The Independent's 'escapees': 'I was hopeless. It was the best job I ever had...'

Some Indie hacks go on to better things. They still look back fondly on their time at the paper
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Bill Bryson OBE, author

Assistant Home News Editor, 1986-1987

For five years in the 1980s I worked on the business section of The Times, but when I came to The Independent, at the time of its launch, they gave me a job as a news editor on the home news desk. There it quickly became evident that not only did I have no experience of home news, but no aptitude. I was so hopeless as to be actually dangerous. So I was given the comparatively safe job of checking press releases, which we received in enormous volumes in large grey postal bags every day. These press releases were nearly always from places like Runcorn and concerned events that were of scant interest in Runcorn and of no interest at all to anyone else. My job was simply to confirm their obvious lack of newsworthiness. So I would dutifully read each one, learning that the Lancashire Association of Optometrists had elected new officers or that Skegness had a new ambulance with its very own defibrillator, then drop it and its envelope in a very large wastebin, and pick out another. At the end of the day, I would have an empty desk and a satisfyingly full bin. It was the best job I ever had.

Yvette Cooper MP, Shadow Home Secretary

Leader writer and, later, economics correspondent, 1995-1997

Three editors in 18 months; it wasn't the most straightforward time to be writing editorials for The Independent. Ian Hargreaves, Charlie Wilson and Andrew Marr certainly took strongly different views on daily events. Suspended on the 17th floor of a half-empty Canary Wharf, our leader-writing team pontificated on issues from euro plans to Dolly the sheep and royal divorce. We had one eye cast outwards through our windows at the country, another cast inwards at the financial-management debates in the corner offices. Despite the turbulence and perhaps because of the vigorous views of different journalists in our morning debates, the personality and identity of the newspaper proved stronger than all of us. Always resilient, always determined, always the outsider, always irreverent but rarely cynical, The Independent has a sense of purpose that has kept it vibrant. I feel privileged and proud to have been part of it.

Sebastian Faulks CBE, bestselling author

Literary editor, 1986-1991

After 25 years I can hardly remember anything except an odd feeling that I had stopped being a newspaper man and become a computer operative with a semi-permanent headache.

And I remember the Books page throwing huge parties in Holland Park with the money we got from selling review copies to library suppliers. And some colleagues: the ebullient home editor Jonathan Fenby; cartoonist Nick Garland; wacko columnist Simon Carr; Miles Kington and Bron Waugh, both, alas, gone now; the elusive Anthony Lane, who, when I asked him to show me his cuttings, said, "cutting, actually. I've only written one thing"; the contrasting but equally gifted Marks, Steyn and Lawson; Sabine Durrant and Giles Smith, an Arts page romance; and some handy junior hacks such as Andy Marr and Rob Peston. Plus some terrific creeps but I can't remember their names. And Andreas Whittam Smith, who seemed to glide along the carpet tiles, down the long strip-lit rooms bestowing calm.

But mostly I remember the football team. Solid centre-backs Phil Shaw (Sport) and Bob Winder (Books); full-backs Jim White (Listings) and me; the industrious midfield of sub-editors Guy Hodgson, Matt Tench, Johnny Mullin and Nick Duxbury; and up front the magnificent Henry Winter (junior boy on the footie desk) and visual-arts whizz Andrew Graham-Dixon. The keeper was the transport correspondent Christian Wolmar, but our job in defence was to make sure the ball never, ever got near him. We won the Fleet Street League by smacking the Sun 4-0 in the last game. Oh yes, and thanks to "Barmy" Ed Steen on Foreign. I met my wife there, too.

Comments