Harrington: A year flies by, but we won’t forget Eric

Newsman who was dedicated to telling people’s stories

Friday, 1st April

Eric Gordon in the office

Eric Gordon

NEXT week I’ll stop and have more than a moment’s thought for Eric Gordon – the creator of this newspaper, and before that the Camden New Journal.

It will be the first anniversary of his passing, but for most of us his growl still thunders through the ears.

It’s impossible not to think what he’d make of each edition as it swims off to the printers each week.

A newsy newsman to the end – Eric was always more interested in telling people’s stories than getting rich – he was still working at 89 when he died last April.

A one of a kind, I would suggest – it showed in the trail of contradictions he’d leave behind him.

He would remain calm when threatened with bully-boy libel lawyers, and yet he could frantically rage over the structure of a news-in-brief item or an event accidentally left uncovered.

His surprises and an unconventional, unorthodox approach certainly made for a better paper. No idea was ruled out, no investigation or interview considered impossible.

It was wise never to say “we won’t be able to speak to so or so”.

Why not? It was relentlessly dizzy working with him.

One day something was urgent to Eric and unmissable, the next his interest had passed to something else; new ideas and stories always throbbing through the angry vein by his temple.

He wouldn’t care that our newsroom was as shabby as something from Spotlight, but then suddenly wanted to buy a coat for the scruffiest trainee in the office.

He would play the terrifying editor but then be affectionate and avuncular; once disappearing to buy apple pie and custard for a colleague who had told him he had just broken up with his girlfriend.

Another contradiction: He’d say “you do too much” before suggesting several other stories to chase.

But if you rewind back to the week of his death you can reread the expressions of admiration from so many writers who saw him as their mentor.

So many have gone on to the national titles, but haven’t forgotten their time with him.

He let young journalists run wild with their ideas, and then psychoanalyse their behaviour as it was laid out on a page.

He himself was a master of the craft; he could open up a story and pull details from every crevice.

And to think he had such a colourful life before all of this.

In the 1960s, not too unlike the global interest in Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe this week I suppose, Eric was held in China for two years with his first wife Marie and son, Kim.

This enduring adventurer had been trying to take out notes from his time observing Maoism while working at a publishing company.

“The trouble with you is you’ve never been locked up” was one of his favourite mock complaints decades later, as he whistled his way through what he saw as a charmed office – despite the rate of pay.

For all the unpredictability and the late nights when he seemed cantankerous for the sake of it, most of us valued each drop of advice.

Local newspapers, if they still exist, are edited by men and women in their 20s now, straight into dealing the cards without any life experience.

I wish they could all have met Eric.

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