Stop the press! And stop the pigeon! Memories of an Edinburgh Evening News reporter

The late Bill Rae began work as a copy boy on the Evening News at the age of 17. His career as a reporter began after he returned from National Service at the age of 20.

His family have been kind enough to share with us some of his memories from early days at the paper, which we are proud to publish here.

Bill’s recollections are illustrated by pictures of the 1940s case room which was overseen at the time by his grandfather, John Henderson.

In his reminiscences he referred to the newspaper as the ‘old’ Edinburgh Evening News:

‘I use the word “old” because in 1945 the dear old News was a world away from the slick colour tabloid it is today….

In those days, working on an evening newspaper was probably the most stressful form of journalism one could choose. Talk about working against the clock!

….There were four editions each day Monday to Friday… Between each edition there was barely one hour, so no sooner had one edition gone to press than everyone was working for the next, sweating at a typewriter and glancing at that newsroom clock again. …

Edinburgh Evening News case room

Edinburgh Evening News case room

The offices on the corner of Market Street and Cockburn Street were a clear architectural graft of the old and the new. Stand at that end of Waverley Bridge and look skywards… On the top floor, at the very corner of the Victorian building, is the Turret Window… If your eyesight is good, you will see a tiny door. This was where the News carrier pigeons entered the building. My grandfather, who for many years was caseroom overseer, told me that as the pigeons alighted an electric bell rang downstairs in the caseroom, and a boy was dispatched to retrieve the brief message from the bird’s leg.

When a reporter had been sent to, let’s say, a press conference, the normal form of communications was to find a telephone (no mobile phones in those days) and read a selection of quotes from one’s uncertain shorthand notes to a copytaker in the newsroom. Mission accomplished, subside and light a cigarette.

Staff in the Edinburgh Evening News case room

Staff in the Edinburgh Evening News case room

…On an evening paper, who had time to re-write anything? Correct the grammar, and punctuate: that was about it. Add a heading. Get it to the caseroom, quick! This was accomplished either by pneumatic tube, or by a gently clattering overhead railway which moved across the newsroom unendingly before disappearing in the wall…

The machine room, with its great presses, was to me the most awesome in the building. It was rather frightening. When the presses were in full throttle, speech was impossible… It was always a relief to step outside the machine room, into the much less noisy Despatch Department, with men bundling up the orders with great rolls of hairy string. In Market Street stood the line of distinctive silver and copper delivery vans….”

View the exhibition of pictures from Bill and his grandfather’s bygone days of news production in Edinburgh on Capital Collections.


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