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1959 printers' strike

The NWN still came out on time

Jackie Markham

Reporter:

Jackie Markham

Email:

jackie.markham@newburynews.co.uk

Jll Martin of Hermitage recalled how she felt when she was asked to print the entire weekly edition of the Newbury Weekly News – on an ancient hand-operated Roneo duplicating machine in her office.

“It was so exciting to be asked - but I was terrified at the time”

This was no ordinary edition of the newspaper. The year was 1959, and for the first time in its 92 years of production, 22 unionised printers at Newbury Weekly News Ltd walked out in reluctant response to a national strike call.  The NWN board promptly cancelled the annual staff summer outing (known as the wayzgoose), and appealed to the wives of the management for help.  Those who could type responded, and set about planning how to bring out an “emergency edition”.  Regular advertisers and long established Newbury firm Dreweatt Watson and Barton, were known to possess a Roneo duplicating machine, with which they produced their catalogues of items for auction.  Jill Martin,(nee Gosling) a former pupil of Newbury’s County Grammar School for Girls, who since the age of 17 had worked as secretary to DWB’s senior partner Colin Barton, knew how to work the duplicator - and so the task of printing the paper fell to her.

Recently she recalled “It probably was in the interests of Dreweatt Watson and Barton that the NWN appeared; otherwise no-one would have known about our auctions and sales for those weeks!”  The printing process was “a bit of a nightmare”. Jill explained “You had to type everything onto a wax sheet, which clipped onto the drum of the duplicator.  The machine had a heavy handle which you had to turn. Later on we got an electric one which was easier. The wax and ink was very messy. Afterwards you spent ages with a pin picking out the tiny bits of wax from your typewriter!”

The Emergency Edition of NWN first appeared on Thursday 25 June 1959, with a request to “please pass this copy to a neighbour”, recognising  that there would not be enough to go round. There were four pages of news (of necessity, much curtailed) on light blue paper, and five pages of adverts and announcements on white paper. The final page featured sports news.

Jerry Hill joined the staff of the NWN as an apprentice linotype operator (hot metal) in 1954 just after his fifteenth birthday, and retired from the company fifty years later in May 2004.  He remembers the strike well.

“The National Graphical Association squared up to the Newspaper Society. I was an apprentice so wasn’t in the union. Some of the men in the print room were old age pensioners and too old to join the union – so between us we helped to keep the paper going while the others were on strike.  I remember it was a very hot summer, and the journalists ,who weren’t on strike, but couldn’t work, had six weeks off in the sun!  Any ladies who could type were called in to help with the emergency editions, because the typewritten pages had to be typed onto a wax sheet which could only be duplicated a few times before it was unreadable, and the pages had to be typed afresh”.

It was hoped that the emergency edition would be a one-off , but normal service was not resumed for  another six weeks, until the edition of 13 August, by which time the dispute had been settled by an increase to the national minimum wage and a reduction in working hours from 43 and a half to 42.

A couple of years later, Jill made news of her own when a photograph of her wedding to John Buxey appeared on the back page of the NWN for 5 October 1961.

In 1978 and again in 1980, newsroom staff took to the picket lines when their unions instructed them to do so; but again the newspaper continued to appear, albeit in much reduced form in emergency issues produced by management, apprentices and non-union staff.

If two world wars couldn’t stop production of the Newbury Weekly News, the management were determined that a strike would not stand in their way.  The company can proudly boast that the Newbury Weekly News has been produced every week for the last 150 years.

 

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