Yesterday's Technology . . . Today!

Local Newspaper Memories

I WAS first introduced to the Linotype machine in the mid 1970s when I started work as an Apprentice Compositor at the Yorkshire Evening Press, then located in Coney Street, York.

The rear of the premises overlooked the River Ouse in the city centre. Although the site was redeveloped some time ago, the building can still be identified by the Yorkshire Herald sign (in stone) that was left intact.

There were over 20 machines in the room including some then state-of-the-art Intertype Monarchs. These machines had the keyboard blanked off and ran from punched tape which was produced in an adjacent room.

Producing the tape for the Tele-typesetting, as the process was called, was a 2-stage process. Firstly a tape was produced by an operator using a Qwerty keyboard with no reference to line-ends, justification, etc. This tape was then passed through a huge computer which worked out the line-lengths, justification, hyphenation, etc. and produced a second tape to be used on the Monarchs.

There were 8 Monarchs, in two rows of 4, with one man monitoring them all. He had to keep an eye on the slugs coming out of the machines to make sure they didn't spill off the end of the galley, keep the machines supplied with lead ingots (or pigs) and put a new tape on a machine when it had finished the previous job.

These machines were the real sports cars of the Linotype world, built for speed, with Perspex magazines bearing a gold crown logo. The bulk of the features section of the newspaper was produced on these machines because the copy was received well in advance.

Always wary of a 'splash'

It was approximately two years before I actually got to operate a Linotype. This was a very satisfying experience, but always offset with a little tension. The combination of a slack line and a badly maintained machine could cause a 'splash' where molten lead was sprayed from the machine. It was not uncommon for operators to have to visit the local hospital casualty department for treatment for the burns sustained.

The machines at the Yorkshire Evening Press ranged from the nearly-new Intertype Monarchs, to some big machines with extra side magazines used in the display advertising department which I would guess dated back to the 1920s. I understand that there was a machine called a Linotype Elektron which was similar to the Intertype Monarch but I never came across one.

I remember on my first visit to the Science Museum in London seeing the Linotype machine they had there, I think it was a Model 65. Compared to a lot of the machines in daily use at the Yorkshire Evening Press it was very modern!

1980s - demise of the Print Unions

After finishing my apprenticeship I got itchy feet and decided to move to London. I worked at the South London Press from 1980-1989.

During the 1980s the typesetters union, the National Graphical Association (NGA), was facing some serious challenges from the Conservative Thatcher government.

The first person to really test the newly-introduced anti-union laws was Eddie Shah at his Stockport Messenger plant. A handful of people were sacked for joining the NGA and then asking to be paid the agreed union minimum rate (effectively sacked for joining a union). I was a regular on the picket line there. The violence gradually escalated, seemingly in proportion to the number of police deployed. This culminated in an horrific night of violence with un-marked police from Merseyside and mounted police being deployed to beat the pickets into submission.

Eddie Shah paved the way for Rupert Murdoch to set up his "Fortress Wapping" plant in London's Docklands. This started the exodus of newspapers from London's Fleet Street area.

Each printing plant re-location resulted in the loss of many jobs previously carried out by print union members.

The latest technology meant that journalists were able to key in and format their own stories. Even people selling advertising space were able to key in classified advertising while taking the copy over the phone.

Copyright © Dave Hughes 2000-2015. All rights reserved.