FEATURE: A look back at Sheffield journalist's journey
When I joined the editorial team of the editorial team of the Sheffield Telegraph it was truly the greatest day of my life following my national service stint in Egypt 1951-53. But let me begin my life story in Millhouses, Sheffield.
I vaguely remember my birth which took place in a room above a draper’s shop on 30 September in 1932. My mother, Jessica Bennett had a sister, Lilian who worked as a sister at the Children’s Hospital, Rivelin. She acted as midwife and a bouncy baby boy appeared ...it was ME!
My father, John Allen was an auditor with the Yorkshire Elecricity Board a job he loathed, but he was delighted to see me arrive into this world. Mother was a well known comedienne in her spare time and she also featured in Gloops, the children’s promotion organised by The Star. She was also a member of the Fancies Concert Party who dressed in Pierrot costumes and entertained throughout South Yorkshire.
My mother met John when her regular pianist was taken ill. “John Allen can play anything on the piano or the organ on sight...get him”, said one of the cast. He was a serious musician and spent hls spare time from age 16 as an organist and choirmaster in the city, but he proved to be an instant success. The rest is history as they say. This was in 1928 :they fell in love and married at St Oswald’s Church, Abbeydale in 1930. So you can see I come from an accomplished family!
My brother, Barry wab born in 1934 and in later years became a noted amateur actor with the Denys Edwards Players. Professionally, he was assistant manager of Barclays Bank, West Street where he was known as “Little Hitler”!
Like his father he also became a well known organist and at one time president of the local association. My father bought his first house at Gleadless which cost £250 , the amount of his salary at that time. I wonder how many folk today could acquire their first property on their first salary level?
Barry and I both went on scholarships to Woodhouse Grammar School (now known as Aston Academy) after a spell at the Prince of Wales infants and junior schools. We were both so happy at school even though our dad was away with the Eigth Army in North Africa. I recall the headteacher at Woodhouse freely used his cane on the backsides of the boys and the hands of girls.
At home we often watched “Dad’s Army” on parade with garden hoes and sticks.. they must have looked ludicrous but we were not amused...we really thought Jerry would come to get the Sheffield steel works by parachute.
Sleeping overnight in an air raid shelter was quite exciting for young lads but we survived nightly bombing and the shortage of food and drink. I recall we ate our two pet rabbits one year for Christmas dinner.
In 1951 I could not avoid doing national service and like my father I served as a corporal in the RAOC (Royal Army Ordnance Corps) in Egypt when the 32-stone King Farouk was in power. He was the butt of many army jokes! When I received my first uniform the quartermaster wanted to know the size of my shoes and then my socks ...I dithered so he shouted,”Oh so your mummy knits them for you”!
I continued my interest in Scouting in the army. On arriving in the British Suez Canal Zone , I discovered a Scout troop meeting in the shed and soon became its Scout leader - a job I did later on returning home with the 143rd Scout Group based at St Aidan’s Church, City Road having been a keen Scout since age 11.
Thanks to the army we had two camps in Cyprus in 1952 long before the trouble between Turks and Cypriots. We travelled by corvette from Port Said and camped in the Troodos mountains and later at the 21st Jamboree of Scouting on the island. I had something to thank the Army for plus my two stripes as second in chargel of a vehicle unit of Sudanese drivers.
My Scouting was the beginning an interest in the training of adult leaders in the Scout movement at Hesley Wood campsite Chapeltown under the direction of Sir Harold West, the Master Cutler of Sheffield at that time.
My entry into the newspaper world began when visiting a relative, Jim Davies in Bakewell and helping him acquire results as a reporter at the annual Bakewell Show. He suggested I joined him in his work as a reporter on the Derbyshire Times and covering as a free lance for the BBC, but later he heard that the first ever training course for journalists was to be launched by the Sheffield Telegraph and The Star of Kemsley Newspaper Ltd.
I was duly interviewed by Keith Gardner,the managing director. He noticed my Scout badge in my suit lapel ( a badge I wore daily for 50 years). Little did I know he was the president of the Sheffield Scouts and he kindly placed me on the course as I had completed my Army service.
Soon I was indentured for three years as a trainee journalist and worked alongside famous writers like Jean Rook, the novelists Len Doherty and Peter Tinniswood and also the interviewer, Michael Parkinson. then of Barnsley.
After three years we graduated as Cub reporters with Kemsleys ( then 28 newspapers strong including three national Sundays). I became a reporter in Sheffield and later Chesterfieldl with the Telegraph then with its 11 editions.
What a success ! It was the highlight of my early life. Later I became a news sub editor on The Star and latterly for five years, Features sub-editor.
During this period I covered football occasionally and In Chesterfield, the crowd shouted - “Watch your goal Middleton, JP - for he was a magistrate! I also saw Brian Deane of United score the first premiership goal ever.One highlight for me was when my news work was combined with Scouting. I covered the World Scout Jamboree at Sutton Coldfield in 1957 for a fortnight for the Sheffield and Manchester Press and I met royalty during my duties.
When possible on Saturdays I could watch my beloved Blades for one shilling at Bramall Lane and also in summer, Yorkshire cricket for the same amount. It was also a shilling each for my brother and I to sit on the stage behind the Halle Orchestra at the City Hall where we observed the mannerisms of many great conductors, Beecham, Sargent and our favourite, John Barbirolli. Such fun.
When camping with the Scouts it was a deliberate policy to hold summer camps on the coast for 50 percent of the boys had not seen the sea. We also had numerous weekend camps and hikes in Derbyshire. I can understand why so many students in the city today so love getting out away from studies.
After 11 years I was encouraged to apply for the post of Assistant Director of Adult Leader training at Gilwell Park, Chingford, the national centre for Scouts. To my surprise and delight I was appointed and decided to leave my newspaper career to pursue my hobby at professional level. My family were dismayed - so were the editors of the newspapers, Sir Gordon Linacre of The Star and Bill Lyth of the Telegraph. But I was determined to accept. It was quite a culture shock!
After a year I met the love of my life at 32 ... Judith Goby assisted on a course one weekend and after marriage we lived at Gilwell Park for ten years before moving to Chelmsford in 1974 when I became the commissioner for HQ relationships, a post I much enjoyed. It including leading the SCOUTREACH programme for the Chief Scout, then Sir William Gladstone with its focus on work in inner cities. In recent years hundreds of new units have been established (600 last year).
Since retirement from Scout Headquarters (in 1997) I have worked on a voluntary basis at Chelmsford Cathedral as Press and Publicity Officer for 17 years and now as a pastoral assistant taking Communion to the housebound. I feel that my newspaper training in Sheffield helped me to meet people - how important it is to be able to relate to all ages and conditions of those we meet.
Perhaps I should conclude by referring to my lovely family - Elizabeth is psychotherapist at the Royal Free Hospital with son, Jacob about to do his A levels; my son, Nick is married and now lives in Texas with Heather, a professor of sociology with baby Beatrix. He has two older children in the States, Sophie and Bennett and my son, Mark,a free lance photographer is married to June, a teacher living in Chelmsford. Sadly my wife, Judith died recently after 50 years of marriage. All of us at sometime or other were Scouts and/or Guides!
My e-mail is [email protected] if you want a copy of my book (£5).