Lionel Walsh • My Life and Times
Beginnings at Reuters
I used to play tennis at the Old Swan Hotel on courts overlooked by Harrogate Ladies’ College. At the time I was an apprentice reporter on the Harrogate Advertiser. It was on the Old Swan courts that I made friends with Ewart Clay, Deputy Editor of the Yorkshire Evening Post, and a major in the TA parachute battalion. Ewart was a D-Day veteran. When he discovered that I was a newspaperman, he offered me a job as a reporter with the Yorkshire Evening Post in Leeds, an offer that I accepted with alacrity.
A beery bunch
At the Evening Post, my immediate boss was News Editor Ken Lemmon, a bluff, bearded Yorkshireman. He presided over a newsroom of about a dozen reporters. They included Don Mosey, who later became a well-known BBC cricket correspondent. The reporters were a rough and beery bunch who distinguished themselves one evening by driving out to the William IV, and carrying off furnishings from the pub, including some of my parents’ prized antiques, and dumping them on the village green. Only when I lost my temper and threatened to make mincemeat of the offenders did I manage to persuade them to restore the pieces to their rightful places in what my dear mother proudly called “The Regency Room.” My father was clearly disappointed that the affair did not end in a punch-up on the village green, from which his younger son would doubtless have emerged victorious, being at that time a fit and pugnacious member of the Harrogate Rugby Union Football Club.
For reporting assignments any distance from the Yorkshire Post offices in Albion Street, we were allowed a car and a driver. On one early job, a Golden Wedding I believe it was, I was refused a car, and told to take the tram to Hunslet. “It’s the prettiest tram ride in Leeds,” Ken Lemmon observed, maliciously.
There were reporting assignments aplenty, including Leeds Assizes, frequently presided over by Mr Justice Hallet, a menacing creature who took evident relish in donning the black cap to sentence convicted murderers to death, and would probably have enjoyed including the hapless YEP reporter in his sentence. The Evening Post reporters covering the Assizes also reported for the Yorkshire Post morning paper, so we were assured of a good display.
Fire in Dewsbury
My most spectacular job was covering a fire at a tallow factory in Dewsbury. I recall phoning in my story from the home of a kindly woman, who responded to my pleas to be allowed to use her telephone. By the time I got back to Leeds, it was time to catch the Harrogate bus on my way home to Spofforth.
In Harrogate, I picked up the final edition of the paper. My fire story, complete with picture, was splashed across the front page under a Lionel Walsh byline. It was a very proud reporter who caught the Wetherby bus from Harrogate bus station and arrived at the William IV that evening.
After a couple of years at the Post, I gained a commission with the 12/13h Bn, the Parachute Regiment, TA, which involved spending a fortnight doing parachute training at RAF Abingdon.To qualify for paratrooper’s wings, each trainee had to complete eight jumps, four from a balloon, and four from a Hastings transport aircraft. A former National Service corporal with the Intelligence Corps in Austria, I passed a War Office Selection Board at Barton Stacey and it was a proud mother who sewed on my pips when the Queen’s commission came through.
A bit of a fiddle
To this day, I am convinced that my colonel told the WOSB people to pass me. Otherwise, I cannot see how I managed to get through the tests, including one that involved a team man-handling a heavy log across an imaginary river.
I served only a couple of months with the paras, managing for one weekend drill to organise a map-reading exercise that ended at the William IV, my father’s pub in Spofforth. There were free pints of Magnet bitter all round for a bunch of thirsty weekend soldiers.
My commission coincided with my application to join Reuters being accepted by the Deputy Editor, Geoffrey Imeson.
I had sent into Reuters’ headquarters at its famous building designed by Sir Edward Lutyens at 85 Fleet Street, an extensive file of clippings, including court reports, theatre reviews, and of course, the tallow factory fire story. Peering over Mr Imeson’s shoulder after my final interview, I saw that he had written on my application letter: “I like the look of this young man.” I knew I was in.
The beginning of 1956 therefore saw me leave the Yorkshire Evening Post, and move to London to start work on the Reuters central desk as a subeditor.
Old school friends meet again
I quickly met up with an old school friend from Sedbergh, Tris Cones, who was making a brilliant career as a film editor.
Tris invited me to share his flat at 25 Earls Court Gardens, about 200 yards from Earl’s Court tube station on the District Line. The flat was the property of elderly Miss Taylor, who spoke with a strong Irish brogue. Fortunately for Tris and me, Miss Taylor’s maternal instincts were aroused by her two young lodgers.
A fair cop at Christmas
Nearby was the Overseas Visitors’ Club, where one could get a moderately priced meal and date some of the lovely Australian, South African and New Zealand girls living there. Also nearby was the Linguists’ Club, where it was possible to meet French and German au-pair girls working for London families.
One Christmas, Miss Taylor was shocked to spot me smuggling a New Zealand girl out of the house. I then took the tube to work, and on my return, popped into Miss Taylor’s living room to give her my best wishes for Christmas. “You don’t deserve a happy Christmas,” said Miss Taylor. I felt terrible, but was forgiven after a few days.
Tris had a permanent girl friend, a lovely South African girl who was soon to become Mrs Cones and remains a close friend to this day.
The routines of work at Reuters
I soon got used to the daily commute from Earl’s Court via the District Line to Reuters.
My main job during my early months was writing news briefs from a great variety of datelines. The main scheduled stories were handled by more senior sub-editors.
Many of the deskmen were recruited among young Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders who had settled for a few years in London and lived mainly in Earl’s Court.
There were also quite a few young journalists from the United States, who worked on the North American desk, or Nordesk, as it was known. They wrote copy in a slick American style for newspaper clients in North America, who were highly valued by Reuters.
One of my most successful initiatives was to form a Nordesk cricket team.
Apart from Americans like Chuck Hagel and Larry Thaw, the team included Reuter’s Diplomatic correspondent, Mohsin Ali, an Old Harrovian and former RAF fighter pilot, and George Bonass, a teleprinter operator, who like me hailed from Yorkshire. These two brilliant players were the stars of the side. Mohsin was later to become a lifelong friend, Godfather to my second son, Terry.
We played only one match, a fixture I arranged, against my brother’s company of the Parachute Regiment. The Nordesk team travelled by train to Aldershot for the match, during which the team distinguished themselves by uttering wild transatlantic whoops and yells, like “GO GO GO Lionel baby” before I was out for a duck. Mohsin and George Bonass put up a batting partnership that won us the match. The same pair were lethal bowlers who soon got among thePara wickets.
I soon was moved to the West African, Caribbean and South American desks. Most of my days were spent sending a world news file by teleprinter or a device known as a Hellschreiber, to newspapers in West Africa,South America and the Caribbean.
After a couple of years of this, with no apparent signs on the horizon of a correspondent’s posting, I was disgruntled, and applied for a job with the BBC. I was subjected to tests at Television Centre, accepted and offered a traineeship.
Talked into staying
I sent in a letter of resignation to Reuters, and was working my notice when I was summoned to the office on the seventh floor of the editor, Walton Cole. Mr Cole said: “Reuters has put its confidence in you. Then, he asked: “What will it take to make you stay?” I said that I had joined Reuters with the aim of becoming a foreign correspondent.
He then said I would be posted abroad in a matter of weeks if I stayed on. The Cockney news editor, Sid Mason, who himself started life as a copy boy, rang the man at the BBC responsible for hiring me and said: “Listen cock, Walsh has changed his mind. He’s not going to the BBC.”
Aunty Mai at my farewell party
Accordingly I soon found myself the guest of honour at a farewell party in a Fleet Street pub, attended by my actress aunt Mai Bacon, representing the family.
The next day, I packed my suitcases and was soon on my way by boat train via Harwich and the Hook of Holland to Bonn, my first foreign posting, taking my place in the Bonn Bureau of Reuters, presided over as Chief Correspondent by Gerry Long, himself a future Managing Director of Reuters. One day in the distant future I too would assume the mantle of Chief Correspondent in Bonn.
I meet Veronika
Soon after my arrival, I went on a Saturday evening at Whitsun to a dance hall near the Bonn railway station, where I met an extraordinarily pretty girl called Veronika, who was to become my wife.
As a foreign correspondent’s wife, she was to put up with trials and tribulations aplenty, always tolerant and always supportive.
Of all that, more later, as we used to type at the end of the last page of a running story before handing it to the wireroom girls for transmission to London.
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Copyright © 2008, 2009 Lionel Walsh