I’m mourning the loss of letter writers who used to vent their spleen in green ink

Paul Barnes suggests sales of green ink must be at an all-time low as social media has robbed the wo

Paul Barnes suggests sales of green ink must be at an all-time low as social media has robbed the world of the army of people who used to write letters of complaint in green handwriting - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Social media has plenty to answer for says Paul Barnes, not least what it has done to the green ink industry

Hardly a day passes when I don't get to ruminating about times past and wonder what's happened to acquaintances and artefacts that seemed to be so permanent that we took their existence for granted. Lately it's green ink that set me thinking. Whatever happened to the people who manufactured it? With the arrival of Twaddle, sorry, Twitter all the poisonous ranting that used to be written in a vivid grassy colour, often underlined and in capitals, the sales of the ink must have dried up pretty fast. Now the ranters and ravers simply poke away at their keyboards and launch their bilious stuff into cyberspace or wherever it goes.

There's something else that causes me consider "whatever": whatever would it be like if Write Now was still on the TV? It was an element in About Anglia 30-odd years ago which gave viewers a chance to air their opinions on events, people or programmes, anything that tickled their fancy. The emphasis was on writing, an act that required thought, then the little effort of finding a piece of paper or a postcard (no well-regulated household would be without them) then transferring those thoughts to that paper by manipulating a pen, after which an envelope would be found, a stamp applied and the exercise of popping it into a pillar box for Postman Pat to do his stuff.

There were some regular correspondents. One man wrote every other week carefully listing the wholesale prices of rabbits in Norwich livestock market. There were people who actually had considered opinions on various subjects, such as the way ITN's Peter Sissons said "Hello. Good afternoon". Some suggested that the hello cancelled out the good afternoon and therefore he should say only the one or the other. I checked the grammar books and found that it was perfectly correct as Sissons said it.

Minder, starring George Cole, exercised viewers. What, they wondered was the perpetually invisible 'Er indoors' actually like. Imaginations went into overdrive. Pen portraits arrived by the bundle. Was she short and shrewish, fat and brutish, tall and timid, or what? Thanks to Minder's writers she could be anything viewers wanted.

The programme's title Write Now came up on screen week after week, yet one frequent writer consistently and mysteriously addressed his letters to You Write. Eventually I wrote him a gentle note: "Dear Colin, It is always a pleasure to hear from you. However, there isn't, and never has been a programme called You Write ..." I never heard from him again.

I doubt Write Now could happen now. Thoughtful writing has gone out of the window. I fear that any such programme would be swamped by emails, texts, tweets that would take an age to filter before finding cogent expressions of opinion among the deluge of mindless drivel. I was given an idea of what this form of purgatory might be like a few years ago when I had a sight of a massive screen in Radio Norfolk's newsroom on which there was displayed the ever-flowing piffle from a multitude of mobiles, barely grammatical and badly spelt.

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There is one element of Write Now which still could make it to the screen these days and that's "Wally of the Week", an occasional award for the champion chumps who stand behind an interviewee, waving and gurning at the camera. There used to be plenty of them even then, hoping that they'd make it onto the telly, tuning in later that evening to rejoice in their moment of fame. "Look, mum, it's me, me, me," much more important than what might have been said in the interview they'd hi-jacked.

They're still at it, but in the age of the mobile they can actually call friends and tell them "I'm on the telly." You see them over and over, prowling not only outside parliament but in the lobby itself, sidling out of the frame and then back in again for a second go.

Look East brought us an absolute corker recently, live from Bury St Edmunds (I think). The set-up was a group of voters, sensible articulate people prepared to consider the ifs and buts of the election and discuss them with each other. Suddenly, menacingly close behind them there looms a great pink blancmange of a girl with her phone clamped against her woolly hat. She grins and waves for her audience before lumbering off, her pink coat and hat fading into the darkness, a five-star Wally by any measure. She'll probably get her own series next.