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Retired Leicestershire journalist Michael Clayton, has recently released a memoir, which details his 70 extraordinary years in the profession – from starting out at a local newspaper and covering village fetes, through to working on the front line as a respected BBC war correspondent.

Now 88, It’s fair to say that Mr Clayton, has enjoyed a broad, varied and very successful career.

Picture: Michael Clayton

Since starting out in the journalism industry in 1951, he’s seen it change profoundly as a result of the ‘digital revolution.’ He’s seen the print industry move from hot metal press to online, worked on Fleet Street from its heyday to its decline, filed his stories by phone to newspaper copy takers, used telegram and sent film footage from war zones back to London on newsreels.

He reported on the London Evening News and later the Evening Standard as they battled it out, worked as a war correspondent for the BBC, and later had extensive experience as magazine Editor of Horse and Hound, which saw its weekly circulation rise to 100,000.

In his memoir ‘My Life in the News,’ Michael paints a vivid picture of what journalism was like before the digital age; “the whiff of printing ink in a newspaper office, a press reporter’s desperate search for a telephone box, and a television crew sending filmed reports home in tins, are among so many features of journalistic life which have disappeared.”

“Perhaps the ‘romance of journalism’ was always a myth, but I certainly believed in it when I set out…” he says.

After speaking to Mr Clayton, it’s clear that he looks back on his career with fondness, and a great deal of nostalgia. It certainly comes across in his book, which is peppered with warm tributes and descriptions of the colourful characters he had the pleasure of reporting and filming alongside.

Although he admits that writing his memoir was a ‘wonderful’ and very personal trip down memory lane, he said that his main objective for writing it, was to shed life on the reality of journalism before the digital age.

Picture: Merlin Unwin Publishers

“I felt there were less and less people knowing what happened in journalism in the 20th century, and they didn’t realise how much journalism had changed, and that technology had made so much difference to the profession,” he told the Leicester Times.

“I felt that some sort of memoir about the old days, when we operated on typewriters and used pencil and paper much more than they do now, was a good premise for a book, to educate people and as a reminder of the changes that have taken place.”

Mr Clayton started out his career by calling on local newspaper offices on his bicycle in search of a job.

After many years of pedalling far from his home in Bournemouth, he gained an apprenticeship as a reporter on a weekly paper called the New Milton Advertiser and its sister paper the Lymington Times.

He graduated to Fleet Street in 1957, and later reported for the London Evening Standard.

Clayton switched to broadcast journalism when he joined Southern TV as News Editor, then became a BBC news reporter from 1965.

“I began reporting flower shows and local courts, and progressed to the Vietnam War, and conflicts in the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent, plus Iceland’s ‘Cod War’ and disasters ranging from Aberfan to rail and air crashes,” he said, summing up his impressive career, which ended at Horse and Hound magazine.

In 1973, he was given the job of Editor in Chief at the prestigious publication.

He has written over 20 books, on the subject of equestrianism and hunting – two of his great passions.

However, his memoir, which has been published by Merlin Unwin, will be his last he says.

“It’s been a therapeutic experience. However, the book does cover a lot of wars – not exactly a bright time. However, people that have read the book do tell me that they do find humour in it – a sort of wry humour,” he said.

“As a journalist you’re a bit like a lawyer – you come up against horrible things in life and you have to be able to operate while coping with the stress of dealing with a very traumatic situation.”

Despite covering such difficult stories however, Mr Clayton says that he’s no regrets about his notable career – one that’s served him so well.

“It’s been hugely rewarding,” he told the Leicester Times. “Through my career, I’ve enjoyed a wealth of adventure and experience that I owe to the profession.”

‘My Life in the News’ is available to buy for £20, through Merlin Unwin Books.