Eddy’s memories of hot metal and fountain pens at wartime Express

A young Eddy Rawlinson with Fred Simcock in the Burnley Express engraving room. (s)
A young Eddy Rawlinson with Fred Simcock in the Burnley Express engraving room. (s)

The printing presses have long since fallen silent and the final reporters have now filed out of Bull Street, but memories of the Burnley Express in bygone days remain imprinted in the minds of many who plied their trade in the historic newspaper office.

Local lad and respected photographer Eddy Rawlinson has reflected on his fledgling early days in Bull Street, before his remarkable 70 year career took flight to the national press.

A young Eddy Rawlinson at work in Bull Street

A young Eddy Rawlinson at work in Bull Street

Eddy, who still lives in Cliviger, went on to have a successful career on the northern picture desk of the Daily Mirror, but it was those early years at the Express, during the dark days of the Second World War, that he remembers with fondness.

It is a story of colourful characters, hot metal and even hotter flashbulbs during a period of the industry long since consigned to the history pages.

For a bright-eyed teenage Eddy it was a wonderful exciting first step on his own life story, but one tinged with sadness as the town’s newspaper revealed which of its sons would not be returning from war, as Eddy recalls:

“In 1943 when I climbed the rickety stairs of the Burnley Express building in Bull Street to start work as a junior photographer and engraver, Britain was in the middle of the Second World War.

I was to hold a flashgun full of magnesium powder and strike the flint...

Photographer Eddy Rawlinson

“It meant as a 14 year old I would be taking over from a worker who had left to join the armed forces and assisting Mr Fred Simcock ARPS.

“He was nearing retirement age and the newpaper’s only photographer who also had to make his pictures into metal blocks for printing on the rotary press.

“Previously I had been a ‘printer’s devil’ working for three months at a local print shop learning the art of print.

“My old job meant going in at 7am to get the fire going and finishing work at 5-30 in the evening for a five and a half day week. My Burnley Express work sounded real cushy with a 9am start until I was told I would have to assist Mr Simcock that very Monday evening at a function starting at 8pm.

“I was to hold a flashgun full of magnesium powder and strike the flint when he took the lens cap off his camera, Tommy Steel’s song ‘What a Picture’ comes to mind.

“Flashbulbs were in short supply through the foil being needed in the war effort. That was the start of my first day in a career which was to extend over 70 years of working for the media.

“The Burnley Express was not only a family newspaper, it also had been a family owned newspaper 10 years before I joined until the Brotherton family sold out to a national newspaper company.

“That family spirit still remained within its workforce. When the Burnley Express was taken over by the Preston based Burnley News in 1933 they moved out of St James’s Row across into Bull Street, the Burnley News had no means of printing in Burnley and the ‘Bladder’ as many older people referred to th’Express became a national concern.

“Promotions were made within the Burnley Express staff and Richard (Dick) Hart became general manager of the Burnley operation.

“On joining my editor was Ted Parkinson who left the company shortly after to make a name for himself in the BBC and he was succeeded as editor by Clifford Harman.

“Still remembered today, Gerry Bradley had been a photographer on the News and became an Express reporter returning to taking pictures for the Express when the war ended.

“Jerry Mulholland, a genial Irishman, was the chief reporter. His son Brendan became a reporter working for the Daily Mail and was national news himself by going to prison for refusing to give his source of information in the Vassall, Russian Spy Tribunal.

“Several of the reporters wrote their copy with fountain pens, others bashed away at typewriters. Copy ended up on the top floor of the building where six linotype operators tapped out the reporters’ stories and set advertisements into hot metal.

“Publishing days were on a Wednesday and Saturday with many editions finding their way throughout the world to lads and lasses from Burnley who were serving in the Forces.

“A weekly feature in the Wednesday edition was ‘Serving in HM Forces’ where relatives of serving men and women were asked to send in photographs of their loved ones who had gone to war. My job was to copy the pictures and make them all the same size and then put them into strips of eight.

“Every Wednesday a strip of eight pictures appeared in the Wednesday edition giving details of the person and then filed for further reference. Many were to appear again in the paper under such headings as ‘Killed in Action’, ‘Missing’, and ‘Prisoner of War’, my cousin appeared under one of those headings when he went down with his ship, HMS Galatea.

“Covering assignments was by bus, although in the Brotherton days the Express did have its own van and in 1946 a former wartime ambulance appeared on Bull Street and the editorial department had its own wheels complete with a yellow Burnley Express livery.

“Presenting bus tickets to the accountant claiming for journeys travelled from the office to an assignment comes to mind.

“Apart from taking photographs and making blocks very early on a Saturday morning I and another junior loaded up the office handcart and took bundles of papers across to the bus station.

“There we put the copies of the Express on buses for the outlying districts where our rival, the privately owned Nelson Leader, circulated.

“Our other opposition with a six man team was the Northern Daily Telegraph, with its office across the road on Manchester Road.

“Many a time late on a Friday night when the press began to roll and the compositors work was done they would have to walk home as the bus services had finished running, all part of their job to earn more in wages than that of an ordinary working man.

“While waiting for the all clear several of the men would wander down the side of the office and enjoy a pint or two in the Masons or next door in the Bay Horse pub.

“Visiting the Big Window across the road from the office made it too conspicuous as the General Manager’s office overlooked Bull Street.

“On returning after National Service I was told by the manager they had taken on another photographer, David Seddon, to join Gerry Bradley and I was to become an engraver – that didn’t go down well for I loved photography.

“I was determined to leave and 1953 I was given a job as staff photographer on the Manchester Evening News, which didn’t please Mr Hart at all. Looking back they probably were the best years in my newspaper life although I enjoyed my national newspaper days.

“Those Burnley Express years in Bull Street should never be lost from the history books of Burnley...maybe someone should write a book of those good old days in Bull Street.”