Distinguished journalist and one-time White House director of public affairs John Adams, who has died at the age of 81, began his cosmopolitan career as a 16-year-old cub reporter on the Gazette.
His memoir of an eventful life, which included working in Fleet Street and US television roles as well as a spell on active service in Korea, has fascinating glimpses of Hemel Hempstead in the years just after the Second World War.
It also highlights the very different ways in which news was gathered in the days before email was invented, and even telephones and typewriters were luxury items.
Even when he stepped across the threshold of the Gazette’s Marlowes offices as a fresh-faced teenager fresh out of Hemel Hempstead Grammar School, John already had some enviable journalistic experience under his belt.
At school he was the founder, editor and publisher of the Three Alpha News, a class newspaper written and illustrated by hand and circulated for a penny a look – wartime restrictions on paper meant that there was only one copy!
As a 14-year-old he wrote about the election fever gripping the country in the run-up to the 1945 Labour victory which paved the way for today’s National Health Service and welfare state, posted it to the Daily Mirror – then the biggest paper in the country – and not only saw it published with his name attached, but found the handsome cheque that followed very welcome.
That experience convinced him that newspapers were the way to go, and he read everything he could on the subject to prepare himself for his career. Being an apprentice newshound on the Gazette was the usual place to start, he knew, and there were no exam or university degree requirements.
He said: “In those days, few journalists ever attended a university. The only academic requirement was that you should know or be willing to learn shorthand, as tape recorders were as yet unknown.”
In 1945 the Gazette was based on the same site it occupies today, although not in the same building. As John recalls: “The Gazette was housed in a once-grand Edwardian mansion. The owner and his family, wonderfully kind and generous people, lived upstairs and the offices were on the ground floor.
“A large office was assigned to the advertising and business staff and a smaller one to the editorial staff, consisting of a news editor and two reporters, of which I was one.
“The only typewriter and phone were in the advertising office, so we wrote all our copy by hand.”
After cutting his teeth on a range of reporting assignments and being given the run of the kiddies’ corner section under the alter ego of Uncle George, the highlight of John’s Gazette career came with the Royal visit to Adeyfield, then the showcase of the new town development, in the summer of 1952.
It was one of her first public appearances – she had only just come to the throne, and the coronation itself would not happen until the following year – and John was the only reporter covering the event for the Gazette.
“This was quite a logistical challenge, as her route was about three miles long and I was on foot,” he said. “Though I ran pretty fast, I couldn’t be everywhere to catch what she said or did.
“Fortunately, we also had a photographer with a bicycle, so our coverage was primarily pictures.”
Another highlight was the discovery of the medieval wall paintings in a cottage in Piccotts End, still a jewel in the town’s heritage to this day.
But John was restless and longing for broader horizons, and after being called up for national service – becoming an officer in the Beds and Herts Regiment and serving in Korea – he returned to Hemel Hempstead looking for his next move.
At 20, he joined the staff of the Daily Telegraph as a 14 guinea a week news reporter, and then built a career with included spells on radio, network television and political life before he established his own public affairs firm in Washington, where he still lives.
But the lessons he learned on the streets of Hemel Hempstead as a teenager always stood him in good stead, and he remembered his time in the town with great fondness.
In The Trenches – Adventures in Journalism & Public Affairs by John Adams is available on Amazon