Press Gazette: John Elworthy's Working Week

30.08.06 Leave home at 7am for the 40-minute trip across the Fens to work — a wonderful, clean, clear morning. Do the usual tractor count — quite low today, only seven. Email BBC Radio Cambridgeshire to ask why they are carrying no background on fraudste


Leave home at 7am for the 40-minute trip across the Fens to work - a wonderful, clean, clear morning. Do the usual tractor count - quite low today, only seven.

Email BBC Radio Cambridgeshire to ask why they are carrying no background on fraudster Michael Eke, in court the day before for deception and forging documents that got him an MBE. The overnight team haven't left them anything.

By 8.15am, I'm in a BBC studio in March, a forgotten outpost which has not seen a cleaner for years. Luckily the "cigarette police" haven't reached here, so an ashtray is thoughtfully provided, and well used. Do 10 minutes of chat - which now includes the fraudster - and back to the day job.

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The office is run on a shoestring, and both papers are now free, but our paid-for sale remains healthy. I started in "frees" 33 years ago but without citizen journalism, the internet and Google alerts to make life easier.

Our sister paper, the Eastern Daily Press, has bylined my story on the fraudster, but they want more. Their chief reporter drops by to get it.

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Today we have the new head of a special needs school, a businessman's account of bulldozers from the council knocking down his illegally built barn, a hotel manager's ordeal working for a "Basil Fawlty" owner, and MP Malcolm Moss's claim that Fenland people want an end to migrant workers.

There are a gossip column and leader to write and the web to update. I describe it as publishing a weekly paper, daily.

Stay late with pasta salad for company.


7am: Off to Sainsbury's, which our competition winners are to reopen after a refit. I resist the champagne, part of a health programme to lose two stone by Christmas.

Mike Ridley of the Daily Express arrives to follow up the MBE fraudster - this story has "legs".

By 2pm, it's time for another broadcast, this time on Fen Radio. Archant's staff newsletter is on the intranet with a photo of the corner shop opening I was asked to attend.

Oops, I've been "promoted" to editor. Hope the editor misses it.

An octogenarian correspondent telephones with an account of the over 60s club. I ask her to repeat the spelling of names - as a former village correspondent I know what's important.

I leave at 5pm for Bury St Edmunds and to my "hobby job", main stage presenter at a bingo club. The work subsidises the day job. I can't say I was unaware of newspaper pay when I returned to journalism five years ago.


Nip out for coffee with the former manager, by 24 hours, of the "Fawlty Towers" hotel - she's attitude-free about her former boss, and more concerned to show me the equipment given to her by the BBC in her new role as a roving reporter.

Former council leader Alan Melton offers an illuminating insight into local politics and I chat to the sportsdesk - Wisbech have an FA Cup fixture and I'm keen that photographs go online by 10am Monday.

At bingo later, I talk with the boss about smoking. Ours became the only non-smoking club in England, following a refit, and trade initially suffered, but is picking up.

Next year, smoking will be banned everywhere, and he points out that in Scotland, where the ban was introduced this year, profits have fallen 27 per cent and six clubs have closed.

Photographer Brian Purdy, still on holiday, sends a "well done mate" text over the MBE splash. A welcome compliment.


Head off for a 9am meeting 10 miles away with a friend, Glen Moulds, a former Flying Squad detective, who has converted a barn into a karate academy.

I finalise his publicity campaign. Glen has me chuckling over a £4,000 wager he once had with a News of the World executive and the KGB. They know who they are.

I pop into Boots to check my weight. Gratified to see five pounds has gone in a week - can't resist lifting five bags of sugar in Tesco later to get some idea of its significance.

Crisis solving into the night with a lesbian friend who has been dumped, and go to bed at 3.30am after disciplining myself to write up the council leader interview.

Please God, may I never tire of this eccentric lifestyle.


Laundry, lunch, lazing. Heaven.


A DI confirms he will brief me on our fraudster and later I obtain a video of his MBE being presented by the Queen.

I suggest to a hotelier he offers £500 to help find a Queen's Jubilee crystal trophy given to the fraudster's ATC squadron, which is missing.

Attend a council meeting, and round off the day at the Conservative Club with the Mayor, who confirms she wants me to read a lesson at the civic service. The theme is partnership - a curious choice given the divisive nature of local politics.


Phone call from Fenland Council asking if I will front a healthy lifestyle campaign to promote local leisure centres.

Suggest to publisher Paul Richardson we call it: "If he can, you can".

A freelance writer tackles ad features, and I wonder how many ways there are to prepare for Christmas.

The fraudster briefing comes good and the £500 reward is confirmed. Our readers are busy - love the emailed photo of a traffic warden booking a police car parked on double yellow lines.


Twelve haystacks across the Fens torched in a month - can I get excited?

A trial for the brutal murder of a foreign worker by two countrymen concludes, so a splash for Wisbech looks promising.

Meet council officials to agree the healthy lifestyle campaign, and book three one-hour introductory sessions in the gym from tomorrow. No going back now.

We take stills from the MBE video and splash them, movie style, under the legend: "Step by step, how Eke conned the Queen".

As Richard Littlejohn, who began his career in Fenland, might say - you couldn't make it up. Perfect.

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