Press & media
Trelford, Donald (1 of 4). Oral History of the British Press
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British Library, London
Trelford, Donald, 1937- (speaker, male)
Brodie, Louise (speaker, female)
Part 1: Donald Trelford [DT] was born in Coventry in 1937. The first thing he remembers was the bombing of the city during the second world war and the burning houses. They were evacuated to county Durham where his father’s father was a coalminer. His father had been sent south in 1929 to find different work and got lodgings by Coventry City football club. This became a joint obsession for DT and his father. His mother was terrified of the bombing and DT remembers her crying a lot. Details of other relatives. [5:27] DT had a good first school where he learnt his tables and spelling. Story of him coming top of the class, being beaten up and learning to fight for himself. His mother’s mother was an illiterate Irish girl in service who met a handsome drover (Gilchrist) and had 14 children with him. His father’s father was a rebel, barred from the pits for a while. Then the only job he could get was as a shot firer, which was very dangerous. During the war his grandfather was concussed during the bombing and never really recovered. [11:04] The Trelfords were severe Methodists and his father was interested in many things and quite studious. At the end of the war the family went back to Coventry and DT went to junior school. His close friends were Ricky Melville, who is still close, Raymond Stone and Jack Pilbin, both dead. Story of Ray appearing to DT on the evening after he had died in a motor accident. Jack killed himself due to gambling debts which he could not admit to. [18:56] DT went to Bablake School. He has always been short of stature. Story of the headmaster calling him up on his first day and of the gym master making fun of him. He thinks this has made him more assertive and he became captain of cricket and rugby, and editor of the school magazine. He tried for colleges at both Oxford and Cambridge. Story of Tom Henn up a ladder asking DT to finish poems and answer literature questions, which he did. Then calling in his friend from Selwyn College to say that they must take DT. They offered him an open exhibition, which the school accepted for him. He went back to the school much later to give away prizes and it was in the middle of the Spycatcher injunction, in spite of which the book was being handed out. [26:26] DT’s father worked for a wholesale tobacco company, and took another job too, to pay for DT’s education. He was barely 5 foot tall but had presence and was a talker. His lack of height made no difference. He had a great sense of duty. Story of trying to take 4 knives through security at the airport when they took him to Jersey aged about 90. DT went to the Church of England church where they had a youth club with girls. His mother was a non believer. [33:30] Politically they were natural socialists and his father distrusted army officers. His parents were not really suited. She was often laughing and was bright. She got into the grammar school but had to beg pennies to get there. She was taken out of school to help her sister who was in service. She had a difficult time giving birth to DT’s sister in 1941 and this affected their relationship. DT and his sister were not close as children. [38:32] Bablake was a good sporting school. DT had an inspirational teacher and read a lot, books and newspapers. He was and is, useless at technical things. It was a chore getting people to write for the school magazine. EAC Bourne was the headmaster, a real authority figure. [44:23] The family went to Ireland on holiday, and north Wales and Hayling Island. In Durham they were close to the country and went for walks. In Coventry they moved after a bit to a new house, in Radford, bought for £500 in 1938 and his father was still in it in 2001. It had 3 bedrooms and a garden. Story of the dangerous games they played. DT remembers playing cricket against Warwick when he hit a ball which damaged his father’s new (second hand) car. He was captain of sports teams and found it natural to lead. [51:23] DT went into the Royal Air Force in 1956 and continued with his rugby and cricket. It was a leisurely life with overseas tours. He was an officer though barely shaving. Story of the VD warning. He had a childhood sweetheart whom he had met when they were 16 and 18. Story of the tests he had to do to become an officer. DT enjoyed the games and learnt to look after himself which young men today don’t. He made some friends and regrets that he did not do enough reading, knowing that he would be going to Cambridge. He duly got there in 1958, doing a pure literature course. Mention of some of the authors he studied, and some of the people he met. He had a serious girl friend doing maths at Newnham. [1:03:28] FR Leavis gave lectures. Story about his vendetta with CP Snow. Selwyn College was not fashionable. John Gummer and Richard Harris were students too. DT was unlucky with his teachers and gave up going to lectures and tutorials when he could. He likes John Donne, DH Lawrence and the first world war poets. As for sport, he was in trials, but had a motor bike accident in his second year and then just played for fun. He has happy memories of his sport. [1:10:04] It was a formative time for him. He never much noticed the class differences and has heard it is worse now than it was then. His parents, particularly his father, came to see him occasionally. Story. DT worked for the post office at Christmas and sold Cleaneze brushes door to door. [1:15:17] He also worked for the parks department in Coventry in the summer. They never suffered from real austerity, though he remembers when rationing was lifted and having his first boiled egg, aged 8. DT edited the Light Blue magazine and wrote for Varsity on sport, observing how others did it. Michael Davie revolutionised sports pages. He became friends with Susan Hill the novelist and she introduced him to CP Snow and his wife Pamela Hansford Johnson. He wrote to Christopher Brasher, sports editor of the Observer, saying they never featured Coventry, and received a cable saying he should send 300 words by Saturday. [1:22:48] Then he saw a sign that the Coventry Standard were looking for a reporter and got the job. Story of the characters there. Then he heard about the Thomson newspapers graduate training scheme for which he was accepted and was sent to the Sheffield Telegraph in 1960 for the huge sum of £17 a week. It was a good training, he did different jobs. They had 17 reporters under Bill Lyth. Story of a campaign to make Sheffield the centre of the universe for its steel, and hold a world fair. Their great rival was the Yorkshire Post, which made mockery of this. DT decided he was going to be an editor to run things himself. Jackie Gillot was on the staff and Nick Barratt who were mischievous. The paper uncovered the “rhino whip scandal” which turned into another campaign. In order for a campaign to succeed, you must have an objective which is achievable, you must keep on producing new information, and you must keep going even when it seems boring. Writing and rewriting was important. These were hot metal days. DT learned that they were looking for an editor in Nyasaland, and he investigated.
Life story interview with journalist and editor Donald Trelford