COPYTAKERS could make or break a story, and leave a young reporter with feelings of joy or frustration. As a young reporter in Aberdeen, I frequently encountered both. Phoning in court or council copy from the City Bar, the "local" for both press and politicians, I longed to hear the cheery "Hello Copy" from Archie Hind, one of the kindest, most generous people I have ever met.
Archie, of course, was the author of The Dear Green Place, his inspired account of working class Glasgow and one man's dream to become a writer. He was, as I recall, working at Aberdeen University teaching writing classes, and did shifts at the Press & Journal and Evening Express to make extra money.
If Archie answered the phone, I would give a silent cheer. Some copytakers are known for their irascible manner, sighing loudly as a nervous reporter tries to decipher the scrawl that should be shorthand but often isn't. "Take your time son," Archie would say, at the same time offering suggestions that would clean up the copy and make it sound as if you had made the correct decision all along.
"Would it be clearer if we put it this way?" he would ask, recognising that writing a story direct from your notebook was a skill that took time to learn.
Back in the office, and over a cuppa in the Journal's canteen during as break, Archie would tell stories of some of the legendary figures in Scottish journalism he'd worked with. One involved a veteran reporter, long used to the liquid "lunches" that used to be the watchword of the national hack. One afternoon in the newsroom, with the London-based news desk howling for copy, and Archie acting as switchboard operator as well as copytaker, the hack had succumbed and was snoring peacefully over his typewriter, with the now overdue copy only a few paragraphs long.
Archie took the reporter's notebook, filled with impeccable Pitman's shorthand, and proceeded to write the reporter's story for him. Neither news desk in Glasgow or London ever knew, but the sleeping hack had every reason to thank Archie when he picked up his paper the next day and saw his copy.