Strictly speaking, dance studio gets “thumbs up” from HSBC UK

HSBC UK, which has a £1.1 billion lending fund to support small and medium-sized enterprises across the West Midlands, has provided a commercial mortgage package to the AURA Dance Studio, allowing the Solihull-based ballroom and Latin dance school to acquire the studio it has rented for the last five years.

 The dance school, run by Martin and Carol Cutler and their children Charlotte and James, opened in 1994 and now sees 500 students a week across its ballroom, Latin and fitness classes.By purchasing the studio, the Cutler family has secured the future of the dance school, enabling them to make improvements to the studio space, including a new reception area.

Martin Cutler, AURA Dance Studios Director, said: “We’ve seen a massive uplift in interest in dance in the last ten years, both recreationally and professionally. We’ve developed a high standard of teaching at AURA and are thrilled that HSBC UK has backed the business, in turn enabling us to continue expanding the school. Our HSBC UK Relationship Manager Dominic Smith supported us throughout the application process and demonstrated his clear understanding of our business and aims.”

Stephen Peart, West Midlands Business Banking Area Director of HSBC UK – which is the Press Club’s overall sponsor - said: “We were delighted to be able to support AURA Dance Studio in purchasing the dance school, which gives the business the security to focus on expanding and improve its dance offering. Dance continues to increase in popularity and AURA has a bright future ahead of it.”

AURA Dance Studio is one of the biggest dance schools in the country and attracts world-class dancers from across the globe, alongside its popular classes for toddlers and adults.

 

Pictured, left to right, are James Cutler (AURA Dance Studio), Tony Seaton (Blue Sky Corporate Finance), Martin Cutler (AURA Dance Studio), Charlotte Cutler (AURA Dance Studio) and Dominic Smith from HSBC UK.

Stepping up Campaign to help MND sufferers

Birmingham Press Club director Anita Sharma-James has taken on a new role – as chair of the Worcestershire branch of the Motor Neurone Disease Association (MNDA).

One of her first major tasks was to help organise the Association’s annual regional conference. This was held at The Holiday Inn, Bromsgrove, where guests includedex-serviceman, John Davidson, from Malvern, who is planning to row the Atlantic later this year to raise funds for the foundation of his hero, Doddie Weir, the former Scottish international rugby union star who suffers from the disease. He and the county branch of MNDA will be working together to raise funds and awareness of the disease.

The event also marked the official adoption by Bromsgrove District Council of the MND Charter in support of sufferers of the disease and their careers living in the area.

Two Bromsgrove councillors, Rachel Jenkins, an Independent who first proposed the authority should adopt it, and Margaret Sherrey, the Conservative portfolio holder for health and well-being who seconded her proposal, publicly signed the Charter on the council’s behalf at a reception on the eve of the conference.

By signing the Charter, the council has agreed to recognise the right of MND sufferers to an early diagnosis, access to quality care and treatments, to be treated with dignity and respect and to have the right to maximise their quality of life. It also recognises that their carers should be valued, respected, listened to and well-supported. 

Anita, whose own mother died of the disease, said: “I would like to thank the council for adopting the Charter with solid cross-party backing and this is just the beginning of our partnership with you.”

MND, which causes six deaths in the UK every day, is a terminal neurological illness, which kills one-third of sufferers within a year of diagnosis and more than half within two years.

MNDA not only supports sufferers and their carers but is also leading the research to find a cure.

Photo shows (l-r) Councillor Margaret Sherrey, Councillor Rachel Jenkins and Anita Sharma-James

Molly takes on the “heavyweights” at awards ceremony

A final year sports journalism student at Staffordshire University has been nominated in the British Sports Journalism Awards – alongside established football journalists from national newspapers.

Molly Hudson made the shortlist for Football Journalist of the Year after doing freelance shifts during last summer’s World Cup.

After being encouraged to work freelance during her university studies, Molly spent last summer working on the World Cup for the Independent. She now writes regularly for The Times and the BBC Sport website and will be covering the Women’s World Cup in France later this year.

Molly (pictured) commented:  “I am absolutely overwhelmed to be shortlisted for such a prestigious award, alongside many of the sports journalists that I continue to learn from and admire. The Times have supported me and I could not have built the close relationship I have with them without the help of Staffordshire University, particularly Mitch Pryce and Ian Whittell and the depth of contacts they have from years of experience in the industry.

Molly’s course leader Mitch Pryce added: “It’s an astonishing achievement for Molly to be recognised at this level. She’s competing against the likes of Henry Winter and Jonathan Liew – genuine heavyweight professional journalists.”

Death of ex-West Midlands TM managing director

A businessman who held a series of senior roles in the regional press industry has died aged 59 after suffering a heart attack while playing tennis. John Bills (pictured) started out as an advertising rep for the Mansfield Chad in the 1980.

He went on to become a regional managing director with two publishing giants, first with Trinity Mirror and subsequently with Johnston Press.

Born and brought up in Mansfield, John left the Chad to join Trinity Newspapers. He later helped oversee the merger with Mirror Group which created Trinity Mirror and became regional MD for the new company’s North West and North Wales division, based in Liverpool.

He then moved to Birmingham as West Midlands regional MD where, in 2007, he was involved in a bid to buy the Birmingham Post, Birmingham Mail and Coventry Telegraph in a management buy-out after TM put the titles up for sale. But Trinity Mirror rejected the bid and shortly afterwards John and the other two executives who had fronted the proposed buy-out left the business

The following year he joined Johnston Press, which by then owned his former paper, the Chad. His career came full circle in 2011 when he was appointed managing director for JP’s North Midlands and South Yorkshire division which included the Mansfield weekly. John was promoted to group managing director in 2014, leaving in 2017. 

He finally left JP in September 2017, prior to its re-emergence as JPI Media last year.

John had recently retired with his partner, Jo, to a new home in Northern Ireland, where he died while playing tennis. 

Local News Coverage Gets a Boost

Birmingham, Coventry, Derby, Leicester and Wolverhampton are amongst the locations of where 82 new Facebook-funded community news reporters will be based.

The social media giant is partnering with the National Council for the Training of Journalists and nine regional publishers to fund new reporters to be based in under-reported communities.

The locations, which also include Derbyshire, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Lincolnshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire, were allocated according to several factors agreed by NCTJ and the publishers, focusing on areas currently without strong local coverage.

Facebook is funding the 82 posts of £4.5m investment as part of its Journalism Project.

NCTJ chief executive Joanne Butcher (pictured) said: “This project will help ensure that many underserved communities will have the strong local coverage they deserve. Journalists need to understand and listen to the voices in these communities and the issues that affect their day-to-day lives.

“To do that effectively they need to be there and to have the right skills and reporting expertise. It’s great to see a mix of locations, from remote rural communities to big inner cities, that will add diverse views and coverage to our local journalism,” she said.

Nick Wrenn, Facebook’s head of News Partnerships UK, commented: “We’re excited to see the Community News Project come to life. Our hope is that, ultimately, the project helps more people access the news that matters to them most and promotes quality local news in underserved areas of the UK.”

Reach plc, Midland News Association and Newsquest are amongst those who will be employing the new reporters.

Midlands Media Students Awards back on the calendar

Llewela Bailey.jpeg

The talents of the Midlands’ next-generation journalists and photographers are to be showcased at an awards ceremony hosted by Birmingham Press Club.

The Press Club is to revive the Midlands Media Students’ Awards, after a two-year break.

Llewela Bailey (pictured) who is chairman of the Press Club, said: “The region has a wealth of emerging talent that, I am sure, will guarantee the Midlands continuing to be a hotspot for the development of those working in the media industry. So it is with great pleasure that we are able to recognise such talent by bringing back the media students awards, at the same time acknowledging the support of the region’s universities and colleges, whose range of journalism courses are shaping the skills of those who will be at the forefront of their industry in the future.”

The awards, originally launched to coincide with the Press Club’s 150th anniversary in 2015, will this year be held on 10 April at Mama Roux’s, Digbeth’s latest leisure venue situated at Lower Trinity Street, Birmingham, B9 4AG. Individual tickets are priced at £30, Inc VAT.

Awards categories will include broadcasting, culture, data journalism, features, news, photography, social media and photography.Event organiser Jo Jeffries said that the deadline for receipt of entries was 7 March. A shortlist would be announced after a thorough judging process by a raft of existing established journalists and industry professionals.

  • Lincoln University student Natasha Turney, chosen as Student of the Year at the inaugural awards, is now a BBC broadcast journalist, while Worcester University student Conor Rees, who took the accolade in 2016, is publishing a lifestyle magazine.

Full entry details are available by going to https://www.midlandsmediaawards.co.uk/studentawards

Enquiries: Jo Jeffries:             jo@7loco.com

Fred Bromwich:   fred.bromwich@btinternet.com



We’re Watching You


The Local Democracy Reporting Service – a pioneering scheme between the regional press and the BBC – has just marked its first anniversary by celebrating the 50,000th story to have been filed. Here, Reach Plc reporter Gurdip Thandi (pictured) makes it known that he will be scrutinising every council decision on his patch. 

"Thank you for coming along. We hardly see any reporters at our meetings anymore and we feel a bit neglected."

It was this comment from perhaps the unlikely source of a Walsall councillor that highlighted to me not only the importance of the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), but also the struggles faced by regional journalism.

I was expecting some suspicion and apprehension as I made it known I was there to scrutinise their every decision. Instead, I was welcomed with open arms from councillors who understand they are "fair game" for stories - positive and negative.

Covering council meetings used to be bread and butter for me when I started out on the old Walsall Observer newspaper in 1999, providing easy but important copy about serious issues that affected our readers' lives.

But in the past 15 years or so, the rise of the digital age has hit print journalism hard with papers going to the wall and the number of reporters reducing dramatically as companies look to balance the books to stay afloat.

With increasingly stretched newsrooms, some things have to give. And one of those things was the ability to cover every cough and spit from council chambers and committee rooms. Which is where the BBC's Local News Partnerships and, in particular, LDRS came in.

Recognising there was a void that needed plugging, LDRS started in January 2018 and now boasts an army of almost 130 reporters covering local authorities up and down the country.

All things considered, journalists on the local newspapers have been doing a sterling job of covering the big council issues. They are under immense pressure in intensely busy patches and it is easy to accuse them of ignoring stories and not holding those in power to account.

But the fact is there is a void. And in Walsall's case, I hope I am filling that.

I started on November 12 and am still relatively new to the scheme. The biggest hurdle so far was explaining what the role actually is!

"I'm a Local Democracy Reporter. It's a BBC initiative and they pay my wages but I'm employed by Reach PLC and based at the Birmingham Mail. Other media outlets such as the Express and Star also use my work."

It doesn't roll off the tongue as easily as "I'm a reporter for (XXXX) newspaper" for the public and councillors!

I am getting there though and people are learning more and more about the principle of the LDRS as the days go by. The fact that 50,000 stories have been filed in England, Scotland and Wales in 12 months certainly helps to raise the profile overall. As does seeing copy online or in print of the established papers.

So long as the stories I have written have a platform, I don't think the public will care what my job title is.

I covered Walsall for almost 10 years, mostly for the Birmingham Mail, until 2008. I am also a Walsall boy born and bred and I care about what is happening in my town. It's not essential for the role but no-one can ever accuse me of not understanding the people or what's going on in the borough.

So I was delighted to land the role - especially as I thought the LDRs for the area had all been filled.

I got stuck in straight away, re-introducing myself to members who were there during my first stint and meeting those who I didn't know. E-mail introductions are good but it is being able to attend almost all the meetings that have taken place in the last two months that has helped build up relationships.

My days and evenings consist of scouring Walsall Council's diary and then going through the agendas before attending the meetings themselves.

Obviously, the likes of full council, cabinet, planning and licensing are rarely lacking in meaty stories to get my teeth into. But it is the 'smaller' committees where I believe I have been able to add significant value.

It was at a social care and health overview and scrutiny committee meeting that I met the carer who gave an emotional presentation into how the loss of the community alarm service would adversely impact her family.

It was at an education overview and scrutiny committee meeting where parents of severely disabled teenagers urged councillors not to scrap a school transport scheme that enabled their children to get an education.

These issues were listed amongst the budget cuts proposed by Walsall Council in the face of reduced funding. But without me being there at committees where the press table was just gathering dust, those real stories behind the figures might not have been heard.

There has been scope for 'off-diary' work too. I accompanied Walsall Trading Standards on a raid of a local market a couple of weeks before Christmas. As well as seizing thousands of counterfeit goods, a stash of cannabis was also discovered.

And of course, having my work picked up and used is essential. If my stories are not printed then it doesn't matter how many I file. I want to provide value for money - it is license fee payers' cash that keeps a roof over my head, after all.

I'm delighted to say plenty of my stories have been used!

I'm convinced the LDRS scheme is here to say - even more so following news that the number of reporters is to be increased to 200.

We haven't been universally welcomed. I gather press offices across the country have gripes about the sharp increase in their workloads. I sympathise - but holding the decision makers to account through quality, balanced articles in the free press is an essential part of any democracy. And there cannot be too many complaints about us doing that.



Local Democracy? Reporters ensure it’s alive and well

Marc Reeves.jpeg

By Marc Reeves, Editor-in-Chief, Reach Midlands Media Ltd


Just over a year ago, I was handed the kind of problem that any editor welcomes. A message came down from group: "Well done. The West Midlands has won the contract to manage some of region's Local Democracy Reporters. Now toddle off and employ eight of them. Look lively."

Gulp. That's a lot of bodies to find - and manage. Could we find that many? Did we have the office space? How could we cope with the workload of another 120 stories a week to be desked?

I did what any editor-in-chief would do - by immediately delegating the recruitment problem to my colleague Keith Perry, editor of Coventry Live and the Coventry Telegraph!

Through a tortuous process, Keith brilliantly steered most of our recruitment over a number of months, taking time to ensure we got the best people for the roles. Stoke Sentinel editor Martin Tideswell oversaw the recruitment of our two Staffs LDRs. In the Brum newsroom, Gurdip Thandi was the last to join towards the end of last year, filling the job of holding Walsall Council to account. His colleagues were already establishing themselves covering Birmingham, Solihull, Coventry, Sandwell, Dudley & Wolverhampton, Stoke, Staffs and the metro mayor and the combined authority.

The new LDRs operate out of our newsrooms in Stoke, Coventry and Birmingham - and in the East there are more working in Derby, Leicester and Nottingham.

In Birmingham, the challenge of managing a team of five LDRs was met by the creation of a new LDR news-editing role. Paul Kemp moved across from the Tamworth Herald to fill that role, which he has made his own. Paul is the unsung hero of the LDR scheme in this neck of the woods. As well as managing reporters, he attends to the needs, requests - and occasional gripes - of the other media organisations that use the stories created by the LDRs. This means liaising with the newsdesks at BBC WM, the Express & Star and many more.

A year in, I think it's clear the LDR scheme has been a massive success, and I want to pay tribute to all of our LDRs across the East and West Midlands for the incredible work they put in day in day out, keeping a watchful eye on the most powerful people in our towns, cities and counties.

Here's to the year ahead!

·       The BBC’s funding commitment to the scheme is up to £8 million a year, with the Shared Data Unit and the team that administers the Local News Partnerships project being based at the BBC’s Birmingham office.

·       Just over 100 separate news organisations across 850 outlets are signed up to the partnership

·       Its News Hub syndicates every TV clip made across the 15 BBC nations and regions, constantly updating a library of approximately 8,000 videos.

New comms role for ex-editor

After 36 years in the regional press industry, Steve Hall, who two months ago left his role as editor of the award-winning Derby Telegraph, has moved into the world of marketing.

He has been appointed as communications director of Champions (UK), a Loughborough-based company with ten in-house departments specialising in marketing and communications.

Steve Hall, ex-Derby Telegraph.jpeg

Steve (pictured), who was editor-in-chief of the East Midlands titles of Reach plc (formerly Trinity Mirror) joins ex-TM East Midlands managing director David Simms, who is Champions group sales director.

John Hayes, chief executive of Champions, commented: “We are thrilled to add Steve to our board of directors. He brings a number of qualities to Champions and his valuable experience in media will help to support our high quality outputs.”

Under Steve’s leadership, the Derby Telegraph won the Newspaper of the Year title at the Birmingham Press Club-organised Midlands Media Awards in 2014

He was replaced at Reach plc as editor-in-chief by Marc Reeves, whose portfolio now takes in all Reach news brands across the East and West Midlands. Julie Bayley has taken up the role as editor of the Derby Telegraph and its sister website Derbyshire Live.

Snapper covers his own presentation!


Press photographer Steve Leath was in for a surprise when he turned up to cover an awards presentation. For it turned out he was the recipient.

Steve, who works for the Shropshire Star, was assigned to cover the presentation, which was being made by Telford & Wrekin’s mayor Raj Mehta at the newspaper’s offices.

But when he arrived for the job, Steve found out it was he who would be receiving one of the mayor’s community awards in recognition of his “going the extra mile” in his work.

The award was officially presented to Steve for his “outstanding contribution and commitment with the Shropshire Star and wider community”.

Cllr Mehta, left, presents Steve Leath with the award

Cllr Mehta, left, presents Steve Leath with the award

Steve, who has been doing his current job for 14 years, said: “I was told that I would be doing a certificate presentation - I didn’t realise it was for me!”

He added: “Sometimes I end up doing a lot of hours and it’s because you don’t want to let people down. You hope it is appreciated, and this shows that it is.”

Councillor Mehta said: “Ever since I became mayor I have wanted to make sure the gems of the community are not missed and the efforts of people are recognised. Whenever I have met Steve I have been struck by his politeness and humbleness, and his going the extra mile and out of his way. He is not just there as a photographer – he looks after everything and everyone.

“It’s very hard to find somebody who has those qualities all in one. And it’s without wanting something back.

“I noticed that, and that’s the key. He is the first journalist to receive this award.”

Enduring Appeal of Newsprint

Sunday Mercury print editor Paul Cole takes a trip down memory lane, as he celebrates the 100th birthday of one of the region’s most popular publications.

Sunday Mercury Editor Paul Cole today

Sunday Mercury Editor Paul Cole today

“When I spent my first day working as a journalist, I was shown round the print hall.

It was a huge noisy room filled by lines of heavy, hugely complicated metal linotype machines.

At each sat a man in short sleeves hammering away at the keyboard to create blocks of type.

The old linotype machines at work

The old linotype machines at work

They’d rattle down into trays like toy soldiers on manoeuvres.

In the centre of the room strips of paper hung from hooks, each bearing the proof copy of a story, waiting to be checked.

The scene was one of organised chaos, like an old Heath Robinson cartoon come to life.

And the smell, the glorious smell! The noise was complemented by the heady aroma of printer’s ink.

Because these were the days of hot metal, mechanised and modernised, but essentially unchanged for decades.

In the newsroom, I worked at a formidable Imperial typewriter, a black behemoth bigger than today’s computer screen.

I wrote stories a couple of paragraphs at a time; the top copies were whisked off to the newsdesk by young runner boys; the carbon copy underneath remained on the roller so you knew where you were up to.

That was in 1974, when I joined my first newspaper, a weekly publication in the North-West.

Paul Cole as a young reporter

Paul Cole as a young reporter

It seems so much longer ago, mainly because of the pace of change that has swept the business since.

But the Sunday Mercury, whose first edition we have reproduced, would have been produced in much the same way.

Hot metal typesetting was introduced in the 1880s, so would have been commonplace when the Mercury was born.

These days, of course, things are very different. The old linotype machines have long gone.

You can edit and produce a newspaper with a laptop computer and a broadband connection.

And many people get their news online, glued to their mobile phones 24/7 lest they miss anything.

But, do you know, there’s still something special about holding a newspaper in your hands, turning the pages for real.

It’s the same with books. I have a Kindle and an iPad; I read books and browse the news on them.

Yet I return to print for the books I treasure, just as I buy newspapers and magazines to read news, sport, opinion and features.

I love the feel of a paper; I love that moment of clean freshness as you open YOUR paper for the first time.

I love the smell of the ink–I even fondly remember inky fingers – the sound of pages turning. I love knowing each page I turn will bring something new, something unexpected. A paper is a treasure chest.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a Luddite (if you’re past a certain age, Google it!) and the Internet is part and parcel of my everyday life.

The Mercury’s sister online brand BirminghamLive is doing a fantastic job of covering the big breaking news stories. If you haven’t tried it yet, then you should. The number of people who visit regularly is mind-boggling. The digital future is thrilling and assured.

But don’t write off print. There’s life in the old dog yet, new tricks learned every day.

As we celebrate the 100th birthday of the Sunday Mercury, our principles remain the same: to inform, to entertain, and to educate.

You’ll see in our very first edition, from December 29, 1918, that readers of the Birmingham Gazette, asked what they wanted in their new Sunday newspaper, demanded news, sport and entertainment.

One reader pleaded for “spicy love and divorce, and dope news”. Yes, you may find a wry grin spreading across your face.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

So enjoy today’s recollection of the past, the celebration of the Mercury’s proud heritage.

And thank you for being part of our continuing success story, for keeping the printer’s ink flowing through our veins.

You’re the reason we do this. Without you, there’d be no Sunday Mercury.

It is, at the end of the day, YOUR newspaper, and I am simply its current custodian. Thank you for that privilege.”






Times Change – But News Remains the Same

Award-winning journalist Mike Lockley delves into the past – and scans the pages of the very first edition of the region’s ever-popular Sunday Mercury from 100 years ago.

Contrary to rumours circulating our newsroom, I wasn’t part of the team when the newspaper hit the stands on December 29, 1918!

The inaugural publication, produced while the West Midlands was attempting to recover from World War One, proves some things never change. The front page (pictured) reveals a government split and in turmoil. The Coalition, however, claimed victory in the local and general elections.

And even a century ago, Birmingham streets were in the grip of a drug menace. Page five is dominated by news of “Doping in Birmingham”, with more and more individuals turning to “cocaine snuff and the opium pipe”.

A prominent local doctor warned: “There are people here taking drugs and I believe there are others who take snuff containing a percentage of cocaine.”

He spoke of the hidden danger of “alluring” cocaine crystals. “For a while (the user) feels a super-man, but gradually there is a change. Slowly but surely he becomes depressed. There is a load upon his mind and brain. The load becomes heavier as every minute passes and he goes down and down and down.”

One hundred years later, it is sadly apparent the GP’s comments went unheeded.

The war might have ended, but it still dominated our first issue through stories of shortages and ads for Keenegg powdered egg, war savings certificates and that Midlands favourite Bovril, the latter needed to beef up a nation weakened by the conflict.

“Recognising the urgent need of rebuilding the National Health,” the ad announced sternly, “after four years of war, Bovril Ltd are making every effort to still further increase supplies and to provide Bovril for all at the earliest possible moment.”

In a Sunday Mercury special, the “extraordinary adventure” of Spring Hill soldier Thomas F Hanley was made public for the first time. A private in the 1st Royal Warwicks, Hanley escaped from the German hospital where he was being treated for injuries sustained at Le Cateau and, with fellow soldiers, hid in woodland before making it back home.

The article stated: “Private Hanley says they ate snails, cats, dogs, birds they trapped and anything, however unlikely, that came to hand.”

Even back then, the Sunday Mercury provided showbiz exclusives, although the stars’ revelations were a little underwhelming. The headline “Actress Tells Secret” seemed to offer, at the very least, a kiss-and-tell confession. The story was less dramatic: “Miss Blanche Rose, a well-known actress, has darkened her grey hair with a simple preparation which she mixed at home. In a recent interview, she made the following statement, ‘Any lady or gentleman can darken their grey hair or make it soft and glossy with this simple recipe’.”

It was panto season, with audiences treated to The Babes In The Wood at Birmingham’s Theatre Royal, a production filled with gusto and a “generous measure of mirth”, our reviewer wrote.  Principal girl Vanwy Chard was a triumph and star in the making. “Her dainty feet are already tripping merrily up the high road to popularity,” the Sunday Mercury predicted.

The bulk of page six was taken up with the words and music to “The Heart Of A Rose”, “the song everyone is singing”.  The following week would provide a cutout-and-keep score for panto hit, “There’s A Tramp, Tramp, Tramp Upon The Highway”.

The nature of news may have changed little, but the advertising industry had yet to learn the worth of catchphrases and glitzy campaigns. Ads on our pages tempted shoppers with headlines such as “Weak Wasted Children”: they could be cured of a variety of ills including chronic diarrhorea and bowel complaints, by taking Dr Cassell’s tablets, a cure-all that also tackled nervous breakdowns, indigestion, “vital exhaustion” and even helped women during their “critical period of life”.

The back page showed local football teams were riding high. Nottingham Forest topped the league’s Midlands section, with Birmingham second. Notts County were fifth and Coventry City eighth after beating Leeds 1-0.

“Like the coalition candidates, Midland teams were at the top of the poll yesterday,” wrote “Jingle”. “The Old Year finished in a blaze of triumph for most of the Midlanders. Birmingham, Coventry, Notts Forest and Notts County were conquerors all and Stoke and Port Vale, in another sphere, added to the triumphs. Leicester Fosse were the only fly in the ointment.” They were beaten 2-1 by Bradford.

One big name was missing from the in-depth football coverage – Aston Villa. That’s because they didn’t resume competitive matches until August 1919. A note from the programme for their first comeback match stated: “Much has happened since the curtain was run down at the close of the season 1914-15 and during the interregnum Aston Villa has taken no part in what may be regarded as serious football. Except for the occasional charity match, the familiar claret and blue shirt has been absent from the playing arenas.”

And look who was top of the table down south – not Chelsea, the Arsenal or the Spurs, but Brentford!

The Mercury’s front page advert extolled the virtues of JB side spring corsets, “a corset which will support without a trace of injurious pressure”. And the restrictive lingerie was a snip at 9s/11d.

In those dark days, advertising gurus knew what women wanted. They wanted:

Beecham’s Pills, dubbed “the true woman’s rights, every woman is entitled to them”. The blurb added: “Dame Nature intended her daughters to be healthy in body and happy in mind”.

Danderine to ensure their hair was “soft, lustrous, fluffy, wavy and free from dandruff”.

Clarke’s Blood Mixture, gushingly endorsed by one Mrs Denham of Merthyr Tydfil, her portrait picture placed next to the startling headline “Ulcerated Wound”. “Hearing so much about Clarke’s Blood Mixture,” said the Welsh housewife, “I at last resolved to give it a trial and after a few days the improvement to my knee was great.”

A section, headlined Pars From Our Post Box, revealed what the public wanted from the region’s new Sunday paper.

“Let the Sunday Mercury cater for the ordinary reader,” wrote one correspondent, “the reader who has a wholesome taste, the reader who likes his sport and his play, the reader who likes to listen to anything heavenly or earthly so long as it is interesting.

“But for God’s sake don’t provide us with another ‘sensation saver’.”

“Descriptive accounts of local football matches and other sports and pictures of the same,” suggested a male Birmingham resident,

“Above all, keep it clean,” implored another reader. “Don’t let it degenerate into a dirty linen basket as the majority of Sunday papers do.”

But one new recruit pleaded for “spicy love and divorce and dope news”.

The Sunday Mercury has certainly delivered big news exclusives, sensation, spice, love and top sports coverage, week in, week out.

We delivered it all in our first issue and we’re still delivering it now.

Ex-Press Club chairman dies aged 74

Anthony George Hayes, a former chairman of Birmingham Press Club, has died, aged 74.

The funeral service will be on 8 January at 11am at St Anne's Catholic Church, Bridle Lane, Streetly, followed by cremation at Streetly Crematorium at 12.15.  All welcome.

Anthony died in Good Hope Hospital, Sutton Coldfield, on 13 December, having been diagnosed with both mesothelioma and acute myeloid leukaemia in May of last year.

He is survived by his wife, Monica, of nearly 50 years and his two daughters Esther and Laura and three grandchildren, Dylan, Oscar and Noah.

After losing both parents as a teenager Anthony joined the Royal Navy when he was 17.  He travelled the world, trained as an electrician and after nine years in the navy he returned to civilian life to start a family.

After a brief stint in banking he joined the Financial Times in 1976.  He went on to become an Area Advertising Sales Manager running the Birmingham office, enjoying a very successful career. When the branch office closed he became a self-employed sales and marketing consultant, continuing to work for the FT until he took early retirement to pursue his dream of writing a book. He wrote and had published two books both drawing on his experiences in the navy. He was in the middle of his third when he passed away.

Whilst at the FT, Anthony enjoyed membership of the Press Club for many years. He became chairman in 1988, serving for two years.  During this time he helped organise many events including a number of successful celebrity lunches, which helped raise the profile of the club. He is seen here with Cliff Richard when the singer was installed as a Life Member of the Press Club

In his spare time Anthony devoted time to raising money for charity through his involvement with the Lions Club and was a founder member and chairman of the Birmingham Centennial Lions.  

Former Press Club director Beryl Williams, who was assistant secretary of the Press Club when Anthony was chairman, said:  “He was a positive, charismatic fun loving man who was highly regarded by his colleagues. He will be deeply missed by his family and all who knew him.”

Honour for broadcasting “champion”

Gary Newbon.jpg

One of Birmingham's most recognisable faces in sports broadcasting has received an MBE in the New Year's Honours for services to media, sport and charity.

Gary Newbon has been the face and voice of sport in the West Midlands for half a century, having enjoyed a lengthy career with ITV Sport and ITV Central.

During his career, the 73 year old has covered sports as diverse as football, darts and horse racing and rose to the role of head of ITV Sport.

His citation described him as "a champion of women working in sport" who had nurtured a number of women, and men, who had gone on to have careers in sport broadcasting.

In 1981, he took on the executive post of controller of sport (West Midlands) alongside his roles on the nightly Central Sport bulletins and weekend Star Soccer shows.

He also worked on seven World Cups, three Olympic Games, international and club football and at ringside for major boxing events for ITV Sport.

After retiring from Central, he immediately stepped into a new role with Sky Sports football, boxing, greyhound racing and sporting nostalgia shows.

He also set up his own television production company and more recently has started training would-be television reporters and presenters.

Away from the microphone, Gary is Midlands President of the Lord's Taverners  - the official charity for recreational cricket - and hosts an annual Christmas fundraising lunch. He is also national patron of charity Deafblind UK and an honorary barker of the Variety Club of Great Britain.

Gary, who lives in Solihull, started his career as a junior reporter in his home town of Cambridge before becoming a freelance Fleet Street journalist. His TV career began when he joined Westward TV in the 1960s.

When Cloughie punched Jeremy

Award-winning broadcast journalist –turned-comedian Jeremy Nicholas provided the laughs when he appeared as guest speaker at Birmingham Press Club’s Christmas luncheon.

Jeremy, who earlier this year enjoyed a successful 27-show run at the Edinburgh Fringe, reminisced about a career which has taken him from the East Midlands – where he received a punch from legendary Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough and where he was ambushed on air by an armed man claiming to be Jesus – to the BBC World Service, Channel 5 and being stadium announcer at West Ham United FC.

The lunch, which annually brings together Press Club members and corporate contacts, was held at the Circle Restaurant, Birmingham Hippodrome.

Pictures:  Ian Tennant