I HAVE been writing my weekly column since 1966, and it first appeared in The Northern Echo 50 years ago this month. But today’s column is the last. Time, and an economic climate ever less favourable to newspapers in the digital age, have caught up with it.

The column’s 53-year span might be the longest in British journalism, certainly for a column of topical comment. But my sole aim, week by week, has been to find something worthwhile to say – and to say it, or maybe several things, well enough to take the reader, perhaps yourself, from start to finish.

On the second count I will have failed many times. The first is purely subjective, and even where I’ve struck a common chord I’m sure I’ve tested many a reader’s patience by repeating myself more than once.

But nine editors have considered the column worth a place in their newspapers. I am grateful to them all, but especially two: the late Bill Heeps, who gave me my chance, aged just 28, on Teesside’s Evening Gazette; and the late Don Evans, who welcomed the column to this newspaper.

None of my editors has ever directed me to write anything. And only exceptionally have I adopted suggestions – even from a quarter more compelling than an editor’s office – the marital breakfast table. What appears in a column must always be what stirs its author most – or risk losing vitality.

My two most recurring concerns have been social justice (not enough of it) and the care of the countryside, which, outside my family, is my chief source of pleasure.

But, unless it be the removal, shortly after I drew attention to it, of a litter bin thoughtlessly set at the foot of Whitby’s 199 steps, I don’t believe I’ve made a scrap of difference to anything.

But I hope I have always respected the huge privilege of being entrusted with a newspaper column. The prime requirement is absolute honesty – not dealing (at least consciously) in the evasions and half-truths often met in public debate.

And while it is natural a column will mirror its author’s personal passions, for they are what give the column its flavour, this must never drift into self-indulgence or special pleading.

But to reinforce my message I’ve often turned to poets, whose words, let’s face it, are always going to be better than mine.

I thank GK Chesterton for “We are the people of England and we have not spoken yet” (until Brexit, only to be ignored); and Philip Larkin for “all that remains for us will be concrete and tyres.”

But most of all I thank you, the reader. I’ve always been glad to hear from you. (Well nearly always; that honesty I mentioned.)

Support is satisfying, of course. But I’ve resisted answering back to critics: “I’ve had my say, you have yours” has been my guiding principle.

For newspaper opinion columns are essentially a stimulant to free speech, the foundation of democracy.

Newspapers are – still – its best-ever public platform. And my greatest wish as I depart is that whatever, or whoever, fills this space, it is possible that a future Northern Echo columnist might one day be looking back on half a century of contributions. But for now, good luck to you all.