BIKE, duffle coat, bobble hat: the three vital pieces of equipment for any boy or girl who wanted to make it big in the delivery business.
It might be dark, windy and wet, but together they meant you were ready for the job – a job which meant stuffing a newspaper through a letterbox as someone’s wake-up call.
Then, it was back home for breakfast before heading off to school, safe in the knowledge that by Friday you’d have earned at least enough to buy that week’s number one single.
But, like Top of the Pops, paperboys and girls seem to be something of an old-fashioned idea. Indeed, home delivery of newspapers – like milk, cream, bread or butcher meat – appeared to have gone the way of vinyl.
More people have headed to the internet for their news as they have for their music, while home food deliveries come in the shape of supermarket vans and biodegradable bags.
However, the paper round – once the most common introduction into the world of work – is making a comeback. Perhaps it’s the recession which has meant pocket money suddenly cut back or curtailed, or even the increase in newspaper subscriptions being taken out by customers – but newsagents in the Lothians are seeing a rise in the number of children looking to get on their bikes or lace up their trendy trainers and deliver the news.
And why not when a weekly morning paper round can earn a delivery boy or girl in the region of £50? Not that that was always the case.
Labour councillor for the Pentland Hills ward, Ricky Henderson, remembers going home with £2.10 in his pocket after a week of delivering the Evening News around the Linlithgow housing estate where he grew up.
“But it was enough to pay for my train, a ticket for the Hearts game, a bag of chips and juice after on the way home. But it’s all got to be taken in context. There’s not much £2 will buy you these days.
“I didn’t have a hard round though, it was uphill, but not very long – which is why I still look so young,” he says with a laugh. “I just walked it, but if it was really wet, well I’d get my sister to do it . . . can’t remember if I gave her the cash, though.
“But what a newspaper round taught me was that if I wanted to go places, to do things, then I needed to earn money to pay for it – there weren’t any handouts from my parents.”
Forth One DJ and panto star Grant Stott definitely had a hard paper round in the early 1980s.
“I was 13, and I’d pick up the papers from a newsagent opposite South Morningside School, then I’d have to walk all the way up to Buckstone to deliver them. It was pretty tough going as I didn’t have a bike.
“It was all uphill and the wind and rain would lash at you. Pretty miserable at times but when you got that brown envelope at the end of the week with £5 in it, it felt like it was all worth it.
“I’ll never forget the smell of the canvas bag we had to carry the papers in, and the ink from the newsprint.
“Before that, I had a milk round which was great fun on the float and good money. I changed because my friends who had paper rounds before me told me that they got amazing tips at Christmas.
“When I got a round in Buckstone I thought, brilliant, loads of money around here. But I got hee-haw. Never even got a free Bubbly or a liquorice lace at the newsagents – so had to spend my hard-earned buying sweets.”
However, he believes that learning how to chat to his customers on the way round stood him good stead for his later career.
“And it was great earning your own money. My parents weren’t going to hand over pocket money, so I had to get a job. You could blow it all or save it up. It gave you a feeling of independence and there was a responsibility because people were relying on you to get them their papers. It was a great job.”
The chance to learn and cultivate social skills is just one of the many benefits of taking on a paper round outlined by those currently delivering around the city, as well as another ex-paper boy who now has a career in national politics.
The round of Ian Murray MP, started at the RS McColl in Parkhead Avenue and took him round the streets of Parkhead and Sighthill. He had his round between 1988 and 1992.
“I think I was 12 or 13 when I started and it was an early-morning round of 58 papers. I did it by bike until my blue racer was stolen – if anyone’s seen it I’d like it back,” he says. “I wanted to be able to buy my own computer games so the only thing I could do was get a paper round to earn some money. I got £8.90 a week, which felt like a fortune then.
“There were about 20 paperboys in the shop every morning, it was the thing to do then. I’d get up at 6.50am, be in the shop at 7.10 then do the round for an hour, which was totally flat and really easy, then be at school for 8.40am. It certainly gave me a real work ethic.
“Christmas was the best time though. You’d put cards in with the paper and hope that people appreciated what you’d done over the year, sometimes you’d get a fiver tip.
“It taught me two life lessons – the importance of earning your own money, the thrill you can get from that, and the importance of work, getting up early in the morning and doing it every day. I’d recommend it to any child.”
According to Denise Brydon, retail sales executive at Johnston Press, there is a growing demand again for newspaper delivery across Edinburgh and the outlying areas.
“Some newsagents which have changed hands over the years have decided to discontinue the service because they think it will mean more people actually coming into the store, but there’s not really evidence to back that up,” she says.
“However, even if your local newsagent doesn’t deliver, the number of people doing deliveries is actually growing, so the chances are there will still be someone in your area, either another retailer or an independent home delivery agent.
“Johnston Press in Edinburgh alone employs around 80 people to deliver newspapers, roughly half of whom are teenage boys and a quarter teenage girls.
“The rest are adults who take on the responsibility of organising local teens to do the rounds themselves.”
One such deliverer is former Ross High pupil Fraser Buchan. The 17-year-old has been delivering papers for the past three years.
“I’ve learned a lot about how to speak to people in a friendly and respectful manner. It’s also taught me time-keeping, a sense of responsibility and how good it feels to earn your own money, and not have to ask your mum and dad all the time. I’ve also learned a lot about managing my money.”
His mum Mandy, 41, who works as a carer, agrees: “It definitely makes children more responsible. They have to get out there and do the job – there are customers waiting and the papers aren’t going to deliver themselves.”
That sense of responsibility at a young age is echoed by company director Iain McGill, who delivered papers in the Abbeyhill area in his early teens.
Iain, who has stood as a candidate for the Conservative Party in Leith, has been running Harmony Employment for nearly nine years.
“I did morning rounds, afternoon rounds – anything that was going really. It taught me a good work ethic at an early age, and that if you wanted something you couldn’t afford, it was up to you to work hard enough to get it.
“Paperboys and girls also offer a great community service that is often overlooked – they are a contact point with the outside world for elderly people and are likely to be among the first to notice if all is not as it should be at a stop on their round.”
Indeed, only last April, a Midlothian paperboy was lauded for saving the life of an elderly man who had suffered a heart attack. Fifteen-year-old Grant Fleming, from Newtongrange, gave mouth-to-mouth and CPR to pensioner Alex Philip for ten minutes, while waiting for an ambulance to arrive, before getting back on his bike and finishing his round.
Doing a paper round is also a great way to keep fit. Newbattle Community High pupil Joel Urquhart, 16, who has been delivering papers in Gorebridge since he was 14, says: “It gets me out and about regularly on foot or on my bike. I’m sure it will be helpful when I apply for other jobs – I’m very confident when speaking to people outwith my age group, and I think potential employers would also be impressed to see that I’ve already held down a job for so long.”
‘PEOPLE WANT DOORSTEP DELIVERY’
NEWSAGENT James Borthwick, based at the roundabout between Comely Bank and Craigleith, is proof of the rising popularity in newspaper delivery.
Directors David Borthwick and David Gray not only employ a host of children – and some adults – to deliver papers to homes, but also hold contracts to do the same for many of the Capital’s biggest hotels.
“Business has gone from strength to strength over the last 20 years,” says Mr Borthwick, “and that’s even with the introduction of free papers on the web, which I personally think is a terrible idea.
“People still want to get up and find their newspaper has been delivered. It’s a fantastic medium – and the rise in subscriptions certainly helps us.”
Mr Borthwick, who says he was never allowed his own round as a boy but had to fill in if his father James was let down, recalls that in the 1970s he was paid around £4 for delivering the Sunday papers.
“I had a moped then and it paid for my week’s petrol,” he says. “Nowadays the average the kids get paid is between £30 to £50 for a six-day morning round of between 35 and 70 papers. On a Sunday, they can get £25 a run – and we give them trolleys.
“I think paper rounds give kids a real sense of responsibility. They know people are relying on them and, of course, it’s their first earned money.”