Celebrating the life of A&T editor Charles Curry MBE

Tributes have poured in for Charles Starr Curry, who edited the A&T for nearly 50 years, following his death on Saturday.

Known for his fierce independence, generous nature, sense of fun and love of all things mechanical, he was 98.

After taking over the editor’s chair in 1966, he made the A&T one of the most respected and successful newspapers in the country while at the same time helping hundreds of young reporters embark on their careers as he shared his passion for covering anything from WI meetings to sensational murder trials.

Charles was born in Canada in 1920, and enjoyed a rather grand welcome into the world after the Mayor of Toronto, who knew his father, Frederick, through his work as reporter at city hall, sent his Rolls Royce to collect him from hospital.

Returning to England in 1925 Frederick relaunched the Christchurch Times which had shut down as a result of a libel action.

In 1930 he sold his shares in that newspaper to buy the New Milton Advertiser and in 1932 he started the Lymington Times.

Charles (fourth from right) with his father (centre) and staff in the 1940s
Charles (fourth from right) with his father (centre) and staff in the 1940s

After attending at least six schools and leaving with virtually no qualifications, Charles came to work at the A&T in 1936, where he was kept busy as a reporter, collecting names at funerals, attending council meetings, and doing any other chores which no one else wanted to do!

Apart from national service, Charles continued working at the paper for the next 76 years. He took over as editor in 1966 on the death of his father and the paper continued to expand and prosper by maintaining a traditional grass roots approach to news gathering and a policy of not soliciting for advertising.

In 1990 his younger brother Teddy, who ran the accounts side of the business, decided he wanted to retire, but Charles, who was 70 at the time, did not want to give up working. In attempting to keep the newspaper going, he had a meeting with Sir David English whom he had worked with when they were both junior reporters and who went on to revive the Daily Mail.

Sir David was quite keen to buy into the business but the conditions he laid down for the purchase were not agreeable to Charles who instead managed to borrow the money from Barclays Bank by re-mortgaging his house.

Charles’ wife Catherine was disabled and it was a lot for her to agree to take on such a loan at their ages but she agreed.  Her faith in her husband’s business acumen was not misplaced as within three years he had repaid the lot.

Realising the paper needed a new press because it was becoming increasingly difficult to obtain the necessary flongs for casting plates, Charles won a planning appeal to build a new printing hall at the paper’s Compton Road site, telling the inspector if he refused the paper would not survive.

He bought a scrap Hoe and Crabtree converted letterpress printer from a paper in Lancashire which was brought to New Milton and reassembled. Powered by a John Deere tractor engine, coupled to a marine alternator, it continued to produce the A&T from 1995 until last year when it closed down and printing moved to Portsmouth when the paper went colour.

He was made an MBE in the 1997 New Year’s Honours for his lifetime of service to journalism and the newspaper industry.

Charles Curry after receiving his MBE at Buckingham Palace
Charles Curry after receiving his MBE at Buckingham Palace

He remained as editor until 2012, continuing to write his Townsman column tackling the many issues of the day he considered important, not least global warming, planning and Europe.

On his 90th birthday Charles was driven to Bournemouth Flying Club where he enjoyed a 45-minute flight aboard a light aircraft, which was arranged as a surprise by his family.

Describing the experience as “really quite exciting” especially when he was handed the joystick, Charles said the trip took him back more than 70 years to the pre-war days when he learnt to fly.

Talking about his work, Charles said: “By nature I am not one who likes meeting people in groups, though talking to individuals is one of the great pleasures of the job.

“I believe that over the last 70 years more trainee or apprentice reporters from our titles have reached further up the ladder of journalism than from other similar papers.”

Among them was world-famous sports writer Ian Wooldridge, who began his career at the newspaper as a cub reporter in the 1950s at the age of 16. Charles added: “During my years here we have covered tens of thousands of stories, both happy and sad.

“Although Royal visits and high profile events are part of the job, it is often the lives of local people that make the most fascinating stories.

“I was once asked why the paper was so successful when others were failing, and I replied, ‘Because I didn’t know how to do it properly and as a result advertising rates were half that charged for papers with a similar circulation.’”

Ian Wooldridge

Charles with former Daily Mail sports writer Ian Wooldridge who started on the A&T in the 1950s
Charles with former Daily Mail sports writer Ian Wooldridge who started on the A&T in the 1950s

Growing up in Kennard Road, New Milton, Charles lived next door to Catherine Bugden. Both were called up in the Second World War – him to the RAF and her to the WRAF.

His role was to mend the telephones but always obsessed by tinkering with bits of machinery Charles managed to install a transformer in his Nissen hut – which made his much brighter than all the others much to the bemusement of the other servicemen.

He served mostly in the UK until he informed his commanding officer that he believed there was a scam going on regarding the NAAFI and canteen, where items being delivered did not match the order sheet. However, instead of being congratulated, he was immediately shipped off to a new posting in Berlin!

Catherine married a fighter pilot during the war and had a son, Tony, but sadly the marriage did not last. After demob Charles and Catherine rekindled their friendship and were married several years later.

Charles willingly welcomed Tony into their home, and he was joined by daughter Caroline in 1952 and son Eddie in 1954. They lived in a cottage on a four-acre smallholding in Hare Lane at Ashley.

Family holidays, which he grudgingly went on, were either in the New Forest with a caravan or a trip down to a family house in Penzance until Catherine decided she needed to put some water between Charles and his business. This resulted in several holidays on the Isle of Wight, although he would still be phoning to check the production and printing were going okay in his absence.

Catherine got a taste early on of what married life would be like when he converted a bare Chrysler chassis to take a diesel engine.  Whilst the vehicle was still without any bodywork, he was keen to demonstrate his handiwork to Catherine but she was not impressed when, after a ride down Station Road in New Milton, her new dress was covered in oil spray.

Another of his brilliant ideas for modifications occurred when he was concerned that in their sitting room heat was lost from their back boiler in the fireplace.  For several years there was a bare car radiator sat in the sitting room next to the fire until one day a member of the A&T staff built a grill to cover it!

Catherine suffered for 30 years with peripheral neuritis resulting in him needing to look after her as well as running the business.  She said that he never complained or resented having to wash and dress her.

Her condition was similar to, but not the same as MS.  He had read that MS could be put into remission by placing someone in an oxygen-enriched atmosphere at elevated pressure.  He was keen to see what he could do and so tried buying a three-ton redundant decompression chamber used to help divers overcome the ‘bends’.

The navy was not keen on selling the chamber which did not work but after unremitting pestering, they relented and he was able to buy it.  His natural engineering skills came into play and he took the door mechanism apart and realised that it had been incorrectly assembled.  He connected it up in his garden with a very large compressor.  Unfortunately, after one session Catherine refused to go in it again but it did demonstrate his care for her and his ingenuity and unique approach to life.

Charles with son Eddie Curry and daughter Caroline Woodford as the last black and white edition rolls of the press in 2018
Charles with son Eddie Curry and daughter Caroline Woodford as the last black and white edition rolls of the press in 2018

Caroline said: “He was never a conventional father. He could fix anything and when I came home, I never knew what he had done next.” When she went to boarding school, he was so worried there was no fire escape from her attic room that he made one himself and got a member of the A&T staff to go and fit it.

She freely admits they often clashed, recalling one incident when she got back late from a night out and found herself locked out. As she tried to find a way in, he threw her bedclothes out of a window and she was forced to sleep in a caravan in the garden.

On another occasion she asked him for some money because she was going out. He replied: “Dressed like that you should come back with some.”

Eddie said:

“My father was a great newspaper man and was always determined to print the truth. He was never happier than when fighting authority and standing up for the ordinary person.

“He never allowed anyone to tell him what to publish – indeed threats of legal action or any other kind of intimidation virtually guaranteed a story would be published just to show he wasn’t going to be pushed around.
“He established an enormously popular local paper that reported on issues in the community, which will continue into the future as we develop the business to tackle the challenges ahead.”

Eddie Curry

News editor Andy Sherwood said: “While all the staff are sad at his passing, we have also been recalling our happy memories of a passionate, funny and unique person.

“He was always willing to give someone a chance in journalism with interviews usually consisting of a discussion on whatever issue was on his mind at the time!

“Working on the A&T gave us all a great grounding for which we are very grateful”.

There will be a private cremation and a thanksgiving/memorial service will be held at St Mary Magdalene Church, New Milton, at 12.30pm on Saturday 2nd March. No flowers but donations can be made to the Tear Fund via Maria Jones Funeral Directors, Brockenhurst.

Fond Memories

My dad worked with Charles from the early sixties at the A&T until the 1980s until he got cancer. Charles was there for dad throughout, always popping round or phoning to check on progress. They remained friends until dad’s passing last year.

There was nobody dad respected more than Charles, we were always told when Charles had popped round, the excitement in his voice while regaling their chats of the ‘olden days’.     Ian Hinchcliffe

Very sad news. Charles let me do work experience aged 15 and it started a long career in journalism in London and now in Australia. He was an extraordinary journalist and editor. A genius mind, persistent and inventive.     Lucie Morris-Marr

I knew Charles for over 70 years and for many of those he was my boss.  He helped many lame ducks over the years, one instance being in 1955 when I was living in a wooden shack in Ossemsley Manor with my wife and infant son and a leaking roof.

One lunchtime Charles arrived back at the office with a trailer on his car with tarpaulins and a roll of army telephone wire and we went and covered and secured the roof.  He was an inventive man, but at times a little impractical. Some of his schemes would have put Heath Robinson to shame!     Dave Saltaire

What a wonderful man he was. I had the honour of being shown around the works by Charles Curry on the day of the last hot metalprint – that’s a day I will always remember.     Neil Tungate

Charles was a one-off. He gave me a job straight out of university and let me stay in the flat above the old New Milton Advertiser storefront for a pepper-corn rent. I don’t think it would have been possible to get a more rounded training in journalism: we’d print off our stories and hand them to Charles to edit by hand – in his trademark scrawl – then take them to be set on the Linotype.

I’d get to take – and develop some of my own photos. And then, on Thursdays, grab one of the first copies of the paper literally hot off the press. Thank you Charles for introducing me to this scrappy, stubborn, brilliant profession.      Alex Hannaford

RIP Charles Curry a real newspaperman in every respect.     Mike Denny

A great defender of professional journalism. When I worked in London (print/advertising) I always had to take a couple of spare copies of the A&T after the weekend because ad agencies would always nick my copy as they thought that type of journalism no longer existed!     Leslie R. Woodhouse

What a man, one of the great British eccentrics. I still have (somewhere) the slug of hot metal Charles gave me at my interview in 1998. I remember Charles coming in one day with my typed copy, saying ‘would you be embarrassed or harassed if I told you embarrassed has two Rs, and harassed only one?’

A great schooling in the inky trade, at what must have been one of the last hot metal presses in the country. Thank you Charles for the most colourful start to a career in journalism.      James Palmer

My father was employed by the A&T for his entire working life (excluding National Service), firstly under Charles Curry’s father, then under Charles himself. My mother also worked for the paper as a journalist from time to time. (Charles told her there was nothing he would send a male reporter to do that he wouldn’t send a woman to do. A pretty progressive view at the time.)

Charles Curry was in many ways a maverick, full of energy and determination, always looking for unlikely solutions to the needs of the presses. He was also a kind and generous employer. We had many happy summer holidays in the Curry family’s house in Penzance.

His views in Townsman would often infuriate me, especially in my more radical youth, but I always admired him for his strength of mind and his willingness to speak it.     Steve Saltaire

I moved to the area over 30 years ago and met Charles in his office. We had long chats and he showed me round the hot metal composing and the presses. He was very proud of his newspaper and his presses – and very pleased with his modification of Jaguar brakes on the drums of the web fed press. Thank you Charles – a long life and an icon in the industry.      Peter Milford

Charles was the kindest, most generous, loyal, intelligent, eccentric, stubborn, annoying but lovable man I ever met. A bit baggy at the seams, but that didn’t matter because we loved him.      Tracey Leadbeatter

Truly one of a kind. Had some of my first articles and photographs accepted and used in the paper back in the 1970s. I still have his letters filed somewhere. A unique gentleman running what I believe was a unique regional newspaper.      Chris Balcombe

So sad to hear this news. He was an amazing person and the heart and soul of this fantastic newspaper.       Carole Bailey

Over the years, Charles Curry and his father earned the gratitude of many, like myself, for giving them a start in journalism. Those of us from the 1950s era who went on to have careers in Fleet Street never forgot the lessons learned the hard way on the A&T.

After my retirement, I was always amazed when I looked in at the A&T to find Charles still bursting with the energy and enthusiasm I had seen decades before. A remarkable man.      Ian Stevenson

‘He personified what is best about journalism’

GUARDIAN columnist, former Daily Mirror editor and professor of journalism, Roy Greenslade, said: “I salute Charles Curry and mourn his passing. He personified what is best about journalism. His philosophy was simple: newspapers should serve the community by publishing information of benefit to that community.

“The response from readers of the New Milton Advertiser and Lymington Times was loyalty because they kept on buying the title while sales of local papers elsewhere declined.

“They recognised the virtues of his editorial content and, in turn, he recognised that his kind of journalism could only be maintained if he kept his newspaper out of the hands of the conglomerates that own the vast majority of Britain’s local press.

“He was modest and hard-working. When I called Charles to congratulate him on reaching 90, he replied, ‘Thank you, but all these calls are interfering with my work. I must get on.’”

‘He could punch through the pomposity of people like me’ – MP Conservative MP Julian Lewis first came into contact with Charles when he fought and won the New Forest East seat in 1996.

“I realised straight away I was dealing with someone who was hugely well-informed and influential and someone whose regard I felt I needed to earn,” he said.

“I thought he was an absolutely phenomenal and unforgettable character. He was completely fearless. He knew how to punch through the pomposity of people like me,” he went on.

“My favourite story in that respect was a time when I was trying to unsuccessfully persuade Charles that a particular cause was deserving of attention in the paper and he said to me, ‘That’s a subject, I think, for a national’, to which I replied, flatteringly, ‘Charles people read your newspaper’, but he instantly and wittily then said ‘Yes, and I want to keep it that way’!”

Dr Lewis continued: “I can truly say even though he was 98 and had a tremendous innings, the New Forest will not feel quite the same without knowing that sharpness of wit and commitment to always being on the ball is there.

“He was quick-witted and determined and willing to take politicians down a peg or two if they deserved it. I had huge respect for him. He knew the area, he knew the personalities but above all else, he knew the people. He was a great journalist and a great man.”

New Forest West MP Sir Desmond Swayne said: “Charles was a truly amazing character.

“In addition to being a very successful proprietor of the A&T with, for so many years, his own column, he had a wide range of interests and, in particular, with technological solutions to any number of different problems.

“I frequently received faxes from him suggesting technical fixes for issues being faced by the Ministry of Defence and UK Border Force.”

“He was always ‘on the ball’ and with a mischievous sense of fun,” Sir Desmond added. “He will be missed very much indeed.”

Lord Montagu said: “I didn’t know Mr Curry well but was always aware that it was his editorship which gave the A&T its sometimes idiosyncratic character.

“I once visited him at the A&T and he kindly showed me around the works, which was one of the last to be setting type in hot metal.

“I was amused to find that his office was more like that of a garage mechanic, with tools and machine parts scattered over his desk. It was clear that he was a hands-on owner-editor in every sense of the word!”

New Forest District Council leader Cllr Barry Rickman said: “Charles was a modest, kind and independent-minded man with an amazing degree of knowledge on every subject under the sun and beyond!

“He played a great part in my early business career with sound advice and encouragement. I believe the A&T through Charles helped many local businesses thrive, and in those days was the main way of communication in the area.

“I know so many local organisations and societies were so grateful for the valuable publicity they got to advance their aims.  “He would say to me on group photos for use in the A&T, ‘Get as many faces, especially children, in the photos with their names for a caption, they and their families will all buy my paper.’”

Sir Ray Tindle, founder of the Tindle Newspaper Group, said “Charles was one of the real newspapermen of this country.  I greatly admired him and thought he produced a first class newspaper.  I know his son Eddie and his daughter Caroline will carry on the great tradition of the New Milton Advertiser & Lymington Times.