Mike Last’s 42 years of being first with the news in West Norfolk

Mike Last feature Lynn News
Mike Last feature Lynn News
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It was with a heavy heart that I left the Lynn News in December after being diagnosed with cancer and undergoing chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a lengthy operation.

I had enjoyed working under six editors and with more than 100 reporters over the 42 years and three months since joining the paper in September 1971, then at its former premises across the road in Purfleet Street.

Mike Last feature Lynn News

Mike Last feature Lynn News

My early memories include compiling the Young Set and Look Back pages, tasks generally given to trainees and young reporters. Young Set was aimed at the teens and 20s in the 1970s, with its Top Ten local hits and fashion pages.

One of the most eventful years proved to be 1974 when a murder hunt ensued after a woman’s bound and headless body was found by a farm worker in a lovers’ lane at Cockley Cley, near Swaffham.

Her identity remains a mystery to this day despite a recent exhumation and use of the latest DNA tests.

It was also the year that saw the disappearance without trace of 21-year-old student Pamela Exall, who had been staying on a Snettisham campsite with her brother, David, and his friend, Peter, both aged 17.

And there was also a mid-air collision between an RAF Phantom jet and a crop-spraying aircraft over Fordham Fen, near Hilgay, with tragic results.

In 1975, I won EMAP’s Reporter of the Year title and the Lynn News moved that year to new, purpose-built offices and a printing works on the Hardwick Industrial Estate.

The Lynn News remained at this site until returning to Purfleet Street, and the present offices, at Limes House in November 1989.

Probably the biggest news I got involved in was the romance between Prince Charles and Sandringham-born Lady Diana Spencer – which became a focus of worldwide media attention in 1979.

The Royal Family has always been big news in this area and never more so than when the couple were meeting up secretly around the Sandringham estate, which led to the Lynn News getting several world exclusives in which I was very much involved.

On the royal theme, I was also privileged to personally attend and report on the Queen Mother’s funeral service at Westminster Abbey in April, 2002, on behalf of the paper – a memory I shall always treasure.

Celebrities I have interviewed have included the now notorious Jimmy Savile, film and television stars Stephen Fry, Brian Blessed and Brendan Coyle, and sports personalities such as local racing driver Martin Brundle, now a well-known F1 commentator, and former 500cc world motorcycle champion Barry Sheene.

Other highlights of my time on the paper have included:

n Flying in a Victor tanker jet from RAF Marham and refuelling two fighter planes over the North Sea;

n A hovercraft trip out to a drilling platform in The Wash and returning at speed in an inflatable dinghy with a high-powered engine;

n Being chauffeur-driven through congested London traffic, with police assistance, in a Government minister’s limousine;

n Interviewing then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during an election campaign, which included a whistle-stop visit to a West Norfolk orchard where she was being followed by an eager posse of national newspaper and television journalists.

Every journalist relies on his sources and I was fortunate to have built up a very helpful collection during my years at the paper. I remain extremely grateful to each and every one of them for the help they gave me over the years.

I was also fortunate to work alongside some excellent journalists in my time, including former Lynn News editor Malcolm Powell and deputy editor Paul Watson.

Both were excellent mentors and Malcolm is still the only Lynn-born person to have been editor of the paper.