Local Democracy? Reporters ensure it’s alive and well

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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.

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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”

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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

Boost for rural business village


Following a £5.85 million finance package from HSBC UK – the overall sponsor of Birmingham Press Club - Dunston Business Village, a Staffordshire business park, is to build an additional 24 office units.

The business park, which is currently home to over 65 companies, secured planning consent earlier this year to add an additional 25,000 sq feet of office space. The new buildings will be ready to occupy in early 2019, with many already pre-let. The business park hopes to welcome a further 35 firms to the site in the next two years.

The loan follows Dunston Business Village’s switch to HSBC UK as its new banking provider.

Adrian MacLaughlin, managing director of Dunston Business Village, said: “Our ambition is to provide small to medium sized businesses with access to excellent office facilities in a community environment. There is a rich mix of innovative businesses in rural areas across the country and we’re delighted to be able to support those in Staffordshire with the space they need to prosper.

“The support from HSBC UK and our Relationship Manager, Sharon Coles, has ensured we can continue to welcome new businesses to our site and invest in improving our amenities.” 

In addition to the new office units, Dunston Business Village has invested in a new bistro and café complex to promote greater collaboration and integration between businesses based on the site.

Dan Wright, HSBC UK’s regional head of Real Estate, said: “Dunston Business Village is an example of how our rural communities are continuing to drive business growth outside of our major towns and cities, so we were thrilled to be able to welcome the business to HSBC UK. Adrian has an ambitious vision for the site and we look forward to supporting him in his expansion efforts.”

Dunston Business Village has become home to a number of front-line technology companies that specialise in everything from back-end integration to car finance software.


The bank’s Tamworth Branch in 1920

The bank’s Tamworth Branch in 1920

Leading bank HSBC UK – overall sponsor of Birmingham Press Club – is celebrating the 125th anniversary of its branch in Tamworth.

The branch, currently situated at 10 Market Street, formally opened on 1st December 1893 at 35 Market Street and was established within the Birmingham and Midland Banking Corporation, more commonly known as Midland Bank.

Jacqui Sutton, branch manager of HSBC UK Tamworth, said: “I am proud to be leading the branch team at such a momentous time. Celebrating 125 years of the branch being open in this great town has given us the opportunity to appreciate how our branch has adapted to rapidly changing consumer habits and technology over the years.”

The branch relocated to its existing premises in 1969.

Jacqui added: “During the early 1890’s in-branch services and the customer experience would have been significantly different to what it is like today. Opening hours coincided with local market days and the services available would be limited to business advice and small loans, receiving deposits, withdrawals authorisations and cashing cheques in, with all records paper-based and recorded in large ledgers.

“While today, the majority of our banking is done with a click of a button, where customers can keep a very close eye on their finances with our Connected Money app, they are still able to discuss our mortgage and savings options here in the branch. We are very proud to be part of a branch which has been at the centre of change in banking in the 21st century, but even more proud to continue be providing a first class service for the people of Tamworth.”

In 1992 HSBC Holdings plc acquired full ownership of Midland Bank, in one of the largest acquisitions in banking history. Midland was renamed HSBC Bank plc in 1999. In 2015 a new brand – HSBC UK – was announced and the bank celebrated the groundbreaking ceremony for a new headquarters to be built in Birmingham.

Another editorial re-structure at MNA

Final farewells: From left, Simon Penfold, Keith Harrison, Lisa Harrison, Diane Davies and Karen Baker

Final farewells: From left, Simon Penfold, Keith Harrison, Lisa Harrison, Diane Davies and Karen Baker

More changes at the Express & Star’s editorial team have been revealed following the departure of editor Keith Harrison and business editor Simon Penfold.

Midland News Association (MNA) has now announced that deputy editor Diane Davies has left along with its Weekend supplement deputy editor Lisa Harrison and editor’s secretary Karen Baker. 

MNA has also announced that former Shropshire Star deputy editor Mark Drew will become deputy editor for the group, while John Corser will take over from Simon on the business desk.

As previously reported, Shropshire Star editor Martin Wright has been appointed to the role of editor of the Express & Star and editor-in-chief of the Midland News Association as a result of Keith’s departure.

“I’m looking forward to starting my new role, shaping the editorial content for the MNA. I have spoken to editorial staff in a series of meetings and one-to-one discussions and I am relishing the opportunity of working with such a talented team of journalists.

“The Express & Star and Shropshire Star have a superb heritage for reporting on local life and leading the way in making a positive difference in the communities we serve. I want to build on our reputation as the leading newspaper brands in our areas,” said Martin, who added: “The five colleagues who departed last week leave with our best wishes for the future.”


A journalism course run by City of Wolverhampton College has been named the best in the country – for the eighth year in a row!

The college was named as the top further education provider of the academic year National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) Diploma in Journalism at the annual NCTJ Awards for Excellence at Quendon hall in Essex.

The feat was described as ‘staggering’ when it was presented and BBC apprentice Yusaf Akbar was also commended as a shortlist for the apprentice of the year award.

Dani Wozencroft, course leader for the NCTJ Diploma in Journalism, said: “To win this award for the eighth consecutive year is an amazing achievement, particularly as the college was up against tough competition from other training providers. It is particularly pleasing to note that we have not only been presented with this award again, but this year we posted our best every exam results and every single student who graduated in July is now working in the industry.

“This shows we are not resting on our laurels and are still determined to improve and be the best we can be – providing the best trainee journalists we can do – by improving every year.

“The NCTJ diploma is an intense course and this accolade is well-deserved recognition of our students’ dedication to learning and our tutors’ commitment to helping them to develop the skills and knowledge they need for successful careers in the industry,” she added.

The one-year full-time Level 3 course combines studying at college with work placements at local newspapers, magazines, radio stations, online platforms and in public relations companies and gives aspiring journalists the qualification editors look for when appointing reporters.

The latest award comes after a host of former students were recognised at the Birmingham Press Club’s annual Midlands Media Awards.

Former NCTJ students of the college Tim Spiers, from the Express & Star, and Caroline Lowbridge, from BBC East Midlands, were named Sports Journalist of the Year and Online/Digital Journalist of the Year respectively.

In addition, Ross Hawkes of Lichfield Live was shortlisted in the Blog/Columnist of the Year category, Nicholas Reid, who now works at the Derby Telegraph, was shortlisted as Features Journalist of the Year and James Iles, from the Bromsgrove & Droitwich Standard was shortlisted for Headline of the Year.

Other former students Jenny Moody, who works at the Burton Mail, and Bev Holder, of the Stourbridge News, were shortlisted for News Reporter of the Year in the daily and weekly categories.

End of Era for Black Country duo

Keith Harrison receives his signed shirt from Express & Star sports writer Tim Spiers.

Keith Harrison receives his signed shirt from Express & Star sports writer Tim Spiers.

Two stalwarts of England’s biggest-selling regional daily have left the newspaper after a combined 49 years’ service.

Bowing out with Express & Star editor Keith Harrison is business editor Simon Penfold (pictured), who first joined 24 years ago.

Express & Star editor Keith Harrison is stepping down after five years in charge and 25 years at the Wolverhampton-based title.

Simon, who was business editor for the last seven years, first joined the paper as a reporter in 1994 and has worked on its business desk since 1997. He began his career in journalism at the East Anglian Daily Times in 1980 and also had a six-year stint at the Hull Daily Mail before joining the E&S.

Paying tribute to the duo, Corin Crane, chief executive of the Black Country Chamber of Commerce, said in a post on LinkedIn: “They have both been brilliant partners to the Chamber of Commerce and to the wider business community, championing local business issues, raising the profile of our local success stories and holding decision makers to account.

“They were a huge part of the success of last year’s Business Festival and I imagine there are businesses across the Black Country who have worked with them in a similar way over the last 25 years.”

Dudley MP Ian Austin also tweeted that he was “very sorry” to see Keith go and described him as “a brilliant editor and great champion of the Black Country.”

Premier League football team Wolverhampton Wanderers marked Keith’s departure by presenting him with a special signed football shirt yesterday.

Preston North End supporter Keith tweeted: “Many thanks to @tim_spiers_Star @Wolves and @rubendsneves_ for this brilliant memento. I’m PNE to the core . . . but proud to be an honorary Wulfrunian.”

Solihull News to be axed

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A continued decline in local print advertising is one of the factors blamed for the closure of the Solihull News – with its final edition being published on 21 December.

According to ABC figures published earlier this year, the weekly, which began 88 years ago as the Warwickshire News, had a free distribution of 44,786.

From 2 January, it will be replaced with a new Solihull edition of the daily Birmingham Mail which will feature up to four pages of news from the borough from Monday to Saturday.

Reach  has confimed that no jobs are to be lost as a result of the News’s closure. Its Midlands editor-in-chief Marc Reeves said: “Clearly closing the Solihull News isn’t a decision we’ve taken lightly, but with such a strong stable of print and online titles that are already immensely popular across the borough, we know we can continue to serve readers and advertisers with the best local news and exciting new ways to reach customers.”

In a statement announcing the closure of the Solihull News, the company called into question the future of the free door-to-door distribution model.“A continued decline in local print advertising, particularly in the key property platform, means that the free distribution door-to-door model is no longer sustainable,” it said.

The new Solihull Mail will feature up to four pages of borough news, views, features and sport each day, in addition to extensive online coverage on BirminghamLive and community news platform InYourArea. According to Reach, BirminghamLive and its sister online titles have a monthly audience in Solihull of more than 194,000 – more than three times the circulation of the News.

Up for a Laugh at Christmas

Comedians have been known to “die a death” at Birmingham Press Club’s annual Christmas lunch. But that won’t worry this year’s guest speaker – he’s already hosted the Good Funeral Awards!

Former journalist Jeremy Nicholas is an award-winning TV and radio broadcaster, well known for his quirky ‘and finally’ and sports reports for BBC TV and radio.  Earlier this year his comedy show ‘After Dinner Stories From My Disastrous Broadcasting Career’ enjoyed a successful 27-show run at the Gilded Balloon, Edinburgh Fringe.

He presented The World Today on the BBC World Service as well as winning a Sony Award for his BBC London breakfast show. He’s a well-known voice on news and sports broadcasts, winning A New York Academy Award for his live commentary at the Hillsborough Disaster.

Jeremy lives in London where he runs Talking Toolbox, which teaches advanced presentation skills and media training using techniques from over 30 years on TV and radio.

Jeremy’s an accomplished after-dinner speaker, especially when they want someone funny, but can’t afford someone really famous. In 2014 his career peaked when he hosted The Good Funeral Awards.

He’s much in demand as an MC at events. He’s compered hundreds of business events for the likes of IBM, Samsung and Boots. His background as a sports broadcaster is a perfect fit for awards shows.

On television he’s reported on the face of Elvis appearing on a piece of Stilton cheese, the Moscow State Circus husband and wife crossbow act who were getting divorced but still had eighteen months left on their contract and Speedy the tortoise having an artificial leg fitted. Tragically pigeonholed as an end-of-bulletin man, he never gets the lead story.

He devised the TV sports quiz Sick as a Parrot, which he presented on Channel 5 and also on BBC Radio 5 Live.

In October 2015 he was awarded the highest award in UK speaking, the PSAE - Professional Speaking Award of Excellence, only the fifteenth person in history to receive it. He’s a past president of the Professional Speaking Association, London.

Kids of all ages are more impressed that he’s the voice of the announcer on 11 global best-selling football video games FIFA 06 to FIFA 16. If your children have this game, you will know this man’s voice, perhaps a little too well. In real life he served sixteen years as the stadium announcer at West Ham United FC, announcing West Ham’s goals very loudly and the opposition’s very quietly.

TV sports fans will recognise him as the early face of live football on Channel 5, back in the days when the picture was a bit fuzzy. When the signal improved he was replaced by someone better looking.

Jeremy’s career highlights include being punched by legendary Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough during an interview and being ambushed live on air by an armed man claiming to be Jesus.

He’s a published author and his third book ‘A Million Tips on Public Speaking - Volume One’ is available as a free download on his website www.JeremyNicholas.co.uk.

He enjoys sea-salted caramels made by multi-award-winning chocolatier Bianca Marton. In fact, he likes them so much that in 2014 he did a Dragon’s Den style investment and now co-owns Bianca Marton Chocolates, the west London chocolate maker.

Jeremy likes to think that his friends refer to him as Willy Wonka, but he may have misheard.


  • Enquiries regarding this year’s Christmas Lunch, which is on 14 December, to fred.bromwich@btinternet.com