16 June 2024

Cross words on the crossword…

Firstly, a sincere apology to all you crossword fans out there.

What is known in the trade as a “production error” resulted in the wrong grid being printed last week. I’d say the culprit has been summarily dismissed, but we’re a small team as it is and we need all the people we can get…

But this does give me the opportunity to tell you my own “crossword nightmare” story from back when I was a trainee sub-editor on the Hull Daily Mail more than 20 years ago.

Putting the crossword together was not my job – it was the job of the editorial assistant, but she went on holiday and gave me instructions on how to do it.

It was a proper Heath-Robinson affair – the grids were on an ancient Mac that was not used for any other purpose, the clues were in a separate folder, and, as I recall, there was some kind of Enigma-style code in yet another folder that you had to use to match up the clues and grids.

Of course – of COURSE – I was going to get it wrong. It was in the stars.

Clearly no one proofed the crossword before it went to press, and little did I know what storm I was about to face in a few hours when the first edition hit the streets (this was in the days when dailies did not print the night before).

The first phone calls began to arrive at around noon, from irate puzzle fans unable to complete their daily fix. There were so many calls that my lovely chief sub decided to punish me by putting them all through to me. The phone was red-hot – and I’m not exaggerating. The moment I put it down, it rang again. And again, and again, and again.

One complainant told me in a clipped, posh accent: “I am a professor from the University of Hull, and I am NOT able to do my crossword!”

I was only 21, a few months into the job, so I meekly and profusely apologised. Now, I’d probably tell him to sod off and do the Telegraph crossword.

Another said he was a taxi driver and the crossword was the highlight of his day. By now I was frustrated enough to dare to query whether he had ever in his career taken someone down the wrong street, and would he therefore consider cutting me some slack.

I took so many angry complaints that I went home crying at lunchtime.

But I learned a salutary lesson. Put what you like on the front page, but never, ever, mess with the crossword.

Last week I realised I’ve been at the Gazette a whole year. The time has absolutely whizzed by! While there’s still loads we can do to improve the paper, I really hope that readers will agree it’s moved onwards a bit in terms of more engaging writing and appearance, and our website is much better, too.

But of course I’m still open to suggestions, so please do get in touch if there’s anything you’d like to see. As I said a year ago, this is your paper – so do get involved!