The paper was part of a large group with half a dozen weekly titles circulating in an area with a population of 350,000, so they had a lively Arts Section and published critical reviews, not just puffs written by cub reporters, of nearly every theatrical production, amateur and professional, in the area. They also covered London theatres, so although I had to spend many hours attending school plays and such delights as the St Barnabus Players doing Quiet Wedding for the fourth time, and trying to think of something constructive and fair to say about them, I had my reward once a month or so when it became my turn to be sent two tickets for the third (provincial press) night of a new play in the West End.
Thus it was that for a few years I had some memorable evenings at the theatre, free, with my fares paid and a small fee. These included, for example, a new play by Harold Pinter, and here is my somewhat jejune review of it written forty-nine years ago:
I was paid a total of one pound four shillings and fourpence: one (old) penny a line, five and sixpence for fares and sixpence for a programme. This seemed quite a lot at the time and actually it was: today, the programme alone would cost several pounds, and with train fares from the suburbs an evening for two in a West End theatre would cost you at least sixty times as much as I got for writing this piece. Also, by contributing a weekly 500-word piece of whimsy for the same papers I brought my total earnings from journalism up to £5 a week, which in the early sixties represented a 40% bonus to my salary as an Export Manager.
Reviews often appeared in the national dailies before I saw new plays, and I never allowed myself to look at them before writing at least a draft of my own; not only would I have been influenced by the views of my professional betters, but I would probably have been tempted to lift some of their witticisms and pass them off as my own.
[By the way, none of the original cast of The Caretaker are still with us. Peter Woodthorpe was the last to go, in 2004; he had a brilliant career in Beckett and Shakespeare but did not often achieve the heights later and is remembered today chiefly as the gravel-voiced pathologist Max in many episodes of the TV Inspector Morse.]