Christopher Howse

What I’ve learnt from editing a newspaper letters page

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Letters to a daily newspaper have a curious power to gain an impetus of their own. ‘I owned a Triumph Herald many decades ago,’ wrote Robert Brown of Crosby to the Telegraph in January. ‘She was my first love. On cold winter nights I would keep her warm with an old mackintosh thrown over her engine under the bonnet. Perhaps it was this that protected her from a thief one night. She was driven off our drive on to the road but steadfastly refused to go any further.’

It soon became clear that we’d hit a seam of experience in recent history, when lives and loves were expressed through small British cars of doubtful reliability. ‘While I was driving my Herald in the 1970s,’ wrote Karen Mullan of Hove, ‘the passenger door flew open on a bend, and my handbag and dog fell out. Happily both were retrieved without injury.’

Too much give in the Herald chassis often meant that the doors opened unexpectedly. ‘I found some old bed iron in my father’s workshop,’ wrote Henry Harvey from Dittisham, Devon, ‘and our local blacksmith kindly welded it for me. No unsuspecting girlfriend was ever ejected afterwards.’

‘In the 1960s I owned a Triumph Herald convertible,’ wrote Kenneth Vickers of Blackpool. ‘It was my first car and my pride and joy. When I last took it to the garage for its MOT, the testing mechanic said that, if I chose to leave it with him, he could dispose of it. I went home on the bus in tears.’

Just because readers were keen to recount tales of Triumphs and disasters did not mean they neglected high politics. I have been letters editor of the Daily Telegraph since 2005 and am moving on to other tasks at the paper. The government takes notice of what Telegraph readers write.

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