This remarkable image is a snapshot from the history of journalism in Britain that has remained largely unknown to the general public for 91 years.
This was the hall in Tudor Street, the City of London, about a minute or two’s walking distance from Fleet Street that was the headquarters of the Chartered Institute of Journalists for the most part of the 20th Century.
It’s panelled walls contained a memorial to brave members who gave their lives during the First and Second World Wars.
It looks like members have assembled for a group photograph, but in fact it is a exceptional example of early photo-shopping- an engraving created by Mayfair photographers J Whitlock and Son.
Members would be invited to have photographs of themselves assembled to fill the backdrop of a huge wide-angle landscape photograph of the Institute’s famous meeting hall.
It seems each member would pay £7 9 shillings and six old pence to be featured and annotated in the engraving and be seen alongside journalism and authorial writing stars of the time.
They included at number 32, the irascible and controversial playwright and author George Bernard Shaw who was infuriating the BBC at the time by railing against its censorship and inadequate production of his works.
At number 6, fifth from the left in the front row, is the two times CIoJ President A.G. Gardiner- a figure completely lost to history.
He was Britain’s most famous and influential editor of a liberal newspaper much more powerful and successful than the Guardian has ever been- The Daily News, founded by Charles Dickens and which merged with the Chronicle to become the News Chronicle from 1930.
It would be shut down when it had over a million readers through asset-stripping by press barons in 1960.
Arthur George Gardiner was also well-known at the time for being the popular essayist and columnist ‘Alpha of the Plough.’
But our interest in this invaluable archive document is in a 24 year old journalist working as the Isle of Wight correspondent for the Portsmouth Evening News.
He is one Alfred James Montreuil Bayes- number 49 A.J.M Bayes about third from the left, five rows up.
You can just spot him below left of number 94- a legendary woman member of the Institute called Mrs M. Canivet.
She had been the editor of the women’s pages of the Daily Chronicle and had resigned in principle after it was bought out by Prime Minister Lloyd George in 1918 to be used as his political mouthpiece in Fleet Street.
James Bayes paid the equivalent of £544.37 in today’s money, to be present in and have this valuable 1931 engraving and record of Institute members from this time.
Portsmouth Evening News feature writer James Bayes from cub reporter to Chief Feature Writer.
At the time, he was covering everything and anything newsworthy on the Isle of Wight including Cowes Week and the first flight service from Portsmouth to Sandown in 1938.
The story of James Bayes is representative of the immense contribution of quality regional journalism to national culture and history.
It could be argued that it should be taught in the journalism degrees now being provided in universities, but it is sadly unlikely to have any place in the syllabus.
His daughter Clare Ash has very kindly provided many detailed facts, photographs, and documents of the lifetime in journalism of one of the most elegant and influential feature writers in British 20th century regional journalism history.
He was given the middle name Montreuil because that was the town in France’s Pas de Calais region where he was conceived before being born in Marylebone, London in 1907.
He was the son of Walter John Bayes, (1869-1956) artist, war artist, author and educator, at one time Principal of the Westminster School of Art between 1918 and 1934.
James Bayes was educated at the University College School, Hampstead until entering journalism at the age of 17.
UCS was fairly unique in private education because it had never been a boarding school, was one of the first to teach modern languages and sciences, and one of the first to abolish corporal punishment.
Daily Mail/Associated Newspapers editor Paul Dacre, novelist Ford Maddox Ford, and the poet Stephen Spender rank among its alumni.
They are called ‘Old Gowers’– because of the school’s original location prior to 1907 in Gower Street, Bloomsbury where University College London is still located.
James Bayes was always proud of being an Old Gower, and would sport the school’s maroon, black and white cricket blazer when performing a consistently unsuccessful role as wicket-keeper in the Portsmouth Evening News cricket eleven.
Clare recalled her father would also wear it all summer. He wore his old school tie exclusively, except for funerals.
His first job was as a cub reporter on the West Sussex Gazette in Bognor Regis. He worked for the Portsmouth Evening News from 1929-1972.
He met Clare’s mother Queenie Futcher while on the Isle of Wight reporting beat. They married in December 1939 and lived in Ryde until he was called up for War Service in the RAF in 1942.
He would be a founding journalist and editor for Air Force News in Cairo, and also wrote poetry and short stories under a nom de plume for other publications such as the Egyptian Gazette.
He would continue as a leading armed services journalist when moving to Germany until being demobbed in 1946.
Clare recalls her father was a stickler for accuracy, and woe betide any cub reporter who was summoned with his finger when he was Chief Sub-Editor.
Colleagues recalled that he was a perfectionist, and ‘many an errant reporter withered in the icy blast of his articulation. But off duty, with a pint in his hand, he had a nice-balanced sense of wit.’
In the office he was addressed as Mr Bayes. Out of his earshot, he had the nickname ‘Jimmer.’
This was not a term of affection. The pressures of being Chief Sub-Editor of a leading regional newspaper imposed a heavy duty of maintaining the paper’s reputation with high standards.
He would draw upon a Second World War RAF style of managing; not the more easy-going culture of 1950s rock’n roll, or 1960s counter-culture.
In the pre-computerised days of the print industry, journalists could not hide from their mistakes; particularly when the evening paper was the local oracle and on the bar stools of pubs in Old Pompey and its surrounding towns and villages each day of publication.
One of his younger colleagues, Tim King, recalled entering a Dickensian age in the 1950s. He said they ‘were the days when you had to have or borrow a stuffed shirt and DJ with tails to attend dinners and civic functions and shiver outside church doors collecting mourners’ names at some big-wig’s funeral.’
Any mistakes could not be corrected as they now can online. Pasting, mark-up and design were laborious and could not be changed with the swipe of a mouse, digital pen, or fingers on a touch-screen.
Tim King joined the ‘Gosport Office on December 28, 1954. The front and inside looked like the Old Curiosity Shop and, can you believe, in the attic was an old pigeon loft from where, until a few months before I joined, they actually despatched carrier pigeons to Head Office the other side of the harbour with news copy written on small sheets of rice paper called “flimsies.”‘
Tim recalled that James Bayes was not inclined to see the funny side of things such as the occasion he didn’t notice his mug of tea had replaced the Gloy pot used for pasting and his Gloy brush ended up in his morning cuppa.
If colleagues ever thought Mr Bayes had overstepped the mark they would get their own back by resorting to almost ‘Carry on’ movie pranks.
Tim King said: ‘Suction tubes connected the subs’ room to the composing room and on a couple of occasions when “Jimmer” was waiting for the copy container to return, he was spattered with corned beef rolls flying from the end of the tube. Of course, the culprits were never caught.’
He was so serious, dedicated, and precise with his craft that he would nowadays be described as a workaholic. Some of the younger staff he worked with found him rather curmudgeonly. For over 40 years, he could not switch off from being a journalist.
Holidays would be staying in the back garden for two weeks, reading library books, and tending his runner beans and tomatoes.
Clare says this devotion to journalism meant that like many men of his generation he was somewhat aloof and something of an enigma at home.
He did, however, teach her how to play cribbage and bowl a leg break.
Clare would go onto have a successful career as a professional photographer and video producer in educational television at the prestigious Highbury College.
She wants to emphasize that there was a softer and humorous side so evident in the creativity and tenderness of letters home, short story writing and scribbles of poems such as ‘The Donkey’ and’ The Camel’ found in his wartime diary. These would be illuminated by the famous miniaturist and illustrator Jessie Bayes, his aunt, after the war.
At the Evening News in Portsmouth while his reputation as Chief Sub-Editor was rather dour, he would be liberated and so much happier in his role as the paper’s feature writer.
It was described as releasing ‘a greyhound from a tenth floor flat’ and ‘seeing of the light.’
His fellow journalists would now recognise and acknowledge him as the best writer they had ever known.
He was the cultured reporter for great events such as the Coronation, Royal Weddings and the funeral of Winston Churchill.
The paper described him as ‘A legend in his own lifetime’ particularly for a feature series ‘Those were the days’ which were circulation boosters in the 1960s.
This multi-part feature has also printed under the title ‘The Portsmouth Story.’
Clare has inherited suitcases of her father’s cuttings and newspapers. They contain reams of brilliant research and writing.
In the 21st century his prodigious and elegant output has also been archived by the British Library’s digitization project.
On the 14th March 1952 this instalment of ‘The Portsmouth Story’ series provides a model on intro and first paragraph writing:
‘The aeroplane was still at the stage where manufacturers of piano wire conceded that it offered a modest side-line. It was the time at which Colonel Cody’s wife- the first woman in England to go up in one of the new machines- had dismounted in Hampshire from the stuttering kite piloted by her husband, with the epic summing-up: “This disarranges the millinery.”‘
On 11th October 1955 he was reporting from Ireland and providing insightful perspectives on the complexities of sectarian tension and conflict that would erupt into the Troubles from 1968.
For his readers in Hampshire, he was able to get their attention with his headlined feature: ‘It’s a short way to Londonderry…would you like the enemy on the border at Havant?’
Another example of his ability to draw in and create excited anticipation with the reader is the opening paragraph of his feature for 18th January 1952: ‘Portsea Island 1877…Set a blind man and a sighted man on its northern bounds- and the blind man alone could tell you what is going on beyond his companion’s range of vision. The blind man would sniff a revolution in the making.’
Journalists committing their entire careers in the regional press usually had to come to terms with modest incomes and lifestyles.
James Bayes would travel to work by bicycle or bus. In the aftermath of WWII the Blitz left the country acutely short of housing.
Portsmouth and Sunderland Newspapers Limited (P&SN) presciently invested in housing to rent out to its employees and the Bayes family were allocated a one-bedroom ground floor flat in Southsea.
Clare Ash recalled: ‘There was only one bedroom and we children had it. Mum and Dad had a put-u-up in the lounge that had to be made up and put away every day.
One day in the 1960s, there was an unexpected visitor before 8am. It was the Chief Rabbi of Portsmouth. There was nowhere to entertain him, so he and his entourage were left on the step whilst Dad hurriedly got dressed and Mum put their bedding away. Then he was allowed in.’
James Bayes had the talent to make it in Fleet Street.
He was offered the editorship of the national Sunday newspaper Reynolds News, but it is to his credit that he put his family first after his wife said that she did not want to move from Hampshire.
This turned out to be the right decision in another sense as the paper folded a few years after the offer.
His daughter Clare Ash is certainly right in thinking her father’s work and life story merits biography and/or a compendium.
At the Institute we are so grateful she has been able to share his significant contribution to the history of regional journalism in Britain.
All family archive images of James Bayes by permission of Clare Ash, Engraving of the Institute of Journalists 1931 CIoJ Archives. Images of James Bayes in the Sub-Editors’ room of the Portsmouth Evening News in the 1950s and researching back copies of the Hampshire Telegraph during 1960s by kind permission of the Portsmouth News.