Getting to know - Brian Asplin

AS he closes his notebook for the final time editor Brian Asplin looks back on his career in journalism. Starting as a junior reporter he has filed thousands of stories and seen many changes in the way news is reported in the Fens. All members of staff wo

AS he closes his notebook for the final time editor Brian Asplin looks back on his career in journalism. Starting as a junior reporter he has filed thousands of stories and seen many changes in the way news is reported in the Fens.

All members of staff would like to take this opportunity to wish him well for a long and happy retirement.

1 Who are you?

Brian Asplin

2 What do you do?

I have been a journalist for seven weeks short of 44 years - and I retire today.

Most Read

3 Why would people know you?

I have met many people while out and about in Wisbech, March and Chatteris as a reporter for the Cambs Times and Wisbech Standard for many years, have attended countless meetings of various councils and other organisations throughout Fenland and as a news editor and editor of both papers have continued to meet and get involved with the organisations that make Fenland tick.

4 On a scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest) how do your rate your sense of humour?


5 What was your last text message you sent or received?

I never send text messages and I get rid quickly of those I receive. They represent a lazy way of communicating and, more importantly, they play a major role in the mangling of the English language.

6 Give us at least five pet hates.

Undisciplined children; racial and sexual discrimination; people who don't clear up after their dogs; the over-zealous political correctness and health and safety brigades; misuse of the apostrophe, people who think bad English doesn't matter; macho drivers who always want to overtake whether it's safe to do so or not; cars with only one headlight; canned laughter on TV and radio programmes; intrusive background music in TV programmes; growth of the tribute band culture; shrink-wrap which makes it almost impossible to open all manner of products; having to go through the lengthy and tedious numbers game when ringing a company before being able to speak to a real human; unsolicited sales calls, particularly during evenings and at weekends; pubs that don't keep their draught beer in good condition.

7 Is it time for Britain to abolish the Royal Family?

No. They are, whatever some of our politicians may think, one of the institutions that symbolise our Britishness.

8 Where is the capital of the Fens and why?

Wisbech. It has the most significant historical and

architectural heritage of all the Fenland towns. It was a borough before local government reform in 1974 and now attracts more visitors and tourists than anywhere else in Fenland. And by way of confirmation, just read the signs as you drive into the town.

9 Which TV programme sends you to the off button?

All soaps and all the unrealistic reality shows.

10 What football result do you look for first and why?

All Premiership results - and Hamilton Academicals. This has been so for many years and I honestly don't know why.

11 Who would you most like to sit next to on an aeroplane and why?

Bob Dylan, in the hope that I could persuade him to explain the hidden meanings behind his more obscure lyrics. He wouldn't, of course, so my second choice

would be Leonard Cohen, who just might.

12 Who was your childhood hero and why?

John Wayne - and he still is. I am a great western fan and I guess I never grew up

13 What is the most memorable story you have covered in your career?

Without doubt the Wisbech Harrier crash in 1979. It happened on a Friday morning after two RAF Harrier jets collided while on a training exercise. One crashed into a field outside the town. The other demolished two houses and a bungalow in Ramnoth Road. Both pilots ejected safely. A boy and two men, one of them Bill Trumpess, a former Wisbech mayor, died in Ramnoth Road.

I and other reporters were on the scene quickly and I was able, because I had friends at Fenland Aero Club, to get a photographer into a plane to take aerial pictures of the crash site before the MoD closed the airspace.

Naively I expected to arrive to find a house with an aircraft's tail sticking out from it. I was surprised to find only a pile of rubble, with flames from a fractured gas main flickering through the bricks.

There was debris on the road and on the opposite pavement only a few feet from the destroyed properties where the public, and the press, were standing watching the emergency services at work - a situation which policing and health and safety regulations would surely not allow today.

14 What is the worst journalistic mistake you have made?

The Wisbech Standard's coverage of the flooding of the town in 1978. I was news editor at the time and we had staff on duty on the Wednesday night after an official flood warning. We checked around the port area at the time the incoming tide was due to peak and there was a little water seeping up through the drains. I and others stood on the town bridge and watched the water almost reach the top of the parapet and then begin to recede. We all then went home and I decided to write a 'Wisbech narrowly escaped disaster' story next morning.

However, next morning I was horrified to learn that much of the North Ward had suffered serious flooding and that residents had been evacuated to the Isle College.

I was about to explain to my editor, Roger Green, that I had fouled up when our photographer, John Day, walked in a with a big smile on his face and a big pile of pictures in his hand - pictures showing the flooding and residents being rescued by firemen.

Luckily he lived next door to a fireman who had alerted him and arranged to get him into the danger area. John, known to all journalists as Jimmy, turned in a super set of pictures and we quickly wrote the captions and pulled a story together.

Jimmy really saved my skin - and reminded me of the journalistic need to check and check again. I shall forever be in his debt.

15 What is the most memorable or significant picture published during your career?

Another Jimmy Day picture - this time of the birth of a baby at Bowthorpe Maternity Hospital, Wisbech.

The hospital was threatened with closure and the Wisbech Standard was looking for ways to lift its profile in the battle to keep it open. Editor Roger Green came up with the idea of a front page picture of a baby being born. Chief reporter Garth Williams arranged it with the consultant at the hospital, Barry Taylor. The result was a stunning picture seconds after the birth of a boy, I think to a March woman.

It certainly made an impact. We had numerous telephone calls next morning, some congratulating us for our initiative and bravery, other vilifying us for our invasion of the mother's privacy and printing such a vulgar picture. Our staff were interviewed by radio stations and by several other newspapers about our brave stance.

But it was all to no avail. The Bowthorpe closed in 1986.

16 What is the worst job you have ever had to do?

There have been several instances of this: Having to go to interview people who have just lost loved ones in an accident. The first time was horrendous. And it really never gets much easier, however hard-bitten we journalists

pretend to be.

17 What are the most important changes you have seen in your career?

When I started as a trainee reporter at the Cambs Times in 1964 we used massive steel sit-up-and-beg typewriters and the papers were printed by the old hot metal system. Since then there have been many changes, both for journalists, commercial staff and printers, as the industry moved towards the slick full-colour computerised system we have today.

But all of those changes affected only the way we produced the newspapers. The biggest change is the most recent - the internet and websites, which actually change what the industry actually is. As websites become increasingly dominant the challenge facing newspapers will be to maintain standards as this largely unpoliced virtual world takes over the industry.

18 What is the best piece of advice you have give to trainee reporters?

I'm sure many people in the industry will recall getting thoroughly fed up with me sounding off about many things. However, I think one of the most important things I always reminded trainees, sometimes after a complaint from the public, was that getting it nearly right was the same as getting it wrong.

19 How will you spend your retirement?

I have books to read, music to listen to, holidays to take and large garden to keep tidy. I also plan to indulge my hobbies of bird watching and photographing aircraft. And I do have Camra's 'Good Beer Guide' for 2008.

20 What's your biggest regret in life?

I have no major regrets. I've been lucky both family-wise and work-wise. I have had a great time so far, but I do regret not making the best of my time at school and not learning to play the guitar properly.