My Big Break: Charles Rae, retired journalist and now author

RETIRED Glasgow journalist, Charles Rae, is author of Fleet Street Frolics, after a 50-year career as a reporter, 30 of which were at The Sun and TODAY newspapers.

The former Royal correspondent at The Sun now lives in Hertfordshire.

When did working in the media first start becoming an ambition?

Journalism was never on my horizon, I only ever passed one exam in my life: my application to join the Glagow Police force.

They could not take me until I was 18 and so I needed a job for two years as I was only 16. I got a job as a copy boy at the Scottish Daily Express and found that the reporters seemed to have a very good life and had this magic piece of paper called a Press Card, which seemed to open up all sorts of doors that were shut to everyone else.

I made a Press Card up because I wanted to go and see The Spencer Davis Group who had just reached number one with Keep on Running. They were playing at Airdrie Town hall and I had no money. So I turned up with my DIY Press Card and was shown backstage for a ten-minute interview before the guys did their gig.

The following day I was worried that I would be caught out, because where would the interview be? So, I wrote out my quetions and the answers from the group and gave them to the features desk at the Evening Citizen, who printed some of them under my first ever byline.

I only found out when I was delivering the papers that day and saw my name in the paper. I think that was the Eureka moment that said journalism was my road, not the police force.

What was your first ‘media job’?

After doing my bit as a copy boy, I got a job on the West Lothian Courier in Bathgate, which still had ads on the front page. I had been taken on a three-month trial, prior to becoming indentured. But two-and-half-months later, the editor told me he did not think I would make it and let me go.

Describe, briefly, how your career unfolded between your first media job and where you are now.

After the disappointment of being sacked, I went to work for Plessey in Bathgate, a factory which produced capacitors. I was only there a few weeks when my mum and dad spotted an advert in our local paper, the Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser, for a junior reporter. I applied and got the job and never looked back.

It was a great grounding, with a wide variety of news, sport and features. From there, I headed south to seek fame and fortune and ended up in Wolverhampton at the Express and Star, where, after a few years in general news, I was asked to be industrial reporter.

In those days, you did not turn down opportunities.

Then I moved to the Birmingham Post and Mail Group and I was then offered a job at the Daily Star when it launched in London.

Two years later, Kelvin MacKenzie rang me and offered me a job at The Sun, doing industrial news. After the Wapping Dispute, which I covered, I wanted a new challenge and moved to the TODAY newspaper, doing a variety of stories. It was here that I became a Royal reporter and moved back to The Sun on TODAY’s closure and continued Royal reporting.

I covered the Royals for around 18 years. After the death of the Queen Mother, I became consumer editor and also edited the Cashflow section of the paper, before I took voluntary redundancy six years ago.

Any particularly big breaks along the way?

I worked on a large number of exclusives at both local and national newspaper level. My first big break came during my time at the Express and Star when a police contact of mine phoned to tell me that a stolen car had been brought to a police station in Bilston, part of Wolverhampton.

The car had been used in some Post Office robberies in various parts of the country, but the contact said it was also being linked with the kidnapping of Lesley Whittle, a Shropshire heiress, who had been abducted by Donald Neilson, dubbed the ‘Black Panther’. I wrote the story linking the robberies to the kidnapping but had an agonising wait for a week, before the Police finally officially confirmed it.

Who would you like to thank more than most?

My first proper news editor, Bill Jolly at the Wolverhampton Express and Star, was a tough old cookie, but, under his guidance, I learned a hell of a lot.

Also the support I got from my mum and dad, who helped get me back on my feet after my huge disappointment at getting sacked from my first reporter’s job.

I have been lucky to work with some of the greatest and best journalists and photographers during my time at The Sun and TODAY and you just learn from them all the time when you see them in action.

I have also worked for some great, great editors: Derek Jamieson, at the Daily Star, Martin Dunn and Richard Stott, both of whom were editors at TODAY, Stuart Higgins at The Sun and, of course, the most controversial of all, Kelvin MacKenzie, who took me to The Sun.

I would also like to thank everyone I came into contact with who was able to point the way to where the story was. Without them, I would never have been able to have had such a great life in newspapers.

What do you know now that you wished you had known when you started?

Everything I suppose. Experience is absolutely fantastic. I wish I had had a lot more of it when I started.