The Journalist

W.R. Mitchell and Elly Fiorentini at BBC Radio York in 2012W.R. Mitchell and Elly Fiorentini
at BBC Radio York in 2012, © Settle Stories.

When starting his career at The Dalesman, Bill was told by his editor, Harry J. Scott, “We are more interested in people than things,” which Bill says has “ruled my life as a journalist.” Having mastered shorthand and typing at school in Keighley, Bill used these skills to record his initial interviews. As Bill says, “At first, I scribbled down what people told me using Mr Pitman’s type of shorthand. Words were made up of lines, dots and dashes—a tiring process.”

Then Bill discovered the tape recorder and thereafter recorded hundreds of hours of interviews with the men and women of the Yorkshire Dales which formed the basis for his written work. As he says, “With a small tape recorder, I was able to concentrate entirely on the subject. My first tape recorder was bulky and conspicuous. I eventually used a small recorder. The subject of my interview soon forgot about it.” It is this approach which gives Bill’s recorded interviews their unique value—the lives of Dales folk told in their own words.

From 1951 Bill also edited Cumbria, a magazine which focused on the Lake District, and of course recorded many Lakeland folk as a basis for his books on the area. After working with The Dalesman for over thirty years and editing it for most of that time single-handed, Bill retired from the magazine in 1986 and began his second career. He continued to record the lives of Dales folk on tape and published many books as well as articles for The Craven Herald, The Dalesman, and The Telegraph and Argus. He has also delivered several thousand talks to local groups and societies and still continues to do so.

After a lifetime of documenting life in the Dales, in 1996 Bill was awarded an MBE for his services to journalism in Yorkshire and Cumbria. He was also awarded an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters by the University of Bradford where a selection of Bill’s Archive is housed in Special Collections. In the same year Bill became an Honorary member of the Yorkshire Dales Society ‘in recognition of your services in protecting the environment of the Yorkshire Dales’, and is currently President of the Society.