Vodka Binge Helped Young Hack Join Male-dominated Newspaper World Portrayed in BBC Drama

The BBC One Scotland crime thriller drama, The Field of Blood, which turned the spotlight on a Scottish newspaper newsroom in the 1980s, concluded last night with a scene of marked pathos last night as a kindly veteran reporter, suffering from alcohol-induced liver cancer, quietly expired in the hacks’ pub.

The thriller followed copy girl Paddy Meehan (played by Jayd Johnson) as she tried to break into the male-dominated industry. The two parts were littered with profanity, misogyny, drunkenness, lechery, cynicism and seediness.

Last week, veteran hack, Nan Spowart, wrote in The Scottish Sun about the colourful start to her career at the same time, and she began: “I drank seven vodkas and lemonade in an hour on my first day at work. I was 18 years-old and, to this day, I am not sure how my liver and lungs survived the next two years of boozing and smoking.

“I was the first female journalist in an Ayrshire newspaper office full of cynical, hard-drinking, chain-smoking men – and it was easier to float along on the sea of alcohol than try to swim against them.

“Besides, most of it was fun.

“In my first two years I discovered the local pub was considered part of the office and partied with councillors until the early hours of the morning.”

The 50 year-old continued: “It was nerve-wracking to walk in on the first day.

“Right at the start I was taken aside and told that I was never to use their toilet.

“Instead, I was banished to reception at the far end of the building – and to get there I had to run the gauntlet of the all-male typesetters and the all-male printers.

“It never dawned on me to object – that's just how it was then. On my first morning there seemed to be an incredible number of people who filed into editorial from other parts of the building to view the 'New Girl'.”

The drama’s newsroom set was drawn from a 1983 TV documentary on The Herald and the journalists’ pub was based on the former Press Bar in Albion Street, Glasgow.

Meanwhile, in The Herald yesterday, Jennifer Cunningham, who has worked for the paper since 1975, added: “Tonight’s concluding part makes uncomfortable viewing not just for the grim violence of the storyline but as a reminder that we put up with Neanderthal social attitudes only a generation ago.

“In 1982, the year in which the drama is set, despite equal opportunities legislation, newspapers were still trying to work out how to treat female workers who refused to be corralled in the women’s pages.

“A few years before 1982, my arrival at The Herald had been greeted by the news editor with a grim look and grimmer explanation: ‘I suppose we could have one girl reporter but we’re not having two. We had two once and they fought’. Verbally, I assumed.”

However, Cunningham, claimed teenagers would be spared the jibs. “Anyone who overstepped that particular mark would have been reminded, sometimes by a former copy boy, of the old adage: don’t kick the copy boy because one day he could be the managing director.”

Leave a comment