As one door closes and another opens, Roger Guttridge looks back on the Blackmore Vale Magazine’s early years
Sipping a pint in his local one evening, session singer Alan Chalcraft had no idea he was about to make a life-changing decision.
As they chatted in a Stalbridge pub, a fellow customer threw out a random offer.
‘Would you like to buy a magazine?’ he asked.
‘How much?’ said Alan.
‘£5,000,’ said the other man.
Alan promised to consult with his wife and return the next evening with a decision.
‘Offer him half,’ said Ingrid Chalcraft.
The £2,500 was accepted and the couple suddenly became owners of the Blackmore Vale Magazine.
The free distribution weekly was the humblest of outfits, launched six months earlier, printing just four pages a week and already on the point of collapse.
‘People said we were mad,’ Ingrid told me 15 years later. ‘We put out our first issue with no typing skills, no business experience, no knowledge of layout and having never written anything in our lives.’
Alan and Ingrid had previously made their living as session singers. Their voices can be heard on many hit songs and jingles from the ’60s and ’70s and they actually met while backing Engelbert Humperdink at London’s Talk of the Town.
They left London in 1976 for a quieter life in Dorset.
By 1978 they were almost broke – until that fateful pub meeting.
Despite having no publishing experience, they negotiated six weeks’ credit from the printer and set up an office under the stairs.
They used an electric typewriter to set the type and Letraset for headlines and display advertisements.
‘We had a telephone but it rang so infrequently that we did gardening between calls,’ said Alan.
But free newspapers were in the ascendant and interest steadily grew.
Then in 1979 came the break the Chalcrafts needed – a strike by the National Union of Journalists, which kept the Western Gazette off the streets for seven weeks.
Many advertisers transferred their business and the BVM jumped from 12 to 24 pages overnight.
By 1993, it boasted 112 pages and a reputation that attracted a £1m takeover bid from major newspaper group Trinity International.
When I dared, 27 years ago, to suggest to the Chalcrafts that they were about to become millionaires, they laughed off the suggestion, pointing out that they were only 70 per cent shareholders and that 40 per cent of what they received would go in tax.
That still left them with a few hundred grand, which seemed to me like a fair return on £2,500.
The rest, as they say, is history…