By Albert Fenech
Very often the twists and turns of life are just simply amazing – often, bizarre. I started my journalistic career in the modest role of a sportswriter and Assistant Sports Editor with the then leading newspaper in Malta, “The Times of Malta”.
A good score years later I was a regular visitor at the old Bracken House in London, the then home of “The Financial Times”, spent time in offices and often enjoyed lunch in the Editorial Dining Room as well as enjoying the views from their roof top of St Paul’s Cathedral directly opposite, and at a stretch a glint of Fleet Street in the distance.
How did this come about? In a more bizarre way than you can imagine. Sometimes I find it difficult to believe and understand how the pieces have fitted in so snugly as if divinely created and destiny plotted beforehand.
Although 100% Maltese, I was brought up in London from the age of eight years onward and lived in England for 15 years (mainly London). I succeeded in the then Eleven Plus Exam and was allocated to the Strand Grammar School on Brixton Hill, very conservative and old style and with strong ties to King’s College.
One of my classmates was Glyn Genin, a Brixton Boy. But he was not in the Brixton Lad mould because he was shy, polite and well-spoken and never in any way a bully. His mother was Welsh and his father of French descent and worked for the “Daily Express” in a printing role.
We hit it off as I was also shy and reserved although I was also tough and never subject to any bullying, being handy with my fists and kicking as well as being verbally well-stacked in obscenities.
We went through Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Grammar together, took our “O” Levels and awaited the results. Neither one of us had career aspirations except that of “hangin’ around” to see what develops.
The twist of fate begins
Glyn was daily around our house in West Norwood because we had space and a garden while his Brixton home was very small and his mother very shy. We whiled the day listening to the radio and playing cards. He also relished our Mediterranean kitchen lunches and dinners!
One afternoon we were mucking about in our front garden when we saw a stack of black fire smoke a short distance away. A passer-by told us that a fire had broken out at Beaulah Hill’s St Joseph’s College.
This was about ten minutes walk away and we decided to go and see what was happening. Glyn grabbed his Brownie Box Camera (he was never without it) as he loved taking pictures, and brought it with him.
At this point fate began its course of twists and turns. When we arrived at the college the fire was almost under control and no great damage had been caused but Glyn managed to get close in and took a number of pictures (of course back/white in those days).
His first instinct was that we go to the office of the Brixton Advertiser, a local weekly, and we took a bus there. The editor/sole proprietor was highly impressed.
Glyn’s picture of me at The Emirates Arsenal Stadium
“Are you a photographer?” Glyn shook his head to the negative. “Do you like taking news pictures like these?” Glyn nodded eagerly.
“I am waiting for my GCE results and will take it from there”, he explained.
“I need a full-time photographer here, all local stuff. Would you be interested?”
Glyn eagerly nodded his head and secured his first professional job as a media photographer!
Big step forward
He stayed there for almost a year but had already started making approaches in Fleet Street and decided to combine his photography with my knowledge of Maltese notorious Soho prostitution rackets, NOT involvement but because of being Maltese!
The stories and pictures did well in journals like the “Daily Mirror”, built-up Glyn’s name in the picture sphere and also earned me some generous pocket money!
Within the span of a few years, he was appointed Pictures Editor of the elite Financial Times Group where he spent 20 years. On his death in April of 2019, aged 73, the UK Picture Editors Guild wrote:
“Glyn Genin, former Picture Editor of the FT has sadly passed away following a short illness. Glyn was the youngest ever picture editor in Fleet Street when he was appointed the role at the FT, and upon leaving, was at the time, the longest-serving picture editor on a Fleet Street newspaper – some achievement. He will be remembered for many things including his stewardship of the Picture Editors Awards for many years and chair of the UK Picture Editors Guild. 2019”
In the meanwhile I had been making my own small headway in the Malta written media sphere. On my permanent return to Malta in 1965 I joined the then leading newspaper “The Times of Malta” and started my first day as a Reporter in the News Room. On the same day the Editor heard me say I was a sport fanatic, especially football.
“We have just experienced a vacancy on the Sports Desk. Tomorrow you can start as Assistant Sports Editor” – and I did for the next five years.
Another twist of fate, one may well ask? I gave up full-time journalism and embarked on a career of Human Resource Management for the remainder of my career, covering over 55 years, but kept up my sturdy freelance writing on socio-economic themes and gained a great reputation in political spheres.
And yet an even more outstanding twist … at the time Malta’s leading and undisputed socio-economic journalist was Godfrey Grima who represented … The Financial Times … and guess whose great friend at the FT was … Glyn Genin of course!
During the 70s and 80s Malta and Gozo went through great economic changes and were frequently featured in the FT in articles and whole supplements and Glyn was in and out of Malta taking pictures. As the three of us worked together, I backed up my support through my political connections into the inner echelons of the Malta Labour Party – opening doors for interviews and pictures.
In those days I was a regular London visitor and the FT’s Bracken House my daily meeting point to meet Glyn …and naturally Godfrey Grima when he was in London town (very frequently) and we had some grand lunches in the FT Editorial Dining Room.
Yet and yet … there were further twists and turns to come!
Godfrey’s brother Joe Grima was a former Labour National Government Minister who later resigned and opened his own radio station Live FM in 1992, then the only private radio station in Malta. Over the years I had completed several surveys for Godfrey that involved writing and radio and television appearances.
Godfrey recommended me to Joe to be appointed as his radio station’s Sports Editor – and I was, for three years.
The wheel had turned its full circle. Sadly both Godfrey and his elder brother Joe, like Glyn, have passed on.
You may well ask how is all this related to Kent and Sussex? Glyn lived in Sussex and over 30 years and I visited and stayed at his family home a countless number of times; however, more of that in the second part of this article.