The end of an era, but I look back fondly to my time as a young apprentice at the Gazette


As the Gazette says farewell to its Marlowes HQ after more than 150 years this week, readerJohn Newberry of Cotterells, Hemel Hempstead tells of his longstanding 
connection to the paper:

‘Your article on the impending closure of the Gazette offices in Marlowes really has taken me back more than 60 years.

I joined the staff of the Hemel Hempstead Gazette and West Herts News in 1952 as an apprentice compositor.

Although the Gazette printing works was based at Bury Mill End at that time, my job did involve visits to the Gazette office in Marlowes to pick up copy from the journalists and adverts from the advertising department.

The office building at Warwick House, 39 Marlowes, Hemel Hempstead was one of those rather drab Victorian monstrosities which was, no doubt, originally a family home latterly converted into offices.

The company was jointly owned and managed by the Needham brothers, Douglas at the offices and Lionel at the printing works.

The editor at the time was a Mr. Brown whose name was perfectly apt as he was of a brownish complexion due to his very heavy nicotine habit.

One of the junior reporters there was a friend of mine, Roger Tilleray, and Roger and I went on many a jaunt in the course of his job which often involved evenings and weekends.

During the course of my seven-year apprenticeship everyone got quite excited when one of the more senior reporters, John Adams, got a job on the Daily Telegraph – that seemed to be a feather in the cap of our little local newspaper.

In 1952 the advances in technology of which you speak were a long way off.

The printing trade in the 1950s had hardly changed in 200 years, certainly as far as the Gazette was concerned.

The works was absolutely Dickensian both in its fabric and its equipment.

Charles Dickens could have walked in there and been totally at home.

One of the printing machines was so old that a scene from a major film was shot there.

The film was called J’Accuse, the classic about the Dreyfuss Affair starring the American film star José Ferrer – and featuring the famous front page with that one word headline, accusing the French government of corruption and cover-up in the case of the innocent army office imprisoned on Devil’s Island for spying, but cruelly made a scapegoat because he was Jewish.

The best thing was that we had time off while the filming was going on!

Being a compositor I was able to work on what was a comparatively modern piece of typesetting equipment, the Monotype keyboard, which has now been superseded by computers.

Of course the computer has now taken over the part that compositors played in the production of printed matter and seeing the way the wind was blowing I did everything I could to remain at the forefront of the new technology and eventually became an applications specialist for an American company which produced computerised typesetting equipment.

I fully understand how these advances in technology have brought about the changes you are making.

Nevertheless, it is sad to see the this latest development in the story of our local paper. It’s the end of an era.’

Any other memories of working life at the Gazette in years gone by would be most welcome.