Reading all about it – again

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I have always been a big fan of newspapers – I’m not too fussy about the title or style, although find the “red-top” tabloid kind less appealing due to their casual attitude to facts and occasionally a tendency to bully people in the public eye.

Sure, the phone-hacking and similar scandals have brought about some realistic legal restraint on the way newspapers gather their stories, but I imagine this will be only a temporary check until some new tricks are acquired by ace reporters and so-called investigative journalists who have been somewhat underwhelmed when investigated themselves. But such misconduct is often seen as a recent innovation made easier thanks to mobile phones and social networks that encourage everyone to make globally public personal information that was once just whispered in one person’s ear.

It has not always been like this. I had a small stroke of luck last week when my charming neighbour presented me with a placcie bag containing some old newspapers she had found while helping out at a house-clearing session. Inside the bag were a couple of copies of The Scotsman, sections of The Weekly News, a page or two of The Sunday Post and a Border Telegraph – all dating back to 1976.

Why anyone might choose to hoard newspapers from 1976 remains a mystery to me, although there was quite of lot of changes going on at that time. Borderers were adjusting to a new local government set-up when local burghs, towns and villages had been scooped up into amalgamated district councils under a Borders-wide regional authority, although that was soon to change when the heid yins found they had too many layers of local government and good ol’ Ettrick and Lauderdale council bit the dust. Community councils were in their infancy and, to be honest, have never managed to achieve their full potential. Needless to say, the new local authority was quick to blame everything that went wrong on its predecessors.

The Labour government of the day was in the usual muddle of internal factionalism, not helped by the abrupt resignation of Prime Minister Harold Wilson, later attributed to rapidly-advancing Alzheimer’s disease. History tends to ridicule his memory, but he was a wily and experienced politician who did not have an easy ride in a UK constantly riven by bullying trade unions and their fantasy wage-rise demands, with nationalist ambitions in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland also in full swing.

On the local scene, the reporting concentrated on more or less the same issues as we see in our newspapers today.

My old boss, Chief Inspector Sandy Mutch, rocked up at Ettrick and Lauderdale licensing board to give his report. He was a former company sergeant major in the Scots Guards and his man-management style was based on those days. A curt summons to his office for what can only be described as a bollocking would leave the recipient in a state of mild shock for some time afterwards.

From the figures quoted, there were more pubs (25) and hotels (37) in 1976, with little to report on their conduct. A couple of landlords got the belt for selling to underagers, but the low figures possibly suffered from inaccuracy in that they stuck to whatever happened on or near licensed premises, ignoring a larger amount of alcohol-based crime.

The Border Telegraph faithfully reported on just about every aspect of life in Galashiels, much of the news being gathered by a youthful “Scoop” Burgess. I often wonder what happened to him and the tin hat he wore during the so-called Winter of Discontent power cuts.

Sports coverage was a big part of newspapers in those days, but much more to the point.

In 1976, comparatively-few professional football players made the news, other than for their playing skills. The current breed would be appalled at the club discipline rules of those days, and as for paying one player 300 grand a week, that sum would have bought a first division club and enough change left over for the complete supporters’ club to go to the pub. Of course, rugby was well reported on at national and local levels, with the names of up-and-coming stars well to the fore – these guys, such as Andy Irvine and Jock Berthinusson, are now legends in the sport.

To say that things were cheaper in 1976 would be an understatement, with the going rate for a good and fairly-new second-hand car being around £500, and houses selling from £8,000 to £10,000.

Aye, those were indeed the days, when The Pilgrim family lived in a dingy police house in Huddersfield Street, although later that year we flitted to Selkirk – a move we have never once regretted. Policing in those days was a more direct affair than now – offenders were more likely to be held in custody overnight for appearance at court in the morning. In most cases a plea of guilty was tendered and the matter dealt with there and then, which to me seemed a fair way of administering justice compared with today when even minor offences can spin out for months.

Every part of Galashiels was patrolled at night by constables on foot who would start their shift by ensuring the pubs and hotels turned out at the end of permitted hours – 10pm – although the law allowed 10 minutes grace for drinking-up time.

To many readers, the 1970s saw the last of the days when everything – including local government, policing, etc. – were in direct contact with the public they served. The waves of change that followed eventually led to the situation we endure today, and even a casual look at our current situation leads many to say: “Those really were the good old days.”

One thing has not changed – the Border Telegraph still reports on Galashiels life, and long may it continue.

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