Friday, 28 November 2008

The best in Britain!

I have just returned from Leeds clutching a trophy and certificate which 'proves' something I truly believe - that the Bath Chronicle is the best weekly newspaper in the UK.

Along with my deputy editor Paul Wiltshire and three of our colleagues from our sister papers in Clevedon and Weston we made the mammoth trek 'up north' to attend the Newspaper Society's annual Weekly Newspaper Awards. We had entered the Chronicle into the section of 'Best Paid For Weekly Title in the South West and Wales' and would have been thrilled just to win that competitive award - but what do you know, we did even better!

For, after duly winning that regional title - against great newspapers like The North Devon Journal and The Western Gazette - we were then automatically shortlisted for the overall national title. And what do you know (again) - we won that too. So the Bath Chronicle is now officially the best weekly newspaper in Britain.

Without trying to sound too smug (what do you mean too late for that mate), I have to say it feels fantastic.

I know that awards are sometimes more important to your own industry than to the public at large but anything that puts Bath in the forefront nationally should get all our votes. And because of what we did last night the country now knows that as well as having the best city in the UK we also have THE best newspaper.

I am delighted for all my fellow staff members in every department here in Chronicle Towers who have made this happen. It is a tribute to them all - and also a tribute to all our readers for their loyalty since switching from daily production. Hopefully they can all feel smug as well for helping us achieve this goal.

Not even Billy Bremner had that much fun in Leeds.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

The wonder of Woolies. . . .

I am sure I am not alone in feeling very sad about the news today that Woolworth's - a truly great 'British' institution - is in serious financial trouble.

At a time of deepening economic gloom to lose one of the best known and best loved names from our High Streets is very worrying - especially as it nationally employs 25,000 loyal staff members who have worked hard to keep 'the wonder of Woolies' alive for so many years, not least in our own local store in Moreland Road.

Like most people I guess I have very fond memories of this great store which was once an invaluable source of records, books, paper, endless cheap and cheerful presents and toys and of course the somewhat brand-defining Pic n Mix. It is a store which in my mind is tinged with happy memories and one for which I have enormous respect.

Sadly, however, the last time I popped into Woolies I had a horrible sense that it was a shop that was living on those memories and simply hadn't moved with the times. It was not just that it felt as if it hadn't entered the 21st century - it almost felt like it hadn't even left the 1970s. Other shops were doing what it once excelled in better (and even sometimes cheaper) and the store felt tired even though the enthusiasm and energy of the staff was as high as ever.

I hope even at this late stage that something might be done to save this great store chain which seems a real part of the British shopping experience even if it is (perhaps surprisingly) an American brand.

Let us all hope Woolies can 'pic' itself up and 'mix' with the big shops again.

Saturday night TV mania

This is my column in the Bath Chronicle of November 27 2008

Have you ever wondered how your life would be described if you were deemed sufficiently important to warrant an obituary in our leading national newspapers?
You would, no doubt, want to be remembered for your greatest achievements – the things that really mattered in your life.
Here for example is a potential ‘obit’ of someone who has done an awful lot in his life, someone who would clearly deserve many column inches in all our leading papers.
This man is regarded as one of the foremost journalists of his generation. Educated at Oxford, he went on to be an outstanding reporter working in 25 different countries – many of them war torn – before becoming a distinguished political journalist which saw him present Today and The World At One. He then graduated to the biggest, most prestigious reporting job in British political journalism – that of the BBC’s chief political correspondent. If that wasn’t enough, he then joined rivals ITN as their political editor. What a CV.
But it means nothing.
For on the day that a certain John Sergeant goes to visit the great politician in the sky, I envisage that the first paragraph of his obituary will talk about a time he toodled around the ballroom stage rather than on the Westminster one. For, as we all know, Mr Sergeant walked out on hit BBC show Strictly Come Dancing last week prompting more headlines, debate and column inches than most of the hugely important political stories he covered in his distinguished career.
The sheer scale of the publicity caused by John’s decision to throw in the top hat and tails is, to me, indicative of the fact that the whole country seems to be rediscovering its love of television – and in particular Saturday night television.
When I was growing up my favourite children’s programme was the delightfully anarchic Tiswas starring a somewhat less cynical Chris Tarrant, Lenny Henry, Spit the Dog and the delectable Sally James. For those that don’t know, Tiswas stood for ‘Today Is Saturday, Watch And Smile’ and that is certainly how people seem to be reacting now to the pleasantly old-fashioned Saturday night onslaught of TV light entertainment that hits us from the end of the football results until Match of the Day.
If my family are anything to go by – and I rather suspect they are – last Saturday night was a continual stream of Strictly Come Dancing, X Factor, I’m A Celebrity, X Factor results plus ITV2 or BBC2 post-show discussions. The surprising thing about this Saturday night feast is how universally appealing it has become.
People who I wouldn’t imagine for a second would have the slightest bit of interest in dancing have confessed to me that they are avid ‘Strictly’ fans, music fans who normally regard even Mozart as a ‘bit commercial’ are ‘fessing-up’ to being X Factor devotees and people of all ages seem to be revelling in the jungle antics of the likes of Robert Kilroy-Silk and the truly appalling David Van Day.What is actually quite nice about all this – and one of the reasons why I think this relatively easy entertainment has started to mean so much to so many – is that it takes all our minds away from the increasingly depressing news we hear, day in, day out.
The savage effects of the credit crunch are already being felt by the minority (and the majority also feel nervous that it is just around the corner for them as well) so to be able to lose yourself for a few hours at least in watching Rachel Stevens do her foxtrot, JLS attempt to sing a Take That song or even an ex-member of the EastEnders cast being asked to eat the penis of a kangaroo can be a helpful (if disturbing) distraction.
In fact, thinking about it, maybe I am wrong about Mr Sergeant. With the news being so depressing maybe he will be pleased that his future obit writers will remember him as a man who brought a smile to our face as he dragged his partner around the stage rather than as a deliverer of the nightly gloom.
Happy viewing folks.