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The Newspaper Distributors of Old London

January 30, 2012
by the gentle author

When Spitalfields Life Contributing Photographer Colin O’Brien was growing up in a slum tenement in Clerkenwell in the nineteen forties, his mother used to give him a penny and send him out to buy a copy of the Evening Standard. Since 1827, the streets of London echoed to the cry of “Standodd! Midday Special! Standodd! Evening Special!” and, at its peak, there were over seven hundred distributors sending the paper as far afield as Liverpool and Brighton. Yet by the time the Evening Standard became a free paper two years ago, there were just one hundred and sixty distributors and today there are only sixty left. So when a handful of heroic distributors from the glory days of the Evening Standard gathered at the Bishopsgate Institute on Saturday for old times’ sake, I asked Colin to be there to take their portraits.

“I used to be a paper boy when I was at school in Catford in 1962.” recalled John Cato who worked for the Standard until 2008, “And when I left school at fifteen in 1965, the guy who delivered the Evening Standard asked me if I’d like to be his van boy. I had to be at the station to collect the papers at ten and I’d go off with him in the van to deliver and collect the money from the sellers. Then I’d go home for lunch and at two o’clock there’d be another driver I worked with to deliver the later editions. We got paid weekly, so on Friday I’d go back to Shoe Lane with the driver to collect my wages and I used to mix with the other van boys and we all made friends. Sometimes we used to socialise with the van boys from the Evening News, even though they were our competitors.”

It was a furious business, bundling up the papers and tying them up with string as they came off the printing presses in Shoe Lane, then sending them off continuously in the fleet of vans as the editions updated through the day. Years now after they retired, most of these men still have the ink-stained hands and backache that are marks of a lifetime in newspaper distribution.

Frank Webster started as a rounds boy, delivering papers to newsagents by bicycle four times a day.“I was thirty years old before I graduated to a driver,” he told me with shrug, “they said it was the longest apprenticeship – in fact, it was a bit of a closed shop, the families knew each other for generations. You needed a relative in the business to get a job and it was based on seniority, it was dead man’s shoes. Yet I always enjoyed going to work, being outdoors and meeting all the vendors, they were such characters.”

“Most of us took early retirement between 2007-2009 when they were trying to cut costs, before they sold the paper to Alexander Lebedev for £1 and it went free,” explained Rob Dickers with a philosophical grin. He started at fifteen and his father worked for thirty years as a compositor at the Standard since before World War II. “From the late sixties, there was a great sense of camaraderie but when the printing moved out from Shoe Lane to Rotherhithe and we were deunionised, the money dropped.” Rob and his pal John Cato were very active in the Chapel, as the branch of the union was termed. “I became Father of the Chapel, the shop steward,” revealed John, “The management de-recognised the union but I built it up again from three to eighty. That’s my claim to fame really.” John’s efforts ensured his members received better pensions and redundancy deals, crucial for the employees as the industry itself began to flag.

The retrospective irony is that while the newspaper managements enacted aggressive policies upon their workforce to drive costs down during the last decades of the twentieth century, in this century the entire newsprint industry finds itself eclipsed by electronic media. Yet these proud men are the last of a hardy breed who devoted their lives to keep the papers rolling and then fought fiercely against tyrannical employers to protect their livelihood as the world changed around them.

On this very day, the printing of the Evening Standard moves from Rotherhithe to Broxbourne and the first issue of  the London Evening Standard not printed in London hits the streets this morning. As a new chapter opens for the capital’s most famous paper, the implications of this new development are yet to be discovered. No longer is the cry of “Standodd! Midday Special! Standodd! Evening Special!” to be heard upon the streets of London, and the soul of the city is the lesser for it.

Victor Wilson, Distributor at the Evening Standard, 1972 – 2007.

Frank Webster, Distributor at the Evening Standard, 15th August 1966 – 30th September 2007.

Ron Chadwick, Distributor at the Evening Standard, 1963 – 2006.

Former Evening Standard headquarters at Shoe Lane.

David Patten, Distributor at the Evening Standard, 1966 – 2009.

John Cato, Distributor at the Evening Standard, 1965 -2008.

Peter Steward, Distributor at the Evening Standard from 1964.

Brian Eller, Distributor at the Evening Standard from 1970 -2008.

Rob Dickers’ Newspaper Distributor’s knife. The notch on the top knife was worn by winding string around the handle to tie the bundle. “They wouldn’t let you go to work without one of these and a union card,” said Rob.

Rob Dickers, Distributor at the Evening Standard, 1966 – 2010.

Barry Pach worked in the Bill Room at the Evening Standard from 1960 – 1989, writing the bills for the newspaper hoardings by hand.

Portraits and final photograph © Colin O’Brien

Archive images courtesy of Bishopsgate Institute

25 Responses leave one →
  1. January 30, 2012

    Ah memories! As a child in London I felt so sorry for them when the wind tugged at their clothes and papers, or the rain sheeted down. And I always wondered how it could be that an evening paper could have a midday edition. Well, I don’t suppose it does anymore if it’s a free paper.

  2. AnKa permalink
    January 30, 2012

    Thank you for this post. Very interesting. I’m relatively new to London (came in 2010), and the Evening Standard at Tube Stations is very much London for me. It’s great to read more about its history.

  3. Teresa Stokes permalink
    January 30, 2012

    Although I think there is now only one edition, and most of them are left in racks at stations or in a pile at the customer service desk of my local Waitrose, there are still quite a few people left handing it out and crying “Standard” at you, outside High Street Kensington Tube for example.

  4. steve barrett permalink
    January 31, 2012

    for 35 years i was one such distributer for the evening standard, and it never felt like a job to me, more like a way of life.
    i think its safe to say many of us had newspaper print in our blood, and the standard’s continued success was in no small way helped by all of us out on the street.
    there was no better buzz than when a major news story broke out, and it was all hands to the pump to sell and distribute as many copies of the paper as was possible.

    and of course the public couldn’t wait to read about it on their way home from work…..happy days.

  5. Hilary permalink
    January 31, 2012

    Lovely interesting article and comments.
    Whenever I hear the Standard newspapersellers I am reminded of that Morecambe and Wise sketch where they are selling the “Morny Stannit”….

  6. Mick permalink
    February 14, 2012

    As I remember it in the fifties when there were 3 Evening papers in London the vendors cry was….’STARNOOZANSTANDERD!’

  7. Michael Clark permalink
    March 4, 2012

    As Steve Barret Says. It Was No Job It was like A Permantant Get together working alongside family.
    Come to think of it Those I worked with from 1963 – 1989. Johny Murphy,Teddy Wyatt,Sammy Hobin, Patsy Pearce,Johnny Harris,Frankie Webster,Johnny Cato, Mickey Bishop. Many many More. INC: Eddy Willy Who I Just Recently Found, Lives round the Corner from me. WERE Family…
    I Did Not Find Another Group Of Guys that I Could Class as Family.
    If Only I Could turn Back Time to make it Stand Still
    All The Best To One & All….

  8. Fay Cattini permalink
    March 5, 2012

    I went to the Bank station with my boss (in the 1960s) and the newspaper man handed him the paper he wanted without my boss having to ask and my boss said he hadn’t been to Bank station for months. When the newspaper vendor came round to our street (in the 1950s) shouting “Star, News & Standard” if you lived up a few balconies you would let down a basket on a string with your money in, he would take the money and put your paper in and you would pull it up.

  9. Terry Wise. permalink
    April 9, 2012

    Although I worked as a distributor, depot man, (1960-1980) for the Evening News, we all got along together & although “the opposition” there was a great deal of camararderie, trying to outdo each other regarding getting our respective papers on the street first, after all these years I still miss the way of life, I have lost touch with all my old work mates, the “News” closed in 1980.

  10. sambal permalink
    May 6, 2012

    Found this sound file that brings back happy memories – http://archive.org/details/EveningStandardSeller1 – wonder if there are any more?

  11. January 12, 2014

    The worn stringhands knife is John Wilson and the new one is Vic Wilson both worked on the Evening Standard.

  12. Nick Pearson permalink
    August 28, 2014

    I joined the Evening Standard in 1956 as a section E boy; riding a carrier bike around Wimbledon. My boss the Depot man was Fred “Biscuits” Kemp. I rode the bike for about 5 years, then became a Spare boy, doing other lads rounds when they went sick or on holiday. I got my full Union card quite early at the age of 23 and was put on Station Dispatching, that involved loading the papers onto the trains at Waterloo to be sent to the suburbs. I moved onto driving as soon as possible and realised my ambition to become a parcel driver, while doing this job I also did holiday/ sickness relief work as a Depot man. I was acting Depot man at Putney when the Profumo affair scandal broke and we couldn’t order papers fast enough to keep up with the demand. I also became a relief transport overseer which involved making sure the overtime was shared out equally and allocating drivers and vans into the loading bays, as in those days the parcel drivers worked a rank system, like a taxi rank, the overseers job was not only making sure the bundles of papers were allocated a van, but also to stop the drivers ducking and diving, a very difficult and sometimes impossible job. Like most drivers when I was on the rank I could tell you roughly what “run” I would get as we left the garage in Euston by how many vans had gone out before you, but and a big but; was that some dodge-pots would drive out of the garage and hide round the corner, it was a bit like “card counting” in a casino. I was the eleventh member of my family to work for Lord Beaverbrook, my Grand-father was Ted James who was the Depot man at Kings X, he retired after 55 years service with a £2-10 shillings a week pension. I loved my job but felt I wanted to do other things in life so sadly I left in the late sixties, but will never forget my time at the Standard. One of the men pictured above Ron Chadwick was a great pal of mine, but we’ve lost contact unfortunately. The others mentioned above I don’t remember; but they had probably just joined as young lads when I was doing the overseers work in the old Shoe Lane building

  13. Johnny Cato permalink
    September 26, 2014

    Any former worker’s at the evening standard can join the [ evening standard outside publishing
    chapel archive @ bishopgate institute ] group which is on facebook.
    At this time they have over 100 members.
    Johnny Cato.

  14. Ron Chadwick permalink
    October 21, 2014

    nick pearson give me a call on 01737842299

  15. michael holder permalink
    February 6, 2015

    i would like yo hear from any old pals i worked from 1961-1980 section E -driver.mike

  16. Johnny Cato permalink
    February 24, 2015

    Anybody trying to contact former evening standard workers can e.mail esveterans@aol.co.uk
    leaving their details and also who they would like to contact.

  17. Ron Chadwick permalink
    April 12, 2015

    For Nick Pearson,hi Nick lost your phone no,please ring or email on ron.chadwick@hotmail.co.uk

  18. Rasmus Høyer permalink
    June 4, 2015

    Dear former Evening Standard Distributers,

    I am writing to ask if any of you might have a photo of an Austin Mini Newspaper Van that was in operation by London Evening Standard from 1967 – till app. 1970.

    I have found evidense that at least 9 of these were in operation from Fleetstreet in the above mentioned period.

    In 2005 I bought a Mini Van, and as it turned out it is one of the 9 Evening Standard Mini Vans.
    It has only covered 6800miles from new and is in good condition, but was oversprayed some time in the early 1970s.
    My plan is now to try and strip the paint off and have it painted in the original colours as when used by Evening standard – therefor I kindly ask if any of you might have a photo of one of these Minivans – I have found some traces of black, silver and red colour on the chassis.

    Hoping to hear from one of you.

    kind regards

    Rasmus Høyer from Denmark(luckey owner of an Evening standard Mini Van)

  19. Rasmus Høyer permalink
    June 5, 2015

    Continued –

    Regarding London Evening Standard Mini Van in above note.

    If you have any information regarding the London Evening Standard Mini Vans please contact me on Email: Cooper970@hotmail.com

    Ps. If you watch carefully app. 5 minutes and 40 seconds inside this old film you will see a short clip of a London Evening Standard driving by – however the clip is not really good enough to see detail of how the colour design is.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=atDFqxHLctE&feature=share

    Lovely film clip from the lovely 1960s:o)

    kind regards

    Rasmus Høyer

  20. Peter Collins permalink
    September 29, 2015

    Started on the Evening Standard in 1960, for the first four days I worked with Charlie Nye in the City. I was then transferred to Fulham Broadway, the depot man was Johnny Witham and the other vanboy was Vicky Embleton. I stayed at Fulham Broadway for ten years(as I lived in Chelsea at the time there was very little travel involved in getting to work). Of depotmen I remember, Johnny Caldon followed by Johnny Harris at Putney, Patsy Corpe at Sloane Square, Bobby Honeyball at Twickenham and Peter Simpson at Ealing Broadway. Of the parcel drivers, Johnny and Jimmy Basford, Kenny Johns, Kenny Yoxhall,Freddie Smith, Wally Mizzuri, “Digger ” Hughes, Teddy “Keystone” Osman, The three Chevalier brothers,Eddy Gibbs, Patsy Squires, Roy “Commander Energy” Wright, Ernie “Tubby” Holland, Jim Blackhurst, Dickie Bolt, Eddy Willy, Bobby Scanlon and Wally Nicholls. Patsy Pearce was the FoC. So many good memories of the Standard, Pink classifieds, the winter of 63 when our last edition was the 3 o’clocks because of the terrible road conditions, night work on the Daily papers, going over to “The House” with a Saturday night permit,when there was a rail strike, because I was one of the few drivers on the Standard who lived in west London, being sent to Winchester. Very happy days, many happy memories.

  21. George Williams permalink
    January 15, 2016

    Its not the job you miss when you leave, its the people. Never ever didn’t want to go to work, always pleased to get back after a holiday. What a life!!
    I had a newsagents at Chadwell Heath for my wife to run. Every morning ( I did the early shift) serving lots of people that worked in Fords, and they hated every minute of it. Wasn’t we all so lucky to have the living we had !
    Only just found the site after talking to Chris someone ( didn’t quite catch his last name) when at the Northcliffe sports club night at the theatre. Funny I was talking to Frankie Webster in the row in front of me, and there he was on the website! Well I shall put this site in my favs and will visit again. Revisit halcyon days !!

    Best regards (to whoever admins the site) GR Williams

  22. Samim permalink
    January 18, 2016

    Any body tell me where I can get eveni ng stand paper part time distributor job please .Thank s

  23. Catherine Reed permalink
    October 2, 2016

    My Auntie Tillie and Uncle Phil Selby sold newspapers outside Shadwell Station and my dad Tom Selby took over when they decided not to do it anymore.

  24. November 18, 2016

    I was a van boy for Teddie James (Jaimo) after school in Edmonton and Enfield. I recall starting around 1955-6. I still have a picture of the old coach-built Humber Super Snipes used. I later had a round at Friern Barnet and Ted Percy had been my driver. I paid into Frank Brognolli, the depot man for Crouch End.

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