I trained as a journlist at the Stockport Express in Cheshire. We were paid a lowly sum, but being
among a group of teenage trainees in an era before austerity (and closures) hit local newspapers was just a great blend of fun and expenses-fiddling.
I then worked for various North-West evening newspapers – reporter,
feature-writer, sub-editor – and for a short period, a news agency. Covering Crown Court, day in and day out, for national newspapers certainly worked wonders for my Pitman’s.
In the mid-1980s
– after I had completed my first degree - I went more lucratively freelance, writing features for numerous regional and national newspapers and magazines, including You Magazine and the Sunday Times Magazine.
* For national magazine features, click here:
Child Abuse Campaign - 1985
In 1984 I was contributing
to an award-winning anti-drugs campaign in the Liverpool Echo. Heroin had become a huge social problem in early-80s Liverpool and shocking stories were emerging – dealers were selling smack to schoolchildren
from ice-cream vans parked outside schools and babies were born addicted to heroin.
During the course of an interview with a social worker, she asked me why no newspaper had ever broached the subject of the sexual
abuse of children.
“It is so widespread and damages so many lives,” she said. “Among prostitutes, teenage runaways, the homeless, the drugs-dependent, in prison populations and
psychiatric hospitals – social workers know that you can almost guarantee there will have been sexual abuse in the childhoods of these people – and usually the abuser has been a parent or relative.”
Yet, she said, the “stranger-danger” myth was still peddled.
“Sexual abuse by a stranger makes up a very tiny minority of cases, but no one in the media has ever had the courage to declare this. It’s the very last taboo.”
This conversation was the catalyst for my prolonged campaign, published in the Echo in early February 1985 with the title
“Can You Hear Our Children Weeping?” (much of it under my then pen-name, Jenny Palmer).
After this regional campaign, I turned to the national press and wrote substantially about the subject in the print media for several years. This work - and that done by those journalists and TV celebrities who came after me –
was life-changing for thousands of individuals living in fear and shame.
* For incest campaign material and aftermath story, click here:
I began writing TV columns and quizzes for the Echo and other regional evening newspapers in the late 1980s. Later I worked for the Sun - still on a freelance basis. "All you have to do is be funny," the editor Kelvin McKenzie
The features editor rang me very late one night
just before the column was due to go in the next morning . "Kelvin doesn't think the column's funny enough. Can you write another?"
Never before had I had such empathy with stand-up comedians. Feeling more hysterical than hilarious, I scribbled TV-related gags into the wee small hours as the copy deadline moved menacingly closer.
When it was done and, zombie-like, I wondered whether it was actually funny or not (since I was the performer as well as the
audience), I reflected upon the truth of Ken Dodd's famous remark about Freud's attempt to analyse what made us laugh: "The problem with Freud," said Dodd, "is that he never had to play the
Glasgow Empire second house on a Friday night."
Opinion Columnist - 1990s Juggling
During the early-90s period, I began writing opinion columns for the Birmingham Post and other newspapers. I was still supplying features to national magazines and newspapers, but I also began diversifying: I studied for
a Masters degree in English at Warwick University and I had two books published.
* For selection of TV and opinion columns, click here: