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Wartime Romford Recorder cub reporter Eric Jay dies aged 95

PUBLISHED: 15:00 26 March 2020

Eric Jay, who has died aged 95, was a junior reporter on the Romford Recorder during the Second World War. Picture:  David J Sherwood

Eric Jay, who has died aged 95, was a junior reporter on the Romford Recorder during the Second World War. Picture: David J Sherwood

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Former Romford Recorder reporter Eric Jay has died aged 95.

He was a cub reporter during the Second World War, from 1941-44.

While still at junior school, Eric was an avid reader of newspapers and he longed to write news stories himself. To encourage him, his parents bought him his first typewriter when he was about 10 - an old upright Barlock, with separate keyboards for capital and lower-case letters.

On this, he used to write news stories about imaginary events, as well as producing a weekly comic for his younger sister, the Jaycos’ Weekly (with an annual at Christmas.)

At the age of 14, Eric appointed himself press secretary of the local church, sending paragraphs about church events to three local papers every week. Most of them were printed, and eventually the editor of the Romford Recorder said to Eric’s father: “If he wants a job when he leaves school, send him to me.”

It was wartime. Journalism wasn’t a reserved occupation and reporters were called up into the services like anyone else. Newspapers depended increasingly for their editorial staff on people who were too old or too unfit for military service or young people straight out of school.

Thus, on January 27 1941, two months after his 16th birthday and having just passed his GCE exams, Eric joined the staff of the Recorder. From day one he worked as a general reporter, covering police courts, inquests, meetings of numerous organisations as well as the routine of weddings and funerals, and he was one third of a gossip column called “Here and There and Round About” by Jimmy O’Goblin.

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Eric was in his element at the Recorder. Overnight, he had ceased to be a schoolboy and had become an adult and he was determined to act the part. He wore a belted raincoat and a trilby hat with an armband bearing the word Press, which gave him access to areas cordoned off by the police after an air raid. To mark this rite of passage, his father gave him his first pipe and tobacco pouch.

When Eric began at the Recorder, the blitz was at its worst. Night bombers approaching London along the line of the Thames frequently dropped their load on Romford. As soon as Eric emerged from the family air-raid shelter in the morning (it was an Anderson shelter, half-buried in the garden, about 8 feet long and 6 feet wide, and it accommodated his parents, his sister, Eric, the cat and the dog) often the first task would be to find out where the bombs had fallen during the night, visit the site, interview witnesses and survivors, and then write up the story.

Then, once a week, on the day before the paper was put to bed, Eric or one of two other reporters would take the blitz copy and pictures taken by the paper’s photographer into London to the Ministry of Information Censorship Bureau at the Senate House building in Malet Street, just off Tottenham Court Road.

The rules were that stories could not identify where the bombs had fallen - only a vague reference to a residential area in south-east England was permissible, with no mention of massive damage or loss of life. Similarly, photos could not show bodies or serious destruction or people looking depressed - that might have boosted Hitler’s morale.

The censor would stamp the copy and pictures either “Passed for publication” or “Not to be published”. And then Eric would scurry back to Liverpool Street station and onto Romford before dusk brought the next air-raid.

Eric loved being a reporter – even though he was paid nothing for the first three months, and by the time he left at the age of 18 he still was earning only 30 shillings a week. He had to bid a sad farewell to journalism and his beloved Romford Recorder because he was called up and shortly afterwards, took part in the 1944 Normandy Landings.

After the war, Eric went onto become a Methodist minister, a prominent leader in the newly formed Race Relations Council in Greater London, and in retirement, a distinguished Shakespearian actor.

Eric leaves behind his wife Trish, and, from his first marriage: daughters Hilary and Liz, and son Stevie, plus 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

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