Thursday, 8 December 2011

Article - Headline act Alan has the final word...

IT’S A career that spans eight decades.

From the flutter of pigeons carrying football results in the 1940s to the tweet and Twitter of the digital age.

Through the smoky newsrooms of wartime Doncaster, pit disasters, air crashes, assassinations, strikes, coronations, moon landings, revolutions and a lot of Parish Council hot air.

Alan Berry MBE has seen it all in his time as reporter, sub-editor, stand-in racing desk man and feature writer in Sheffield and Doncaster.

But now it’s over.

At the age of 82 Alan’s calling it a day. His next Bygones column in the Doncaster Star will be his last.

“It’s difficult for me to physically write a column these days,” said Alan at the home he had built in scenic Harwell overlooking Everton on the Nottinghamshire/ South Yorkshire border 40 years ago.

“I can’t use the keyboard as slickly as I could. Computers aren’t really made for old men.”

But Alan is to continue to write the sermons he delivers as a Reader at one or more of the United Benefice of churches in the villages of Everton, Clayworth, Gringley and Mattersey.

If those Sunday addresses are as lyrical and evocative as his Doncaster Star columns have been for the past 15 years those tiny parishes are as well-served as they have been since the Pilgrim Fathers themselves walked through these fields to evensong 300 years ago.

“I’m slowing down to two services a month now, though I have done three in a day in the past, it can be quite onerous and I’m not up to that any more.”

Alan is also the author of two local history books and an expert on the area - the ancient village of Everton is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1085.

He met his music teacher wife Verna in Doncaster and they married in 1953. They have two sons Andrew and Stephen. Verna is from Reading originally and moving to Doncaster in the 1950s was quite a shock.

“I used to go to meetings with him sometimes when he was a reporter,” she said. “Coming from the south it seemed very industrial and grim up here back then. We lived in Wheatley then and there was the constant smell from the glue factory and the dirt on windows and windowsills. All I knew about the north was from geography at school and it was all mills and pits. It was a different life up here but I got used to it.”

There have been many poignant moments in Alan Berry’s 65-year career and although the memory is fading now, he remembers one or two in particular.

“We covered all the big stories back then, newspapers were where everyone got information, not like today. We used to have Scunthorpe and Gainsborough editions of our paper and we would have the afternoon racing results in and hand stamp the end of play cricket scores on the back pages of the late papers we had left.

“When I first started at the Doncaster Chronicle in 1945 there were three weekly papers and two evenings in the town, all with their own staffs.

“I had no real desire to be a pioneering journalist, I just had a desire to know things about people and what’s going on in the world. I remember the Creswell pit disaster of 1950 where 80 men died, that was a huge story, a terrible accident, and we covered the Munich air disaster, general elections and major events but one sticks in my mind that was something and nothing really.

“We used to be very interested in the canal and I heard a story that some people were living in a sunken barge at Stainforth. So I went out to the canal basin there and there was this Sheffield-size, Humber-keel barge with one end sunk and the other up at an angle out of the water with a family living at the dry end!

“It had all been sunk but they’d raised part of it and were living in that half. Amazing.”

“Over 65 years there have been some great stories and good times, I’ve always loved the job whether as a reporter, feature writer or sub-editor. But you get to the point where you feel you have done your whack. When I look at the quality of news coverage we get now I think it’s awful. There are so few reporters now and so many stories are missed. They used to say that the Doncaster Chronicle office ran on fags, bad language and endless cups of tea. They were different days.

“I wouldn’t change a thing though. Journalism suited me, it’s been a great job. I have no regrets about my career or any other part of my life.”

WHEN history happens people’s lives don’t always go as they should.

It was the afternoon of February 6, 1958 and Alan Berry was in the Doncaster office of the Yorkshire Evening Post when news broke from Germany of a terrible tragedy.

Manchester United’s plane had crashed on the runway at Munich killing eight of the already legendary ‘Busby Babes’ football team including Doncaster boy David Pegg.

“He had gone to work as usual but he didn’t come home on time,” said Alan Berry’s wife Verna.

“We didn’t have a telephone then, not everyone did at the time and we couldn’t afford one.

“I was stuck in the house and didn’t know where he was, it was very worrying.”

But Alan was safe in his office working on a special Munich Air Crash edition of his newspaper.

“We were there late doing the special edition. I couldn’t phone home, it wasn’t like it is now where everyone has phones and mobiles and everything they have now.

“I just had to stay until the work was done.

“It was a terrible shock to everyone that plane crash. One of the players David Pegg was from Edlington as I remember but the crash was big news all over the world.”

Young Parky shouted the odds
IN A 65-year career in newspapers Alan Berry met his fair share of big characters.

None more so than a young reporter who turned up for work at the Doncaster office of the Yorkshire Evening Post one Monday morning. One Michael Parkinson.

“I was a sub-editor on the Chronicle when a young Michael Parkinson started work there,” said Alan at his home in the Nottinghamshire countryside. “We didn’t know much about him other than that he seemed to upset everybody and then disappear.

“He certainly livened the whole place up. He was a good reporter, that was the main thing about him. He came in and told some of the old boys how they should do the job and of course they didn’t like that. He was said to have had a row with the editor who was supposed to have thrown an diary at him - but I think it might have been the other way round. He was what every newspaper should have. He wanted to do things his way and he was proved to be right. He went on to be a captain in the army in Suez I think. His reputation went in front of him - or trailed behind him, I’m not sure which.”

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