This summer, the parish magazine for All Saints’ Church, Isleworth reached its 500th issue. For many years Sundial was produced by Ken and Helen Cooper, and a bench in their memory was donated by their children and placed near the church sundial, overlooking the riverside scene.

Ken worked with this newspaper group, based in Richmond, working for the owners, the Dimbleby family. This week our news pages recount the funeral of John Haines who married Richard’s sister Pat.

And here, courtesy of Sundial, we recreate an article Ken wrote in 1991 about his former workmate Richard Dimbleby.

Richard was a great mixer, full of fun and far removed from the stuffiness attributed to the many with whom he was forced into contact through his work.

I was an apprentice at the Richmond and Twickenham Times as a compositor when ‘hot metal’ was used in all forms of printing, long before the cameras and computers revolutionised the industry.

Before the last war the newspaper was owned by Richard’s father and uncle, and when his schooldays had finished Richard was thrust into the commercial world to learn about the newspaper industry in all its forms, joining the staff at Richmond and helping in all the menial tasks.

Richard was always a big lad and his white apron with kangaroo pockets sat on his corporation with great dignity. One of his first tasks was to help a very old compositor, a rather grumpy individual who had been demoted, because of his age, to setting up the contents bills. Immediately the banging down of type started, all the apprentices would disappear behind frames or tallboys, knowing that it would be the task of the available apprentice to help the old compositor carry the ‘forme’ to the machine room. Richard fell for this at first, but soon cottoned on to the idea of hiding. Unfortunately he had to conceal a large corporation and he was invariably spotted and made to assist in humping the forme away.

On the second day Richard was late and he was greeted at the top of the staircase leading to the composing department by the works manager. Looking at his watch he told Richard his time for starting was 8 o’clock, same as anyone else, and then espied Richard’s music-case. “And what do you need that for?” enquired the manager. Richard explained that on certain days he had permission at 11am to play the organ at St Matthias Church on Richmond Hill. With a few expletives the manager told him he had come to learn the printing trade not to play the organ. Richard went missing at 11am.

The firm held a Wayzgoose every year and the first in Richard’s time was a coach outing to Brighton. In the reporting section was a very attractive young lady of similar age, Miss Dilys Thomas. The half-way stop somewhere near Horsham was at a local hostelry and much to the shock of the older and rather Victorian members of the firm, Richard left the coach giving Dilys a pick-a-back into the pub. He then went straight to the piano and played all the latest jazz tunes. He was a very talented musician and it was Miss Thomas who became Mrs Dimbleby.

A very amusing incident happened at the outing when the coaches and employees assembled around Richmond Green. Chatting to Richard were a number of the younger editorial staff including the cartoonist. A juvenile sub reporter was hopping up and down on the edge of the kerb when much to her embarrassment her undergarment descended around her feet. The blushing young lady was further embarrassed when the cartoonist threatened to make this incident the priority in his next week’s issue of the newspaper. Richard was highly amused.

My father was head reader at the firm and apprentices had to take turns in reading the copy to him. They sat at a tall desk in a divided section of the room upon high bar-stools. Richard’s weight was much too great for the average stool and within a short time three stools had collapsed under him.

Richard Dimbleby should never have been called pompous, on the contrary he was the exact opposite. A man of great courage whose early death from cancer was a great loss to our television screens.

Ken Cooper