Duncan Jeffery is head of communications at Westminster Abbey and was responsible for all aspects of print and TV coverage of the royal wedding in 2011. He began his career in newspapers with a sponsored one-year pre-entry NCTJ course at Harlow College between 1971 and 1972.
After securing his proficiency certificate with Eastern Counties Newspapers in Norwich he became a parliamentary reporter with Press Association, then the agency’s first European correspondent in Brussels, moving back to Norwich to become assistant editor of the Eastern Daily Press, editor of the Southern Evening Echo, deputy managing editor of The Sunday Times, executive editor of the Khaleej Times in Dubai, head of PR for the Liberal Democrats at the European Parliament, chief press officer to the Mayor of London Ken Livingstone and finally to the Abbey. He said:
“I had printers’ ink in my blood. My grandfather and uncles were all on the print staff of national newspapers in the days when they were all located in and around Fleet Street. So when I began visiting newspaper offices as part of my NCTJ course at Harlow it felt like coming home.
“I can’t believe I’m, still using the skills and knowledge I acquired forty years ago at Harlow. I still use shorthand for note-taking – much to the amazement of my younger colleagues who view it as some kind of dark art. I spent a long time in politics – on both sides of the fence – and my public administration course gave me a good grounding in the building blocks of UK government.
“I was working in the Commons press gallery one day in 1977 and was taking a note of the speech of the Bournemouth MP John Cordle who had been caught up in the Poulson scandal. After a minute I realised it was a resignation speech. When I returned to the PA office, the deputy parliamentary editor Mike Bramley simply said: ‘Just file it verbatim.’ Even with 120 wpm I stunned myself by turning a word-perfect report.
“Much later – as recently as July this year – I had to mine the deepest recesses of my memory for media law when a valuable painting at the Abbey was defaced and the attacker brought before the courts.
“Most of all I still use the inverted pyramid theory when writing intros to press releases – or even briefing reports to the Dean & Chapter of Westminster Abbey.
“The importance of that one-year pre-entry course was that our tutors were all journalists. My personal tutor was Bill Hicks, a former sports editor of the Daily Mail whose sheer enthusiasm for the whole business of newspapers and news-gathering was infectious. He and all the others instilled in me a respect for news, a respect for truth, and a respect for the best traditions of the business.
“Even though I’ve stepped over the fence into media relations I still cling on to that love of news that Harlow gave me. We know that hard-copy newspapers themselves are under threat and circulations are declining as more and more people get their news online or though radio and TV. That saddens me because I’m of an age to remember the old hot metal days. But news and the art of newsgathering remain unchanged.”