Ray Tindle
Midday Monday and the Farnham Herald in Surrey is a hive of activity.

Beyond the reception area, you can see, and hear, advertising staff and journalists – reporters, sub-editors, photographers alike – busy working on this week's edition.

The open-plan office is parochial, slightly frayed, but functional. An old clock hanging on the wall counts down this week's deadline.

Today's focus for the editorial team is, as always, local news, features and sport. The Herald has served Farnham for 118 years.

"We have a wonderful staff," says Sir Ray Tindle, proprietor of the Herald and more than 200 other titles and radio stations, mainly across the south west and south east.

"Tindle Newspapers hasn't made one journalist redundant since the recession began," he proudly adds, leading me into his offices in the town's Old Court House a few streets away. "Despite the doom-mongers, regional newspapers are alive and well, so I don't see any need to do so." 

Sitting in Sir Ray's office and you could be forgiven for thinking the Second World War veteran, now 84, is living in a bygone age. Old black and white photographs, news cuttings, thank-you letters from former prime ministers, including Margaret Thatcher and John Major, adorn the busy walls. 

Silverware from the 1st Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment, his old Army outfit, is lovingly displayed in a glass cabinet. Busts of Winston Churchill stare at you from desks at either side of the room. A transcript of the wartime leader's post-Dunkirk speech in 1940 takes pride of place opposite Sir Ray's desk.

"Our family was gathered around the radio set at home in Streatham," he recalls, clearly emotional.

"Britain was facing defeat and then Churchill said, 'We will never surrender'. Some of us had tears in our eyes. We knew then we would never be defeated."

One of his most treasured possessions is a photograph of the troopship that carried his battalion back from war in the Far East. "We set up a newspaper onboard a previous troopship going out there and everybody loved it," he says.

"People want to see their name in print," he adds, pressing home his message. "If my four-year-old grand-daughter, Maisie, is in a nativity play, I want to see her picture and name in the local paper. And, by crikey, I would want everybody else to see it as well.

"The average person isn't interested in the wider area but they are very interested in their immediate locality. If you had a paper for every street, it would sell. You couldn't do that, but you could do it for every town."

Tindle's career seems to prove his point. After years working as "a dogsbody" on a small local weekly, he bought his own paper, the Tooting Gazette, for £250 in the 1960s.

"We had a long fight with the opposition that covered a wide area," he recalls.

"My paper concentrated on very local news, a hyperlocal, perhaps? It ended when the bigger group made me two handsome cash offers which I declined. Finally, they offered me three papers for my paper. I accepted provided I could take my superb staff with me."

Tindle was not the only former serviceman to move into newspapers in the post-war years. Freddie Johnston built up an even larger newspaper empire across the country. Unlike Tindle, he later floated his business on the Stock Market.

Before the recession, shares in Johnston Press Plc were each worth 570p. Today, after years of extensive borrowing, regionalisation and harsh redundancies, the price has plummeted to 10p as investors fear the group will not be able to cover its debts.

"You cannot blame the chief executives," says Tindle. "They are fighting hard and better days will return. Tindle Newspapers has never borrowed money. We owe nothing to anyone, and have a healthy bank balance despite the recession.

"Each one of our titles is managed independently and has its own bank account," he says, unveiling graphs comparing neighbouring publications - showing rising, steady or falling profits.

"The difference between these titles has nothing to do with the recession or the rise of the web," he explains. "It has everything to do with whether they have been well or badly managed.

"The internet is wonderful, but it doesn't replace a local weekly. The public will require both it and local papers. The blog can have the same effect as a contents bill for a newspaper and the two can exist happily side-by-side."

Last March, Tindle was facing losses of £192,000 over ten months at a 100,000 circulation weekly in London. Rather than close the title, or make any redundancies, he endeavoured to get the paper back into profit by adding three hyperlocal titles alongside it.

The idea was to provide small local retailers affordable advertising in very targeted areas, and shore up the main paper with the income.

"We were able to target potential customers the small advertisers wanted in those areas at a price they could afford," says Tindle.

"The recovery from the recession is already under way, led by printed newspapers with exciting innovations. We've survived five recessions. The local weekly Press will live, not die, it will expand and flourish," he adds defiantly.

As I get up to leave I notice a glass cabinet displaying a battered Samurai sword in the Tindle Newspapers boardroom. "It was surrendered to me by a Japanese officer in the Far East," Sir Ray volunteers, anticipating my question.

"I was going to have it restored, but then I felt it was best to leave it as it is."

Somehow, I think he was right.

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).

blog comments powered by Disqus