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By rob taylor  |  Posted: October 27, 2011

Watching the first edition roll off the press in 1972, Derek, David and Harry.

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TODAY, as you will have already seen on the front page, we are celebrating the 1000th edition of the Black Country Bugle, and on this and the facing page we mark this milestone with a glimpse back to the early days, when the mould for this unique publication was cast.

Harry Taylor, the Founding Editor, wrote on the front page of edition number one, back in April 1972... “Hello Bugle Readers... It’s arrived — hot from the presses — the magazine YOU have been waiting for! Forgive us if we, the proprietors, “blow our own trumpet” in this First Edition — just a few introductory notes and then the instrument is yours. You’ve just paid 3p for your copy of The Bugle, which makes you a partner in our enterprise and we intend to keep it that way!”....

Harry, the father of current Editor, Rob Taylor, then went on to explain that The Bugle intended to provide its readers with something they would not find anywhere else... “The Bugle”, he said, “will show you fascinating glimpses of our region’s history, bring to vivid life its legendary characters and trace its antiquity and your ancestors, over the centuries”....

“Our aim is to make The Bugle different from any other publication you can buy at your newsagents”.

Harry was one third of the partnership which launched the Black Country Bugle all those years ago, the others being Derek Beasley and David James, and all three had previously worked together on The Circular, a free distribution monthly publication, based in Halesowen.

Harry was Editor and Derek and Dave brought in the advertising revenue.

But The Bugle was to mark a brave, new venture for the trio, where they combined their local knowledge and publishing know-how in a paper that would have to stand well and truly on its own two feet, and depend solely for its success on the audience it could attract and the local businesses who would advertise in it.

Fortunately, both these requirements were met very quickly, with the folk of the Black Country beating a path to their local newsagents in their droves to secure their copies, and advertisers not slow to see the opportunities that the new publication gave them.

Back in those early days, and for the first twenty-six years in fact, the Black Country Bugle was published just once a month, and, as we explained on the front page, we did not move into weekly publication until October 1998. A big step of course, but one that was successfully undertaken thanks to the enthusiastic support of our loyal readers and advertisers.

But let’s take a step back to those very early homespun days once again, and remind ourselves of Harry Taylor’s piece, entitled 'Loffs' among the Legends, Murders, Mysteries & Ghosts during 25 years of editing 'The Bugle'. This was when we marked our 25th anniversary in 1997, and Harry, who passed away six years later in 2003, wrote...

“When I think back to early 'Bugle' editions a memory which still makes me smile is prompted by the business acumen of an 'unlikely lad' named Johnny who lived near our first office in Stourbridge Road, Halesowen. Working on the proverbial 'shoestring' we had a desperate need to gain a healthy circulation almost overnight. In addition to selling 'The Bugle' in all newsagents within an initial 3-mile radius, we inserted advertisements inviting readers to form their own 'Bugle Rounds' and receive the same 'cut' as newsagents.

“This strategy worked very well despite the fact that our cover price being a mere 3p the commission on each copy sold was only one penny.

“Johnny (I never knew his surname) was one of the first to apply. He popped into the office, proferring the advert and said 'I'll teck 25 to start with' ...

Derek Beasley, whose idea the distribution scheme was, looked a bit dubious. We retired to the back-room for a quick word out of Johnny's earshot. We had a few doubts, but when Dave James weighed in with ... 'We've got nothin' to lose though’, my nod in agreement settled the matter. Johnny got his 25 'Bugles' and returned in about an hour with the cash for the first 'batch' and went off with 25 more. A few minutes later, Percy Archer, who kept the newsagents shop across the road from our office came in looking a trifle ruffled and asked 'Who's that kid selling 'Bugles' outside my front door?' “We looked across the road and there was Johnny, virtually on Percy's doorstep, politely offering a 'Bugle' to anyone about to enter the shop and gleefully pocketing the cash. Of course, we had to advise Johnny to find a more suitable 'pitch'.

He reluctantly agreed but answered with a logic we couldn't fault...'I worked it out that folks goin' into a paeper shap was the moost likely to buy the paeper'...

'Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm?' was a great 'pot-boiler' over many editions. Reader responses, some from as distant as Canada and New Zealand, enabled us to build up a dossier of evidence and speculation on this wartime murder case more far-reaching than anything police investigations amassed in 1943...

“When preparing for the first 'Bella' episode we decided to do a 'mock-up' of the murder scene. With the aid of Dave Partridge who worked in Hagley Woods we located the stunted Wych Elm where Bella's bony remains had been found by bird-nesting youngsters in 1943.

Before taking photographs, we borrowed a wired-up skeleton from Halesowen Fire Station and conveyed it to the 'scene of the crime'. Trying my best to look like 'a proper sleuth', I had my photo taken with Bella's bony stand-in comfortably seated on the Wych Elm. It made a great illustration for the story and a later book on the subject. However, that somewhat macabre expedition was to have its comic moment. As we entered Hagley Woods, I was carrying the skeleton draped over my shoulders as I climbed the 5-barred gate to gain access to the woodland path which led to the Wych Elm. Just then there was a squeal of brakes in the lane behind us and I saw the horror-struck face of the car's lady driver before she 'stepped on the gas' and zoomed away zig-zagging from one side of the road to the other. I fully expected that she would stop at the first 'phone box and report the 'man with skeleton' to the police and anticipated that the woods would soon be swarming with cops. Why this didn't happen was explained in a letter I received shortly after including mention of this amusing episode in my next 'Bella' story.

The letter, in a neat feminine hand, was anonymous but signed 'A very relieved reader'.

Its writer explained that she had not reported the matter to the police because they would probably have noticed that her car tax disc was out of date, but had suffered severe pangs of conscience until she saw my story in the 'Bugle'...

“I have always enjoyed writing on a variety of subjects but must admit that unravelling old murder cases and, often with the help of readers, bringing them into clearer focus tops my 'favourite writing' list with 'ghost-hunting' a close second...

“The 1886 'Weatheroak Hill Murder' in which a habitual poacher named Moses Shrimpton murdered P.C. James Davies at Beoley was another compelling 'pot-boiler'. Amazingly, it resulted in our publication of a photograph (courtesy of a reader - and previously unpublished) showing the ill-fated policeman standing in the doorway of 'The Swan' (a local pub) on the day before he was murdered with the evil face of his killer - Moses Shrimpton - leering at him through the taproom window.

“Such incidents and 'finds' have occurred with blessed regularity over the past quarter of a century - often through the generosity of a great 'Bugle' readership at whose goodwill we continually marvel at, and trust will continue. Thanks a lot - folks”..

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