I’ve been meaning to put finger to keyboard for a while now, to pay tribute to a professional mentor of mine who died almost a year ago.
John “Hell’s Teeth!” Hurren, writer, editor and business owner was the best, and possibly the worst, mentor anyone could have. The best advice, knowledge and experience you could hope for, delivered in the most direct and blunt way.
As a cub journalist I cut my teeth on the Chronicle series of newspapers in East Surrey, England. I hesitate to include that link, because the series was bought out long ago and is a shadow of its former self. However I was lucky enough to write for this cluster of freesheets when John was at the helm.
Work at the Chronicle swung from frantic to subdued, in as little as half an hour. Not necessairly because news was breaking, but perhaps a meeting or deadline had been forgotten. That’s not to say it was an unprofessional atmosphere, but John was always busy giving his time to the many locals who ‘just happened to pop in’ for a cup of tea and a chat. He recognised the value of these conversations though: occasionally worthwhile bits of news, but just as importantly these people were advocates for the paper, subtly persuading local advertisers of its value.
I quickly (“well, not quick enough old chap!”) learnt how to turn a 5,000 word report on a game of bowls into a 25 word nib, and how to take a half-usable photo at the local fashion show (“plenty of tits and arse”).
I also had my first taste of networking: long enjoyable lunchs in the local pubs, equally boozy council meetings and lots of school plays.
However, John’s appetite for networking had its limits. Despite making it clear that a prominent local estate agent was an important advertiser and not to be upset, his patience was eventually exhausted because of an overdue invoice. At the annual Edenbridge Christmas get-together for local businesses, the titled proprieter of said estate agent wished John and I a Happy New Year. To which John replied: “it will be if you pay your f*@king bill.”
For all the slog and graft I was handsomely rewarded however. John let me cover a bombing by the Animal Liberation Front and a humbling charity project to rescue women and girls from prostitution in Romania, to name but two examples. Along with the bowls reports, flower shows and council minutes this gave me just the experience and confidence I needed to kick start my career.
Thanks for everything, John.