Well I grew up in a place called Kirkby, which was a big council estate on the outskirts of Liverpool. Newtown. It was where Z Cars was located. They didn’t call it Kirkby in Z Cars, they called it ‘Newtown’, but they used to shoot all their location stuff. My local pub was in the titles. And Kirkby, it was in Harold Wilson’s constituency, so you grew up with the Prime Minister being your local MP. But an estate which had quite a rough reputation. It was largely Catholic families from the Liverpool dockside who’d been moved out after slum clearance after the Second World War. It was almost like a dispossessed population, in that sense, because they’d all been torn away from their mothers and fathers. Like my parents, my mom was 19 when she had me and they were suddenly turfed eight miles up the east Banks Road to a place called Kirkby. Which to them felt like the other side of the world, really. And all their community and their network and their families was all back down the Liverpool Dock Road. We weren’t alone in that. There was a lot of families like that. So I grew up in Kirkby.
Because it was Wilson’s constituency and it was a new town, Wilson made it the first all-comprehensive town in the UK. So the only secondary schools were comprehensive schools. There was a boys’ Catholic comprehensive school, girls’ Catholic comprehensive school, and two CofE comprehensive schools. And I went to St Kevin’s Catholic comprehensive school. I always wanted to be a footballer, I always wanted to play for Liverpool, and I had trials for Liverpool. …But I didn’t get picked.
I was at a Liverpool football game and I was reading a programme and I was reading a piece by a Daily Express reporter writing about covering Liverpool and all the different places in Europe he’d been to. He’d been to Budapest. He’d been to Bucharest. He’d been to Moscow. He’d been to Paris. He’d been to Rome. I just thought, “Surely that’s got to be… If I can’t be a footballer, I’ll go and write about football. I’ll write about Liverpool.” So I wrote to my local newspaper. I went to a careers convention where journalism wasn’t even represented. The closest that you got to it, they had a stand if you wanted to be a printer. And I went to the head of careers and said, “What if I want to be a journalist?” He said, “Well, we haven’t got anybody here representing that.” And I said, “Well, what if I got in touch with my local newspaper and offered to write for free about football reports every weekend?” Because all the pitches in Kirkby were full of people playing football, and the schools. He said, “Well, you could have a go.” So I did, and they bit my hand off. Suddenly, at the age of 14, I was writing football reports for the Kirkby Reporter and they used to get printed every week and my name used to go on it. And after a while, I sent…
Was this Liverpool football?
No. It was just schoolboy football matches. Yes. Then they asked me to report on Kirkby Town. I’d do it for the Kirkby Reporter but also the Blackpool Gazette.
And then, I got to 16 and my dad really wanted me to take my A Levels and try to go to university. But I’d got the minimum required qualifications to be a journalist. I got five O Levels. And the Kirkby Reporter offered me a job. They said, “You can get in with that.” So they offered me a job. The Kirkby Reporter was part of a group of newspapers called South Lancashire Newspapers, which were based in St Helens. And what they did, they… I was 16. You were put on a three-month trial, and then if you passed your three-month trial, they then would give you a job for three years, three months and they would train you. You know, pay for your training. So I got through the three months and then I was put on a…
There used to be lots of different ways you could be trained. You could take a year old, go to a college. Preston was the big place in the North West. You could, over a two-year period, go on eight-week block release courses. I think three eight-week courses. Or you could do a day release course. That’s what I used to do. I used to go to a college in Liverpool every Thursday. I was taught shorthand and public administration, use of language, newspaper law. And you passed all those exams and then you took the final proficiency certificate, which I took at 18. I was the youngest person in the country ever to… because I’d started so early. And I saw out my time at the Kirkby Reporter. I saw out my time at the Kirkby Reporter. I did my indentures.
In fact, I started doing freelance stuff for Granada while I was there. While we worked for the local paper, we were always doing freelance stuff on the side. We’d go to a council meeting or court meeting, we’d send a copy to Radio City in Liverpool as well, and Radio Merseyside. You’d get paid a couple of quid. I built a relationship with Geoff Seed at Granada, and we used to send him bits of copy.