Becoming the editor of the Gulf’s first English language newspaper doubled his salary and offered an escape from this country. Ex-Northern Echo journalist Andrew Trimbee tells Steve Pratt that drunken expats, cockroaches and endless cocktail parties meant life was anything but dull in Bahrain.

THE job ad in the journalists’ trade magazine appealed to Andrew Trimbee.

“EDITOR – BAHRAIN ENGLISH WEEKLY: Salary £3,000. Plus furnished, air-conditioned accommodation for editor and family, and car allowance”.

He felt life was a little dull in England in the Seventies, and after discussing it with wife Christine, posted his application. Three weeks later he was called to London for an interview.

Only one little problem. He lived in Hurworth and had no car. How did he get to Darlington station three miles away in time to catch the 9am Pullman to King’s Cross?

An unlikely delivery man came to the rescue of this newspaperman who worked at The Northern Echo under editors Harold Evans and Don Evans. “I hitched a lift into Darlington with the milkman,” he recalls.

He was offered the job as editor of the Bahrain-based Gulf Mirror, the first English language newspaper in the Gulf, at double his then salary, but no sooner had the offer been made than it was withdrawn.

“Three months later they contacted me and offered me the job again,” recalls Trimbee.

“I decided to take it, but with terrible misgivings.

It was a high-risk strategy starting the paper.”

On arrival he found he was the entire editorial department on a newspaper produced in a p r i m i t i v e printing works where it was completed only hours before it was due on newstands.

T r i m b e e ’ s book, The Inshallah Paper, is an account of the two years he spent establishing the Gulf Mirror.

He calls it a modern version of One Thousand And One Nights, which involves sex-mad expatriates, a ghost and a British foreign correspondent with a parrot on his shoulder, as well as endless cocktail parties and financial difficulties.

That he succeeded is down to his time on The Northern Echo, he says. “Being chief sub involved a tremendous workload and I don’t think I could have made it in Bahrain without that experience. The Northern Echo was real training for this tremendous ordeal,” he says.

TRIMBEE knows how to sell his story.

“From drunken diplomats to drunken journalists, I lift the lid on life in a country where the ruler shows a steel fist inside a velvet glove,” he writes on his website.

“There are lotharios and lesbians, a high seas murder, a two-fisted British prison warder, and the gentle and generous Bahrainis, who provide the backdrop for this revealing insight into a way of life largely gone, from the coffee ritual at the palace to crafts of yesteryear.”

Why has he waited until now to reveal all?

“It was a way of life that’s gone now,” he explains.

“I’ve always known I should write about it, but never did because there were other things going on. But it reached the point where I thought if I didn’t do it, someone else would.”

He retired from The Daily Telegraph, having also worked on The Times and the Daily Mail, after his wife, a Darlington girl, died four years ago, and he moved back North after living in London for more than 25 years. Sorting through things, he came across the draft of an unpublished novel she’d written, set in Richmond and the Middle East.

“I found some background information on the Middle East. I started reading them and thought, ‘this isn’t half bad, if I don’t mind saying so myself’.” It was the catalyst for writing the book.

The pace of life was slower then, although not for the editor of the new Gulf Mirror.

He was a one-man editorial band for much of the time, with drinks parties – often as many as three in one night and a major source of tipoffs – making for a busy social life.

The first issue of Gulf Weekly Mirror appeared on January 3, 1971. The front page carried a picture of Bahrain’s heir apparent and a message from him, next to a lead story headlined CUT IN PHONE TOLLS. Another story reported FA Cup ties back in England being hit by snow. Sunday had been determined as publication day so the previous day’s English football results could be included.

FOOTBALL and the North-East came together in the paper’s first exclusive – Ted Robledo, famous for playing for Newcastle with brother George in the 1952 Cup Final, had gone missing while working for an oildrilling company in the Gulf. The skipper of a coastal tanker was charged with his murder.

Trimbee’s house was surrounded by prehistoric burial grounds, and he says the ghost of a little old woman, dressed in black, tried to strangle him. Like many houses in Bahrain, his was overrun by cockroaches. One morning as one of his children went to eat her breakfast cereal, a cockroach suddenly poked out from the cornflakes.

The larger-than-life characters in Bahrain’s expat community are among his cast of not-always- sober characters. Among them are bankers, lawyers, dentists, restaurateurs and Father Paddy, who always wore a heavy fulllength habit even at the height of summer.

After two years and a clash with the paper’s board over profits (or rather, lack of them), Trimbee decided enough was enough. “I’d been fortunate to see traditional Bahrain at its best, before the full force of modernisation had transformed it and its people for ever,” he says.

■ The Inshallah Paper is published by Quartet, £15