Peter Gruner: 11 years on the Islington Tribune

23 Dec

Everyone has a story. Journalist Peter Gruner knows Islington better than most of us despite never having lived here. After 11 years on the Islington Tribune (the Trib) he retired in May. Now he’s enjoying visits back to the borough as well as trips around the UK with his wife Maggie (“Mrs Gee”). Interview by Nicola Baird

Peter Gruner, journalist: “I always finds there’s a moment when an interviewee says something really interesting or inspirational.”

Peter Gruner, journalist: “I find there’s a moment in an interview when someone says something really interesting or inspirational. That’s usually the story.”

Peter Gruner is a real Islington character, despite living in Barnet. For the past 11 years he’s covered so many local events, kept us up to date on Islington politics and people. He even took the Ice Bucket challenge, after nomination from Cllr James Murray (Barnsbury ward).

Peter’s granddad was a features sub on the Evening Standard, and his Dad started on the Ham & High before moving into TV. He reckons “journalism was in the blood” – though he’s relieved that his three adult children, Olly, Jennie and Briony have chosen different career paths.

Peter spent 20 years at the Evening Standard covering mainly environmental issues, including the debate about the health impacts of using diesel fuel. He then moved to the Islington Tribune around 2004. “It’s incredible to believe that we knew about the dangers of diesel exhaust more than 20 years ago. But experts kept saying that as long as there are proper exhaust controls on vehicles there’s no problem. We now know that diesel fumes are extremely dangerous particularly for children. And look how many schools in the borough are built next to main roads.”

Peter liked ‘The Trib”, as he calls it affectionately, from day one. “It was wonderful to still be working in London and to have a small area like Islington gave me more focus. There’s so much going on, such interesting people and I had a soft spot for some of the hard working councillors.

Former council leader Catherine West [now MP for neighbouring Hornsey & Wood Green] and new council leader Cllr Richard Watts were good contacts. I also enjoyed meeting former Lib Dem leader Steve Hitchins, the leader of the Lib Dems who was always being criticised by the opposition, but was responsible for Arsenal’s move from Highbury.

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Now 68, Peter retired in May 2015. His farewell party was held at an Irish pub close to the newspaper offices in Camden Town and attended by friends, colleagues, contacts, councillors and even Jeremy Corbyn, MP. “By the end of the night we were all singing Wild Rover. So I know Jeremy can sing,” says Peter with a characteristic twinkle in his eye.

Lara's Cafe, 16 Blackstock Road, N4. See www.larascaffetteria.com

Lara’s Cafe, 16 Blackstock Road, N4. See www.larascaffetteria.com “A good place to interview,” says Peter Gruner who retired from Islington Tribune in 2015.

As Peter Gruner sips his coffee, sitting in the sunshine at the garden behind Lara’s Café on Blackstock Road, his conversation is filled with humour. He’s very good company.

“Someone said that most people don’t read further than the third paragraph, so the ‘intro’ to a story is really important.

“I’m always interested in people. That’s why I love journalism. And everyone has got something interesting to say, even though you may not always agree with them. However, I’m not a foot in the door merchant. I’m not sure I like digging up the dirt.”

Since his retirement he’s been able to swim more often in the Hampstead Heath ponds. “Getting into cold water is tough, but getting out is exhilarating,” he quips.

People in Islington Peter Gruner admires

  • Katie Dawson (l) & Caroline Russell (r). Impressive Islington Green party campaigners. (c) Camden News Journal

    Katie Dawson (l) & Caroline Russell (r) in Gillespie Park. Impressive Islington Green party campaigners. (c) Camden News Journal

    “Over the years I’ve been inspired by many people, but I must mention lone Green councillors Katie Dawson and Caroline Russell. Katie was wonderful. She helped introduce the 20mph speed limit in the borough. When she first arrived on the political scene I was so delighted. It was a breath of fresh air. She had lots of good ideas, and she held the balance working with both Labour and the Lib Dems. I was sad when she got knocked out.

  • Now Green Cllr Caroline Russell is the only elected opposition on Islington council against an often vociferous army of Labour members. I’m sure it’s very tough for her, but she does a brilliant job.
  • I wish Jeremy Corbyn well as new leader of the Labour party. I’ve known him for 40 years since he was a councillior in Haringey and I worked on the Tottenham Weekly Herald. I did an interview with him on his 30th anniversary as an MP a few years ago and he talked about his love of cheese, in particular Stilton. Not a lot of people know that he’s a member of the Parliamentary Cheese Committee. He also enjoys baking his own bread and talked about his beloved allotment.
  • 20150905_161835My story about Bob the cat and busker James Bowen was read by a local literary agent. The rest as they say is history. She got James to write his life story which turned into several best selling books and soon a film. In James’s second book, The World According to Bob, he mentioned me by name – that was nice of him.
  • There are loads of famous people in Islington. I used to see Boris Johnson on his bike before he became London Mayor. He was president of the Islington Tories. Very nice bloke.

Multi-skilled
Peter rarely uses Twitter or Facebook to get stories, unlike a lot of younger hacks, and prefers the face-to-face interview. He’s a reasonable photographer after “buying myself a posh camera”. His tip for budding interviewers is to make friends with Google – “always find out about the people you are planning to interview before meeting them.”

Peter says he’s always fascinated by people’s lifestyle and favourite foods. He’ll often ask an interviewee where are the best specialist shops and where do you get the best coffee? It’s a question that led him to discover that Jeremy Corbyn is a big Stilton cheese fan.

Peter grew up in Hampstead and went to New End School – and now after a lifetime reporting about urban life he’s considering a move out of London. It’s a time of big change – he’s also soon to be a grandfather. Peter admits that he’s unused to sitting still so has been making trips to historic sites such as Chartwell, the family home of Winston Churchill (now run by the National Trust). He’s also looking forward to taking Mrs Gee to see the new movie Suffragette – which has scenes shot in Myddleton Square, Clerkenwell and the Houses of Parliament, see this grainy link here (shot by Hoxton Ferret).

Now he’s not restricted to Islington news, Peter plans to find out more about the Suffragettes including taking a trip to Manchester where Mrs Pankhurst was born. “The greatest thing is my freedom pass,” he says showing it off with a flourish, “it means I can go everywhere and anywhere – and use buses for free all over the UK.”

Street Cat Bob

Big Issue (30 nov-6 Dec, 2015) with a Christmas message from STREET CAT BOB (created from photos passers-by took) that "you're all part of the story". But former Tribune journalist Peter Gruner played rather a key role in Bob's story.

Big Issue (30 nov-6 Dec, 2015) with a Christmas message from STREET CAT BOB (created from photos passers-by took) that “you’re all part of the story”. But former Tribune journalist Peter Gruner played rather a key role in Bob’s story.

And with the news that the life of one-time Big Issue seller James Bowen and his ginger cat Bob is to be made into a film comes the possibility that Peter will be turned into a character in a Hollywood movie. He’s already joked that he’d like the late Sir Laurence Olivier to play him. Despite his modesty, Peter often self-deprecatingly refers to himself as just a “hack”, it’s clear that he’s looking forward to seeing himself on the big screen, for however brief a moment.

Wildlife management volunteer at Gillespie Park Matthew Sherwood: “There’s a good crowd in the office at the Islington Ecology Centre. They are always helpful and if they don’t know the insect or bird I’ve spotted they will look it up.” (c) Islington Council

Islington Ecology Centre where staff help manage the green-flag Gillespie Park. (c) Islington Council

Places Peter Gruner enjoys visiting in Islington

Gillespie Park at Finsbury Park is a gem. Once upon a time about 30 years ago it was railway land threatened with development. But there was a big campaign involving Friends of Gillespie Park and Jeremy Corbyn and the land was saved as a nature reserve.

I like walking along Islington’s canals but they have become extremely scary due to commuter cyclists. It’s almost a no go for walkers and elderly people who need eyes at the back of their heads. I’m a part time cyclist too. What is the answer? Is it a dedicated cycle lane?

Lara’s the place I like to meet contacts. It’s very central and a place I like to have coffee with a mozzarella, avocado and sundried tomato sandwich.

Local news journalists are today’s Samuel Pepys, covering all the stories that help us Londoners stay excited about life in the big city. Peter Gruner’s tireless news reporting has ensured that Islington locals have been able to follow a wealth of stories about who is getting up to what in Islington – and that’s helped all of us get a better borough. There may be a new recruit at his desk now, but thanks to the Internet we won’t be forgetting Peter.

Islington Tribune is free, find it around the borough on Fridays.

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.

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This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola

 

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2 Responses to “Peter Gruner: 11 years on the Islington Tribune”

  1. nicola baird blogs December 30, 2015 at 11:09 am #

    From Facebook:
    Greg: Great blog, about a thoroughly decent and well-liked journalist!

    Loads of people who Peter mentioned in this interview have spoken to me about how much they appreciated Peter’s fab work on the Islington Tribune & send him all the best for his new adventures.

  2. Nicolette Jones December 30, 2015 at 6:39 pm #

    Wishing Peter all the best in his retirement, with thanks for all the stories he took an interest in, from the history of Samuel Plimsoll to the successes of the Blackstock Triangle Gardeners, from Plimsoll Road Street Parties to Arsenal Food and Wine’s ‘Neighbours’ News’ Special Award for customer service. And more. He was always responsive – and also a great source of good ideas.

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