Former Southwark News journalist Geoff Hill’s funeral took place last week. There have been some fine tributes to him following a highly successful career in journalism which spanned working for CNN, starting up the Setanta Sports News channel, heading up Channel 5 News and culminating in becoming Editor of ITV News. However he cut his teeth on this newspaper 30 years ago.
Two of those who worked with him, Greg Whelan and Dickie Davis, who went on to work for Sky Sports, remember him fondly. Here they write about their former colleague and friend….
Geoff arrived at the Southwark & Bermondsey News in the summer of 1990 hungry to be a journalist and ready to start at the bottom.
He came on work experience, loved every minute of it and was heartbroken when it was over. Although the newspaper couldn’t offer him a paid job at the time, Geoff wouldn’t take no for an answer. He would be on the phone to the office for at least an hour every day just trying to stay involved. In the end the bosses simply had to take him on. His persistence had paid off – and he didn’t look back.
In the beginning it meant doing everything from pushing leaflets through doors on council estates to interviewing people on the P11 bus – about riding on the P11 bus. All without earning a penny.
He was sent to Tower Bridge Magistrates’ Court on his first day proper – and only realised on his way out that he should have been in the press box watching proceedings. Instead he’d spent all morning sitting with the relatives of the accused and finding out even more about the cases than anyone else would have. That was typical Geoff.
He quickly immersed himself in all aspects of the paper; crime stories, council politics, even Millwall news and gossip – which was never easy for a Palace fan! But Geoff was always ready to go that extra mile.
When the editor Dave Clark decided that we should develop our own photos for the paper he partitioned off a tiny corner of the office, threw Geoff a how-to-do book about photography and told him to get on with it. Geoff, as ever, learnt very quickly on the job. We had the world’s oldest camera (it’s now in the British Museum) which took dreadful photos which then had to be developed in the world’s smallest dark room. Somehow, Geoff made it work.
Back then the paper was no more than a thin A4 leaflet, selling for 20 pence in a handful of newsagents. To help to pay for the production our office also operated a news agency, South East News, which found and sold stories to newspapers and magazines. This was where Geoff really came into his own. He would find a story and have the gift of the gab to sell it to the broadsheets, tabloids and trade press alike. The likes of Construction News, Care Weekly and Horse & Hound had never seen so many stories cross their news desk from a single source. And the staff bonuses we received when he regularly broke the weekly sales record made him particularly popular in the pub on a Friday night.
Geoff never shirked a challenge. When one of the tabloids ran a story that a south London woman consumed two whole bags of sugar daily he had to try to find her. Unfortunately she had a really common surname. Undaunted, he reached for the phone directory. Having precious little else to go on he spent the next few hours asking every woman he spoke to by that name whether she ate two bags of sugar every day!
Geoff famously turned up at a pub near a crime scene minutes after the incident, trying to find a vantage point to see over the police cordon. The landlord had already punched the bloke from The Sun who’d tried to do the same thing. But he welcomed Geoff with open arms when he found out he was from the Southwark & Bermondsey News. He got a great angle from the pub to get a great photo… but alas the good ol’ camera let him down.
Bermondsey loved Geoff and Geoff loved Bermondsey. The fondness which he had for the area – and the paper – never left him. Years after he’d moved on our old boss Dave Clark died suddenly. Geoff returned to ensure that the paper still went out on time. By helping to keep the Southwark & Bermondsey News going through the very toughest of times he was always fiercely proud that he could give something back to an area he loved so much.
Former MP for the area Simon Hughes also wanted to pay tribute to Geoff Hill. He writes….
For family and so many friends and colleagues the death of Geoff Hill at the tragically young age of 52 is an irreplaceable loss of a south London star.
Geoff was one of those young journalists starting their careers who was taken on by the late great founder of ‘Southwark News’ Dave Clark.For family and so many friends and colleagues the death of Geoff Hill at the tragically young age of 52 is an irreplaceable loss of a south London star.
I was privileged as the local MP to get to know Geoff well then – and to see from the beginning his hugely energetic commitment, determination and intelligence and great journalistic skill.
Geoff combined the Irish charm inherited from his mother with the south London savvy of his Croydon and south-east London upbringing and schooling (only once interrupted by a move to the other side of the Thames). And however ruthless his chase for his story, there was always his unforgettable friendliness and his smile.
Geoff was one of many ‘Bermondsey News’ or ‘Southwark News’ journalists who learnt his trade with us, and then rose to great heights in his profession. And Geoff went to the very top – not just as an Editor of UK ITN news, but as a much loved, greatly respected and enormously successful editor of this flagship national programme too. Only leukaemia, which he worked so hard to overcome and campaigned to cure, prevented many more years of success and influence for Geoff at the very top of UK broadcasting.
Last week some of us were privileged to be able to support Geoff’s family and close friends and colleagues at the most beautiful funeral and thanksgiving service which filled every seat in St Bride’s in Fleet Street, the journalists’ church.
The pictures of Geoff, the words, music, readings, tributes and prayers brought smiles and laughter but so many tears. The reception later in his beloved Greenwich later saw many of the best known names in broadcasting and other press continue to pay tribute and support Geoff’s family and each other.
I hope that soon the story of the huge contribution of ‘Bermondsey News’ and ‘Southwark News’ to regional and national written and broadcast journalism will be written.
In the meantime, we must continue to support our great and independent local paper – and in Geoff’s memory make sure this paper he served so well continues to thrive and grow.