Saturday, 19 October 2013

Waiting for the tide

We're now at Teddington waiting for high tide this afternoon to make the short run down to Brentford and the Grand Union Canal. Can't say I'm looking forward to the first few miles on that with a dozen or so heavy locks, shallow rubbish strewn water and so on after the deep waters and immaculate locks of the Thames.
Yesterday I walked across the pedestrian bridge here at the lock and into the old Thames TV studios which are now owned by Haymarket Publishing whose swanky offices look out onto the river. This is the nerve centre of the What Car? operation. And I mean operation - it's no longer just a magazine but a website, a mystery shopping business, a car buying advice call centre and a technical centre that scientifically measures the true fuel consumption of cars (rather than those sometimes way off beam manufacturer figures.)
Forty years ago I was one of a gang of four editorial hacks sitting in an attic room in Gillow House, just off Oxford Street putting together the very first issue of What Car? We used typewriters; the photos were virtually all black & white - colour was an expensive commodity permitted on rarely more than three or four editorial pages - and we did our proof checking with ballpoint pens. After four years as a local newspaper reporter it was my break into motoring journalism
It was a great idea for a magazine (I wish I'd had it). Before What Car? no-one had group tests which compared cars, pages of data listing specifications and prices of new cars and tables of used car prices too.
It was an instant success - despite the 1973 oil crisis virtually doubling the price of petrol overnight shortly after the mag was launched, followed shortly afterwards by the 'three day week' with its temporary 50mph speed limits.
We had a good celebration of its 40th birthday: the youngsters who put together today's What Car? got a chance to meet with the old codgers who put together the first one - a bit like looking at some grey haired old gorillas at the zoo I guess - and then us oldies went off for a decent lunch and a chance to share our hazy memories of the antics we got up to.
It was a fun job then; I hope it's still fun now.

And I was not surprisingly the only one who turned up to the event by boat!

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