OPINION: EDP offers a wonderful platform for Norfolk beliefs and values
PUBLISHED: 16:47 11 October 2020 | UPDATED: 16:31 12 October 2020
As the EDP celebrates its 150th birthday, Keith Skipper looks back on his relationship with the paper
I got down to developing a serious relationship with the Eastern Daily Press well before I started village school in the late 1940s.
It was just a case of nipping next door to give Mum a break -- I was number five out of 10 off the Skipper production line – and trying hard not to annoy Florrie Ketteringham quite as much.
Her welcoming smile and newspaper sheets on a brick kitchen floor were strong calming influences as I nudged myself gently across the surface and inspected old copies of the EDP. Pictures of giant horses glowing and other camera-friendly farm creatures sent a joyful shiver through my increasingly uplifting visits.
We had the Daily Mirror in our cottage with the Dereham and Fakenham Times a Friday bonus. Elder sisters took the School Friend magazine. Elder brothers occasionally came home with a Beano or Dandy. However, it was Florrie’s crumpled pages destined to provide my call-up papers to the wonderful world of newsprint.
A few years later, when I could read as well as appreciate good photographs, I landed the job of calling on Mum’s Aunt Carrie because, as so delicately put, “she needs someone to talk at” while doing her cleaning and baking.
She took the EDP and requested interesting snippets to be presented aloud in between spells of her holding court about everyone and everything on her rambling compass. I waited for the next tasty sausage roll or shortcake straight from the old wall oven.
I cultivated a useful network of contacts and friends on regular errand rounds offering an ever wider choice of free reading material. Classroom chums came up with Eagle, Roy of the Rovers, Film Fun and a posse of cowboy treats. Harry Dawson shared his Methodist Recorder while Mildred Symonds added an ecumenical streak with her Christian Herald.
Audrey and George King allowed me to pore over their Farmers Weekly and Radio Times when I went for Friday tea at High House Farm where my oldest sister worked. Elsewhere, Mrs Mann passed on her son’s copies of boxing magazine The Ring. The elderly Lloyds near Water End Farm invited me to select from a pile of alluring Picture Posts stacked near their front door.
Plenty of chances as well to keep a constant eye on the EDP, especially for football news about the Canaries and the latest Boy John letter written to the paper in glorious Norfolk dialect by Broadland garage proprietor and comedian Sidney Grapes.
Those entertaining epistles (1947-58) served me admirably during early Hamond’s Grammar School days in Swaffham as I organised impromptu renditions and translations in the Reading Room for “foreign” pupils ready to offer cigarettes, Wagon Wheels or homework help in return.
You can thank (or blame) Eric Fowler for inspiring me to haunt the mean streets of Norfolk as a fearless news reporter on leaving school in 1962 .His talk to our sixth-form troops a few months before prompted a letter to the Norfolk News Company seeking first steps along that creative trail.
Eric went on parade for 35 years under the delightfully parochial pen-name of Jonathan Mardle to delight a wide and devoted EDP readership with his Wednesday morning essays. His columns remain one of the most distinguished expressions of English regional journalism.
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He was also a highly-regarded leader writer for the EDP, spicing many a dull but important topic with a memorably crisp turn of phrase. Nor was he above consulting much younger colleagues around the office. I recall a series of late-evening chats in the 1970s as we attempted to put Carrow Road antics into reasonable perspective.
A daunting role model as I spent 17 years working full-time on the EDP and associated papers in Thetford, Dereham, Yarmouth and Norwich. They told me so often I’d be carried out in a box it seemed downright impertinent to walk away on a warm June day in 1979.
I’d gone stale, lost faith in a new regime at the top and felt a spell of glorious uncertainty could do me good. Fresh challenges came along before I resumed regular links as an EDP columnist in the mid-1980s. I continue to relish a wonderful platform soaked in unflinching Norfolk beliefs and values.
If Jonathan Mardle was a catalyst for such daring ambitions, it was a good ole gal next door who got me going. Florrie Ketteringham’s EDP floor show has proved a class act.
Skip’s Aside: One of my favourite characters from EDP history is a Victorian editor who blazed a trail destined to inspire so much humorous material ever since.
James Spilling (1823 – 1897) was an intellectual who penned Sketches in Dialect in Eastern Counties stories in the language of the people, possibly the most extended use of the vernacular that has been attempted.
Giles’s Trip to London, first and most successful in his humorous series, was singled out by a London newspaper as “not only the best example of the Norfolk dialect ever given to the world, but also an admirable and spirited piece of farcical humour”.
It was an immediate hit, going on to sell in hundreds of thousands. Much of the amusement in Giles’s adventures as an innocent abroad stems from ignorance displayed towards the other’s world, not least in the manner of speech.
It also underlines another favourite theme .. to dispel the simpleton image of the rustic. London with its bright lights and sophisticated ways squares up to Norfolk’s homely country life, a sharp contrast bound to dominate dialect writing to come.
A collision of two worlds is also amiably explored in The Cockneys in the Country and ‘Arry and ‘ Arriet. Similar themes ring out today as natives weigh up “furriners”, especially those with capital connections.
During research into Spillings’ career I uncovered genuine concern for the plight of agricultural labourers, a strand destined to take on a darker and deeper significance in Norfolk writing at turn of the century.
Spilling poured out leaders, special articles of rural interest and stories dealing with country life and hardships of labourers. Trade unionism was growing and Spilling was credited with using humour to uphold rights of the agricultural workers as well as attempting to smooth away differences between master and man.
So, if Spilling inspired much of the comic dialect writing to follow, he must also be lauded for preparing the path for more serious dissertations when it became evident that for all its seductive images, the Norfolk countryside was falling apart in closing years of the 19th century.
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