Press & media
Edwards, Bob (1 of 4). Oral History of the British Press
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Interviewee's home, St Just
Edwards, Bob, 1925-2015 (speaker, male)
Brodie, Louise (speaker, female)
Part 1: Bob Edwards [BE] was born in 1925. He loved his bicycle and his dog. He would disappear for the day with them. They lived in Bracknell which was a village then. He remembers two chestnut trees which he and his older brother Bill would climb. He would cycle up to London with no worries about pederasts as there would be today. His first school (where his brother had gone first) was actually for girls. Story about sneezing porridge. [5:50] Then he was transferred to Marlborough House prep school, where the headmaster took pleasure in caning the boys. He had a younger brother Peter. His father only appeared at weekends, and never on Christmas day either, though they had lovely presents. The excuse was that he had to go to an office lunch. He was very good at golf, worked for United Dairies, and ran in a curious way, as he was quite old. They all went to church every Sunday, and the boys became servers. They were a respectable family. [12:06] It was only when the War came, Bill was called up and they needed his birth certificate for his commission. Their mother (whose name was Grain) told them that she had never been married to their father. He had “misbehaved” in the office. She had had a child who was adopted, and then the four of them, (BE also had a younger sister Jill). BE remembers his father as a kind man, who liked classical music, the radio and his whisky and soda. He told them he had three farms and a dairy business and then merged with United Dairies. [16:37] He picked them up from their weekly boarding school in a big American car. BE’s mother had also worked at United Dairies, she spoke properly and could write very good letters. His father died when he was 13. They had no clue as to his proper wife. [21:05]After he died, a daughter from the other family came to see his mother and gave her £100. His father had made no provisions at all for the family. BE was considered a difficult child, and was sent to school at Broadstairs, where the headmaster told him his father was dead. Bill got no commission and became an estate agent. He gets on with BE. [29:59] Their mother went downhill, doing everything in the house after her bereavement. BE had a magnificent Hornby train set. He would also spend a lot of time in the cycle repair shop with Alf Youens. One Christmas they got two new bikes and their father beat the price down, to BE’s dismay. Every year they took a house at Hayling Island for a holiday. [38:27] They had not been allowed to talk to the elementary school children, but with their father dead, no money, and the help of the church warden, the boys went to the grammar school, leaving their private schools. Their mother eventually developed schizophrenia and went to a hospital in Southall. Peter went the same way, attacking their Auntie Ann and being sent away. Sister Jill lived and lives very humbly with a nice husband, but does not feel she can mix with BE and his class of friends. BE tried but was unsuccessful at seeing Peter at his hospital. [46:09] With the Second World War, came the evacuees and they had school for only half a day, but BE knew that he must get his school certificate. He knew, like a call from above, that he wanted to be a journalist. Story of his French oral exam. He did gain his school certificate. His mother miraculously had given him a Remington typewriter and he made up a newspaper which he showed to no-one. She wrote a letter to the editor of the Reading Mercury and he was taken on as an office boy in 1941. Description of office and characters. BE cycled 11 miles each way, and on his second day, he saw a boy of 6 or 7 driving a tractor while his father worked the machinery at the back. He wrote a story about this work for the war effort and on the strength of this was made a reporter. A photographer was sent out to cover it. Richard Beeston worked at the Reading Mercury. [59:28] Other connections with world reporting from those at the paper. Aged 17 BE was reporting the Assizes. It was an easy going life, they could go to the coffee arcade to flirt with the girls. BE would fill a couple of columns, bicycle around and talk to the vicars about births, deaths and marriages. He remembers a gravedigger who would always descend into the grave to smoke a cigarette. He went through the mill of reporting, driven by the conviction of the editor. [1:07:28] Two stories from these days. When his salary went up from 15 shillings to £1, then BE was able to afford the train fare to Reading. The editor later committed suicide. The Reading Mercury is no more, but friendships remain from those days. [1:11:01] BE’s Royal Air Force service was of no consequence to him. He did aptitude tests to become a pilot and went before the selection board. They offered to make him a gunner, which he refused having been told that he would be killed very quickly doing this. He joined the ground crew as a wireless operator and learnt Morse code. [1:17:43] He was posted to Compton Bassett, Cardington and Blackpool. He liked Blackpool and spent time at the Tower Ballroom listening to Benny Goodman and other big bands, Geraldo too. He also became acquainted with the magazine London Opinion. [1:23:46] He spent a long boring time at West Drayton in the Discipline Office. Stories of the characters there and Warrant Officer Argyll blowing his trumpet. [ 1:29:10] BE was a committed socialist, and thought Clem Atlee’s government was good. He took the biblical text “Know ye the truth and the truth shall set ye free”. He is strongly committed to truth in newspapers and is proud of the fact that the Press Complaints Commission never took him to task. He found that the Christian Science Monitor has this text. BE belonged to the Windsor Division Labour Party, and was editor of their magazine Progress. Marjorie Nicholson was its first editor. [1:36:21] When BE finally left the Air Force he went back to the Reading Mercury. Ian Mikardo was an active Member of Parliament. BE wrote to him suggesting that he should get the Co-operative Society to fund an evening paper in Reading. It didn’t happen, but some time later Ian suggested to BE that he should go and see Michael Foot [MF] at Tribune. He was aged 32, and suffered badly from asthma, excema, and insomnia. He was a lovely man and his writing was laced with wit. [1:43:02] Tosco Fyvel wrote for it, Aneurin Bevan and Evelyn Anderson, but the paper was dull. This was 1947. BE remembers a coal mining pamphlet he wrote, and a patent medicine exposure. It was a fantastic time. Tribune had no money however. Howard Samuel was a friend of AB, and he let BE and his wife Laura have a slum flat for a few shillings rent. [1:52:01] BE took on more work and went to do one and then two shifts at The People for Sam Campbell. Sam was a character and BE was at last right in Fleet Street. There were extraordinary people. Sam’s deputy was very honest. They discovered that the distant Water Trawlers Federation was restricting catches to keep prices up. Story of using the word “ramp” in the headline. [2:01:39] Another good story was about controlled steel prices. They confronted the woman who was using the black market and she was outraged, “I’ll tell the News of the World!” she said. The paper’s exposure led to the government investigation and they got rid of the price control on steel altogether.
Life story interview with journalist and editor Bob Edwards