WANTED: Girl Friday
PUBLISHED: 15:43 05 August 2010
Long service medal for Margaret
Within a day or two Margaret Cutler, straight out of Chislehurst and Sidcup Technical High School for Girls, had been for an interview, got offered the job in the classified advertisement department and so began what she terms ‘a career of a lifetime on a Treasure Island of a job’.
Reporting to her then boss, Peter Craig, at the newspapers’ head office in Sidcup Hill, the teenage Margaret felt working for the Kentish Times was just a graduation from her days as a youngster in Chislehurst.
“My family always had a copy of the Kentish Times ever since I can remember so when I went to work for the newspaper it was just a sort of natural thing to do,” she explained this week which marks her 40th anniversary at the titles.
“For a while and around the time I was finishing school I had always been interested in working as a librarian but then I got the Kentish Times job and decided I enjoyed the world of publishing very much.”
In 1970 when Margaret began work the Kentish Times series employed around 250 staff who ran the offices in Eltham, Sidcup, Dartford, Swanley, Bexleyheath, Erith, Bromley, Beckenham and Orpington. There was also a book publishing division in Bromley which printed stationery and the popular Rambles manuals and other local flavoured hard and softcovers.
With a salary of £11pounds and 10shillings a week Margaret is glad she had worked hard at school, left with a decent number of O and A Levels, and with typing and Pitman shorthand certificates too.
Her secretarial skills were utilised when she helped in the region’s first ‘phone ads’ which is now known as telephone sales. Then a vacancy arose to be secretary to the General Manager, Cliff Burt, and life as a fully fledged Personal Assistant began to take shape.
By 1972 the Bassett family owners of the Kentish Times had sold the titles to Morgan Grampian for £1.7 million - a company which then sold them onto Westminster Press. Within months Margaret was headhunted by the new production director, Charles Woodley who had been brought in from East Anglian Daily Times.
“I learned all about the linotype and paste up and had to train the printers how to use the new technology of the time,” she recalled.
But life for the PA was to change again when she applied for and got a job working for a managing director of the titles, David Clarke. “That was a good job but initially I had to share an office with someone who smoked,” she chortled.
One of the biggest challenges in the late 1970s was helping to get the titles printed in Luxembourg when the printers went on strike.
“I had to sort out the currency exchange and keep the big secret of where the papers would be delivered once they had got back to England. I remember they turned up in a lorry in a car park in Bromley ready to be delivered. Those were intriguing times and it was a natural process we couldn’t let the readers and advertisers down. Nothing could stop the Kentish Times hitting the streets,” she said.
Then there was another change of boss in store as Westminster Press brought in Robin Wood as managing director. “It was Robin who was part of the management buy out. That was all very exciting,” she recalled, “as I was involved in all the confidential meetings and had to organise a lot of contracts with the merchant banks who were financing the buy out.”
By 1987, the year of the great storm, the Kentish Times series became part of the Gravesend Reporter and the head office was moved from Sidcup to Harmer Street, Gravesend.
Margaret said: “Those were very good times with the titles’ circulation standing at 120,000. We were very prosperous and it was a beneficial time all around.” It was during the heady days of regional publishing success and with several top awards to its name the Kentish Times series was sold again to the Yellow Advertiser which after a brief time became part of a new company, Fletcher Newspapers. Margaret was PA to Ian Fletcher who in turn oversaw a sell off to Independent Regionals. In 1999 the Kentish Times moved its head office back to Sidcup. In 2004 Archant bought the Kentish Times series.
Margaret who now lives near Sevenoaks said: “I always say ‘the Kentish Times are the best times’. That’s what one of the managing directors (Lawrie Procter) said to me and I never forget it. I’ve had an amazing career with something new to learn every day. When I first began I used a coffee machine. Funnily enough in 2010 I make more cups of coffee than I ever did when I first started work all those years ago.”
Any regrets about not taking up that job at Bexleyheath library? “Oh no, I have learned to love the variety of my job and I’ve worked with some real characters.”
To date the Kentish Times’ longest serving PA has worked for more than 20 managing directors.
“It’s often been all change and all go and that’s what I’ve enjoyed the most. Of course I have some secrets that will go with me to the grave,” concluded the Kentish Times’ favourite Girl Friday.