Post Memories: Former Barking and Dagenham Post editor recalls first day as budding reporter

Terry Hopley

Terry Hopley - Credit: Archant

Terry Hopley, who grew up in Sheppey Road, Dagenham and became editor of the Dagenham Post, has released a book about his colourful life called Whatever’s Going to Become of Us? In this extract Terry, now 75, recalls the beginnings of his journalistic career in 1954.

Front cover of Terry's new book, Whatever's Going to Become of Us?

Front cover of Terry's new book, Whatever's Going to Become of Us? - Credit: Archant

“I lay on my bed idly, reading a Hank Jenson novel in which the journalist hero, typically for him, was bedding every girl he met.

“School was almost over and I had no idea what I wanted to do for a living, all I knew was that my part-time job selling newspapers outside Becontree Station was not going to keep me in money for long.

“The life of a reporter, according to Hank Jenson, sounded pretty impressive, so when my classmate Bert Kellard told me he had applied for a position as a trainee reporter for the Dagenham Post, I decided to do likewise.

“I fired off a letter of application that was full of what you might call “journalistic licence” (and others may call embellished untruths), and was somewhat surprised when I was summoned for an interview with the group editor-in-chief of Greater London and Essex Newspapers, Mr Hugh Howton (I had no idea at the time that I would hold a similar post before I reached the age of 30).

“Sensibly I got a proper haircut for the interview, dispensing with the duck’s-arse cut for a brand-new “college boy” look rendered by my brother Sam, who was running his own salon in Lodge Avenue, Dagenham. “I arrived in good time at 34 High Road, Ilford – a sorry-looking five-storey building with the printing presses churning out behind it.

“Right this way, Mr, er Hopley,” Miss Cropley, the company’s ancient accountant, who looked very much like our geography teacher and was just as fierce, showed me into the waiting room.

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“Hopley!” Mr Howton burst into the waiting room looking every inch the editor-in-chief, right down to the green sun shade he wore on his forehead.

“Multicoloured braces held up his loose-fitting trousers and silver arm bands kept his shirt sleeves from sliding down. He frantically waved a piece of copy paper, as if he hadn’t a moment to spare.

“‘I’ve had nearly 50 applications for this position son,’ he informed me once we had reached his office. ‘So what makes you think you should be considered for this role?’

“‘Well, sir, I can touch type, and, er,’ I cleared my throat nervously knowing that I had to feed him the answers he wanted to hear, ‘I can write Pitman’s shorthand’.

“‘Yes’, Mr Howton perused my letter of application as he spoke, ‘actually that was the only reason you were selected for an interview and placed on the shortlist. Difficult field though very difficult. Even my own son Junior has applied’.

‘No chance’

“My heart sank. I was left with the distinct impression I had no chance of getting this job. I fed him as much rubbish as I could during our half-hour interview and he was kind enough to give me a tour of the editorial department – they looked like a right bunch of weirdos.

“Most had moved from London from remoter parts of the UK, hoping for the opportunity to break into Fleet Street.

“They looked unlike any young men I had encountered, with pipes stuck into their mouths and all wearing expressions of disdainful intelligence that was obviously beyond the comprehension of this cockney kid being introduced to them.

“Afterwards I climbed on the 23 bus, knowing something special was needed to secure the job. Turns out, I was in luck. As the bus lumbered down the High Road, a brand-new car emerged from Jessup’s showroom, accelerated across the road at right angles, and, with a screech and a crash, deposited itself in the window of the gents’ outfitters opposite. Glass shattered across the street as the car continued to rev wildly in the window.

“I was off that bus before it had stopped and at the scene swinging immediately into big, important journalist mode. If I do say so myself, it was a very good story for a first effort.

“The poor old chap had just purchased a brand-new automatic car assuring Peter Jessup the car dealer that he knew all about automatics.

“He had then put it into drive, put his foot down hard on the accelerator and turned the vehicle into a dangerous missile. The man was unhurt, but the car and the front window of the gents’ outfitters were both complete write-offs.

“When I dived back into the newspaper office, demanding to speak to Mr Howton, I had names, addresses and a flowery description of the event ready. Hugh Howton appeared, looking exactly the same and still brandishing the piece of copy paper.”

“‘Mr Howton, I have my first story,’ I told him proudly, passing over the report I had scribbled down on the bus back to 34 High Road. The job was mine.”

Whatever’s Going to Become of Us? is published by New Holland and available to order from most good bookshops and on