Let me take you by the hand into an office in York. Almost everyone has gone home. Two men are still there, one fuming as he can’t leave until the other concludes his scowling and keyboard bashing.
A small scenario, but inescapable when summoning up these personal farewell thoughts about Charles Hutchinson, who leaves the Press on Friday.
There is history between us, you see. We worked across the decades in a fond squabble. Like a bickering old married couple, affectionate but prone to sniping. There were three of us in that marriage, two men and Mistress Deadline. One of us had a tongue sharp when provoked, the other a temper primed to explode.
Journalists who leave a paper are given a mocked-up front page. Mine was amusing and had a photo of me training for the Great North Run (“Man on the run”). A strap across the top read: “EXCLUSIVE: Charles hits What’s On deadline: never.” Another strap said: “Julian’s David Cameron tribute column: page…”
That framed page is on our stairs, a daily signpost to the past.
Charles is sometimes infuriating to work with, yet capable of being lovely and kind, too. And no one can question his commitment or passion: Charles is devoted to what is about to leave. He dedicated more time to that job than seemed humanly possible, or sensible. But that was his way, early starts, staying on late, working at the weekends, always working, but almost always because that’s what he wanted to do, even when it made him cross.
There can’t be anyone connected to the arts in Yorkshire who hasn’t come across Charles, who hasn’t been interviewed by him, or spotted him in the stalls at the theatre, pen and notebook in hand, scribbling and frowning and laughing sometimes.
Charles was first threatened with redundancy in November 2017, but the editor relented, possibly because of a backlash from the arts community. They all know him, and many appreciate the unending scroll of stories he has written about the arts: theatre, music, art, cinema – oh, anything and everything arty (along with incidental soliloquies about Leeds United).
A newspaper shedding its arts editor might not seem much in these days of loss and redundancy. But it’s another link broken, another connection severed, another reason for reading removed.
Two sports journalists, Dave Flett and Peter Martini, left recently, too. Think of all the connections those three have between them; think of all the community links severed; think of all the people who know those three.
Some newspaper executive with a spreadsheet for brains thought it was a bright idea. That executive probably swears it’s all good for news and newspapers. Perhaps that unseen boss is behind all those messages that pop up online asking for a contribution, a pound a week – invest in local news. Well, I will if you will. Although my wife has banned me from ever giving money to that newspaper; and who can blame her?
Another newspaper tradition, along with the mocked-up front pages, is the banging out of journalists as they leave. An old custom dating to printers drumming metal hammers and rulers against their desks, a hot-metal farewell that rings sometimes still.
My own knocking out, and the short speech I almost managed to deliver, still brings a lump to the throat, especially as others left that day, too.
Oh, everyone thinks journalists are a hard-nosed lot, and sometimes that is true. But they can be sentimental too, especially after years on one newspaper (30 for Charles, 27 for me).
Goodbye and good luck, Charles. Not sure I’ll ever work with anyone like you again, or for so long. Apart from anything else, I’d have to keep going until I was 90 odd.