The end of an era was marked today (Wednesday) when Nigel Kerton, the Gazette & Herald’s Marlborough reporter since articles were bashed out on typewriters, filed his final story.
Nigel – who reckons he’s filled 2,000 front pages for the Gazette & Herald, along with 500 each for the Swindon Advertiser and the Western Daily Press – stumbled into journalism aged 17, when he popped into the offices of the Mercury in Weston-super-Mare to scour the jobs pages.
He was asked if he fancied a job on the paper, doing some administrative work and assisting the journalists, and told to go off and write a 500 word article on a subject of his choosing.
“It was easy,” recalls Nigel. “I came from Lyneham, where my mum and dad ran a village shop, and I was new to Weston-super-Mare with its bright lights and a theatre. They liked the story and offered me a five year indentureship.”
Nigel’s first day on the Mercury – a Monday in 1964 – started at 8.30am. “At 8.45 I was given a notebook and a pencil and told to go and interview a woman whose husband had died. It was a baptism of fire.”
And while many young journalists dread the prospect of talking to relatives about the loss of a loved one, Nigel reckons it has become his favourite part of the job, and at the start of his second stint with the Gazette 15 years ago – following a ten-year sojourn at the Western Daily Press in Trowbridge – he insisted on the reinstatement of the obituaries column.
“I love listening to people about their lives, and I think I’m particularly good at empathising with people who have lost loved ones in tragic circumstances, because I’ve been through it: my mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, drowned herself in the sea at Torquay in 1980.”
The journalists at the Weston Mercury taught young Nigel the craft: putting people at ease during interviews, and letting them tell their stories in their own words.
“They were gentleman reporters with copper plated shorthand,” recalls Nigel. “Journalists who would record every word at a council meeting, when reporters had the time, and newspapers had the space, to do that.”
But four years later a career move summoned Nigel back to Wiltshire: he was offered a job in the Swindon Advertiser’s Marlborough office.
“I loved Marlborough,” says Nigel. “I used to cycle down from Lyneham as a kid. The Adver’s editor, Fred Hazel, heard I had a girlfriend back at Lyneham, and offered me the job.
“I was one of two reporters working at this 15th century building in Kingsbury Street [the office closed by Gazette & Herald owners Newsquest in October last year]. I thought the Adver was the paper I was working for, but I also had to write for the Gazette.”
The following spring – March 1969 – Nigel and Joy were married at St Peter’s Church in Clyffe Pypard. Their first home was a flat above a shop in The Parade – now occupied by More Than Pine – before moving to Poulton Hill, and then to The Mead, “Kennet’s biggest cul de sac” and the Kerton family home for 19 years.
Nigel and Joy have two children – Paul and Claire – and four grandchildren, aged between 12 and 23. And between them they’ve acted as Nigel’s unofficial news-gathering team throughout his career.
When Nigel first came to Marlborough, the journalist Bob Wise advised him to “never join anything.” The reporter promptly threw himself into community activities.
He formed the Gardening Club 35 years ago, and joined the carnival committee 25 years ago. He’s been the chairman of the New Road Centre, which works with 30 special needs adults every week, for eight years. And ten years ago, he and Joy revived the Jubilee Centre Christmas lunch, which is now held in the Town Hall and caters for 60 elderly residents from the town.
In the millennium year the Rotary Club awarded Nigel the Centenary Community Award for Vocational Services to the Town – “I don’t suppose anyone else will get that honour for another 100 years,” laughs Nigel – and in 2007 Pewsey Parish Council gave him an award for Outstanding Services to the Community.
Recently, Nigel – who has attended local government meetings for nearly half a century, and describes himself as apolitical – has considered leaving the press bench for a seat in the council chamber, by standing as an independent candidate for Marlborough East in the next Wiltshire Council elections.
“I’ve been described as a socialist, but I’m only a socialist so far as every journalist is a socialist, by fighting for people’s rights and championing causes,” insists Nigel.
“I had a brief courtship with the Conservative Party,” he says, “and was interested in joining the majority group on the council.
“But in the light of my colleague Chris Humphries’ experience, where he was not supported by his colleagues [Cllr Humphries was suspended from the Conservative group following a reprimand for mistreating a member of the council’s staff], I decided that I didn’t want to be part of that group.”
“I’d like to join the town council too,” he adds, “but not until somebody provides me with a whip and a chair. At the moment I feel the body has no useful future. Good ideas are thrown out and bad ideas kept in because of the views of those on the majority group.
“Personally, I don’t think party politics has a place in local councils.”
Nigel leaves the Gazette just a week before his 65th birthday. He intends to spend more time with his family, exploring southern England in his campervan, and continuing his work with community organisations in Marlborough.
“I’ve enjoyed my career in journalism; there’s no better job in the world,” he says. “But I suspect I’ll be busier than ever before. So I guess it’s ‘goodbye for now’, rather than ‘farewell for ever’.