History - Other Charles Buchan's Publications
My time with Charles Buchan's Publications, 1961-1964, by Roger White
I was inspired by Mike Hayes's recollections on the Charles Buchan's Publications website to recall my time with the company.
I was 16 when I started what was my first job on leaving school. It was September 1961; a few weeks earlier I had written to Buchan's to see if there was a vacancy for a trainee journalist on Football Monthly, my favourite magazine. I had a reply from a man called Doug Gardner (yes, that was definitely his name), who edited a monthly trade magazine, Retail Gardening, for Buchan's. I was interviewed by Doug and managing editor, Peter Bryan, and a few days later I received a further letter offering me the job of editorial assistant on Retail Gardening. I was chuffed because this was the only interview, let alone offer, I received as a result of sending off about 30 letters seeking employment. I was determined to break into journalism.
The block in which the Buchan's offices were located was very imposing. It was at 161-166 Fleet Street and was still known as Hulton House. The magnificent lift installed solely for the use of Lord and Lady Hulton was the most opulent business lift I have ever seen. Alas, the site has been totally redeveloped and I understand there is now a supermarket on the ground floor.
Back in 1961, the offices occupied by Buchan's comprised two for the editorial staff of seven magazines, one for the advertisement department, a general office and those of John Thompson and Joe Sarl, the two directors. Sadly, I never got to meet Charlie Buchan, since he had died in the previous year. I know, however, from what I was told by all the staff that Charlie was held in the highest esteem by his employees.
I remember Dave Hams having a desk in the general office alongside David Stacey and, I think, one other. Mike was very well liked. He was of shortish build, always well dressed and had fairly heavily framed spectacles. Stacey was more outgoing and ran a profitable sideline business selling football programmes and photos.
The general office was right outside the individual offices of Thompson and Sarl. John Thompson was a most affable man and he liked a bet, which is something I grew to like. A production manager in the ad department, John Peck, used to phone off bets for John. I never spoke much to Sarl; he seemed more interested in his attractive secretary, Maureen, than in the business of publishing!
My immediate boss, Doug Gardner, was a very benign man and a great teacher, and he seemed quite old. I never knew his age. I learned so much from him about sub-editing, news and features writing, sizing up pictures and general editorial production work. My desk was opposite that of Roy Green, assistant editor of Sporting Cyclist, a monthly mag edited and founded by Jock Wadley, who always took a nap in the afternoon. I still have a photo, taken by Roy, of myself reading proofs at my desk; it's good quality. Roy went on to become editor of Amateur Photographer. I became good friends with Roy for a while. He ran a scooter as well as a couple of bicycles. In late 1962 I bought a Vespa scooter and Roy and I had problems getting permission to park the scooters in the underground car park at 161-166.
My starting salary, I think, was £4 17s 6d (£4.87p) a week. This didn't go far after tax, £1 10s (£1.50) housekeeping to my Mum, and fares or petrol for the daily trip from my home in Tolworth, near Surbiton in Surrey. On top of all this I had to pay subs to the National Union of Journalists. Membership was compulsory and the NUJ was becoming quite militant. Father of the Chapel was Robin Corbett, who worked on Farmer's Weekly and who later became a prominent Labour MP. This Chapel covered Longacre Press and later Odhams Press, of which Buchan's was a part.
Soon after I had started on Retail Gardening, I learned that a number of younger staff, especially those in the Odhams post room felt that my job should have gone to one of them. I was seen as an interloper and had to put up with some stick from them.
Football Monthly was the flagship of the company; my magazine was a very poor relation. FM editorial content was run by Pat Collins, though Thompson and Sarl retained the titles of editors. Pat was a smashing bloke with a good sense of humour, and he was a hard worker. He was assisted by Malcolm Cummings, a pipe-smoker who specialised in sub-editing. This, then was the FM editorial team, backed up firmly by the group's staff photographer, Peter Stuart, who had his desk near mine. I often got a preview of some of the pictures scheduled for the next issue of FM when Peter laid out his latest work on his desk. It almost goes without saying that I never fulfilled my ambition to work on Football Monthly - the chance never arose.
We were such a tightly-knitted unit. Other editorial teams in my open-plan office, apart from Sporting Cyclist, were those of Disc, a musical tabloid newspaper, and Sporting Record, another tabloid covering horse racing and football pools. Disc had the biggest staff. At one time there were six: Gerry Marks, managing editor; Alan Wilson, editor; and writers June Harris, Peter Hammond, Nigel Hunter and John Wells. At times I was overawed by what went on on the other mags, especially when recording stars called into Disc, which had its desks only a few yards away from mine. Nigel Hunter was a good guy, very pleasant, and June was a flighty, flirty woman who, I believe ended up living in /America. Hammond, a nervous type, left soon after I arrived. I met John Wells again much later, in about 1980, when the magazine I was then on used John's company, Surrey Fine Art, for repro work. John had become a graphic designer by then.
Clifford Webb and Roy (?) Vernon co-edited Sporting Record. Clifford liked his lunchtime drink and often regaled the office with stories from El Vino's or the Wig and Pen Club. He contributed, from time to time, to FM. Another FM contributor, John Macadam, was a frequent visitor to the office.
As well as housing Football Monthly editorial, the other open-plan office was also home to Rugby World and Cine Camera editorial staff, and a fellow called Rex Patterson, who used to handle the busy readers' reply service for Retail Gardening.
I'm sure that the editorial departments of Melody Maker and Motor Cycling were in another part of the building, certainly when I first joined the company. I don't recall knowing any other staff.
Just near my desk there was a door which led to the advertisement department. Our ad manager was Roy Seager, who worked under group manager, Alan Elliott. A true character of the ad department was Alan Mercado. Roy was sometimes assisted by Graham Ireland, an ad sales man who also ran a separate business selling football programmes and photos etc. Graham's business partner lived near Fulham FC's ground, in a street off Stevenage Road, which runs along the Craven Cottage side of the ground. I worked for Graham for a couple of seasons selling programmes from British and European clubs at London football grounds, but mostly Craven Cottage.
In early 1964 I was saddened to learn that my magazine was to be moved to another division of what had become Odhams Press. In March 1964, we were relocated to offices in Russell Street, not far from the old Covent Garden. By then, Doug Gardner had a secretary called Rosemary; I was still editorial assistant; and our ad manager was Ernest Abel, a dapper gent who was directly related to Bobby Abel, the famous old Surrey cricketer who played with W. G. Grace. It was the end of an era for me. I was still an impressionable teenager and I thought my time at Buchan's would never end.
The grounding I received by working for the company, not least from Doug Gardner, was invaluable and stood me in good stead for years to come. I stayed in journalism for all my working days until I retired in November 2006, having spent 45 years on magazines (43 years) and regional newspapers (two years). In fact, one of my colleagues bought me a copy of The Best of Charles Buchan's Football Monthly as a retirement present. How about that for a full circle?
I'm 63 now and I still have about 50 copies of Football Monthly (1960-64) in my collection of sports memorabilia and books. In fact, my association with Charles Buchan's Publications goes back to before I started work there, as far back as 1956, when I first had Football Monthly delivered to my door. All those earlier mags had the pictures cut out of them and pasted in scrapbooks, which disappeared long ago.
However, another great thing about working for Buchan's, of course, was that I got free copies of the magazine all the time that I was there.