For 10 years from 1986 I was a roving foreign correspondent for The Daily Telegraph, when Max Hastings was editor. I travelled in Asia, the Americas, Africa and Europe, and was the paper’s Moscow correspondent in the dramatic Gorbachev years.
I covered the fighting which ended the dictatorship of Ceausescu in Romania. I reported the Soviet shooting of independence-minded Lithuanians.
Stories, of course, are often bad news. I always looked for the human element.
When people experience violence and fear they want to talk.
I saw people fight for their lives, showing tremendous courage. You cannot get away from the horrors that fall upon innocent people and children. Few correspondents are hard-hearted. They are all affected by what they see and hear.
You often meet people who are in more danger than yourself. They are suffering, they want to tell their stories, to tell the world.
In my fifties I continued to travel the world as a freelance writer, and as a researcher for my books.
To my surprise and pleasure I also fell into a television career in Wales. Fishlock’s Wales was broadcast at peak time on ITV for 14 years and was followed by other programmes on ITV and the BBC.
In Reporter I have drawn on many years of writing, of observing people in good times and bad, of finding humour and humanity as well as horror.
I have been lucky to travel the world, to write and broadcast, to hear people’s stories and to tell them.
• Trevor Fishlock now lives in Cardiff with his wife Penny. He has written 16 books and has won the David Holden Award for foreign reporting, the International Reporter of the Year prize and a Bafta for writing and presenting television programmes.
• Reporter by Trevor Fishlock is now available at £14.99 in bookshops or directly from the Welsh Books Council website gwales.com.