Journalist’s book on life at local paper is published

Colin Heathcote
Colin Heathcote
  • A new book based on life at the Berkhamsted Gazette in the 1960s has been released
  • The story resembles much of the career of its author
  • Colin Heathcote worked for the paper as a reporter between 1966 and 1970

Colin Heathcote, a former journalist at the Berkhamsted Gazette has written a fictionalised account of his time at the paper in the 1960s in his new book called No Fires in Tring.

The book tells the story of Paul Barnes, a 21-year-old aspiring journalist who, after leaving school in Watford with a couple of O levels five years earlier, finally lands a job as a reporter with Hertfordshire Newspapers Ltd.

Paul is on cloud nine and fantasises about getting great scoops and winning journalistic prizes for his great reporting and writing skills.

He soon comes down to earth as life as a junior reporter on a weekly newspaper in a small town does not provide the type of exciting ‘hold the front page’ stories he had fondly imagined.

But Paul buckles down to the tasks at hand, be they re-writes of Women’s Institute reports, attending rural and urban council meetings, writing up weddings and obituaries taking extraordinary care not to misspell names, doing endless filler paragraphs of minor road accidents, chimney fires and petty crimes, and typing out results of numerous gymkhanas, school fetes and flower shows.

However, the monotony is broken from time to time by major stories such as local witness accounts of a plane hijacking by the Popular Front For The Liberation Of Palestine and the invasion by Soviet forces of the then Czechoslovakia, a heroic canal rescue by a 13-year-old newspaper delivery boy, a family who lived in a tent where mum had given birth to four of her seven children and an astonishing scoop involving a helicopter lowering a spire on to a chapel in the grounds of a Henry VIII hunting lodge.

Mr Heathcote, 70, who now lives in Northumberland, said: “Whilst the obtaining of the newspaper stories has been embellished for comic effect, the recorded articles in the book are as appeared in the Berkhamsted Gazette.

“The characters featured are based on people who worked for the company, although their names have been changed.

“The book helps reflect life on a rural local weekly newspaper in the mid to late 1960s; a world which has long since disappeared.

“Compared to when I was a trainee, a career in weekly or regional newspaper journalism or photography is now, sadly, open to comparatively few young people as papers increasingly source their news and pictures from the public and PR practitioners.

“I got hold of a lot of the stories through the Gazette archives which I accessed via a number of visits to their old offices.”

The book goes back to the 1960s when Berkhamsted Gazette copy was hammered out on an old Underwood typewriter and sent by bus to be converted into lead type at the printing works in Hemel Hempstead.

Mr Heathcote said: “I spent four and a half years at the paper from June 1966 to December 1970 but they were very memorable ones.

“After I left the paper I moved into local government and public relations.”

No Fires In Tring is currently only available as a download via the Amazon web site www.amazon.co.uk