Wendy Craig is one of the most recognisable figures in the Farnham area. Since 1985 she has been part of the Tindle empire, working alongside Sir Ray as he built the company into one of the most formidable independently-owned media businesses in the country.
Her career progressed from a part-time secretary and was vice-chairman and director when she retired earlier this year.
Wendy looks back fondly on the early days.
“I joined the company as part-time secretary for Dennis Stone, who was managing director of Farnham Castle Newspapers – that’s what the company was called then, and it had 15 local newspaper titles.
“We had a paper in Fleetwood and I remember Dennis was planning a visit and asked if the manager would meet him off the train – and the manager said: “Oh, sorry, I’ve only got a pushbike!”
“That was what we were like then – it was run on a shoestring.
“The company didn’t borrow money. We would only buy something if we had the money in the company to pay for it.
“Sir Ray was old school and when he did a deal, a handshake would seal it. Sadly, those days I think have gone.
“I would fill in for the chairman’s secretary and then became a full-time secretary for Sir Ray in August 1996.
“My husband died the following spring so consequently I had time to devote to the company.
“As I moved through the company, I got more and more involved. I did everything – whatever was needed. That was how it worked in those days.
“Margaret Thatcher visited Farnham in 1985 and had heard about the Tindle Enterprise Centres, which were set up by Sir Ray and Duncan Campbell.
“She thought this was a good idea, because there were three million unemployed at that time, and the centres helped them start their own business.
“Mrs Thatcher created a real buzz in the town. The town centre stopped as so many people came to see her as she was a big, big name and very popular in Farnham.
“They also went out to Bordon, where we had our first enterprise centre, and when it was time for her to go home, she said the scheme was wonderful but would we mind setting up some more?
“As time went on we had ten enterprise centres, located in our circulation areas of our newspapers.
“We thought the scheme would last about five years, but it went on for 15 years.
“I can’t tell you how many people must have gone through the system – and we had some success stories.
“I never got the chance to chat to Mrs Thatcher – I was quite lowly in the company then. But she was lovely.
“But then again, she came down here to win hearts, didn’t she? That’s what politicians do.”
Wendy loved the team spirit generated by newspaper teams around the country.
“In 1992, for the Farnham Herald’s 100th birthday, we had coaches to take the staff and their partners up to Stationers’ Hall in London for a slap-up dinner in their most marvellous hall. It was fantastic.
“Everybody came and it was just a real celebration. We also had a celebration at the castle, I remember, for local dignitaries.
“Sir Ray always liked a party!
“At its height, I think Tindle Newspapers had about 900 staff throughout the country. We had more than 200 titles.
“I was appointed director as we acquired each of these companies and newspapers – I think my official title was executive director – and it was very busy all the time. We travelled all over England, Wales, Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.
“We always tried to visit every newspaper and every radio station at least once a year.
“Sir Ray always liked to get back home in the evening so if we went on a trip, he liked to come back every night, which was fine by me.
“We often used to take a Piper Seneca plane, a tiny little thing, and fly out from Farnborough.
“We didn’t do it all the time, because it was quite expensive, but we flew if we were going somewhere like Aberystwyth.
“We had some really hair-raising trips going over the Cambrian mountains.
“The plane would bump around and we’d hit our head on the roof of the plane as it was so small – it was literally the size of a car. It wasn’t exactly a comfortable ride and my family were horrified that I’d travel in something like that!
“But we always got there.
“Often it would be the winter as we always tried to visit the teams around Christmas. Sometimes the weather would be appalling.
“Sir Ray would always say ‘we’re fine – the only time you need to worry is when we’re going up and then when we’re coming down. Don’t worry about anything else’.
“But it was fun.
“If the weather was bad and we had to be diverted, we would need to be picked up at some remote airfield in the middle of nowhere.
“Going on these lovely trips was great. I’d get back at, say, 6pm and work until 10pm and at weekends. Work took over my life but that wasn’t a problem because that suited my personal circumstances.”
Sir Ray’s love of a party included a celebration on the five-year anniversary of his operation for throat cancer.
“Sir Ray was determined to celebrate so we had a cowboy party at the Bishop’s Table in Farnham.
“We all dressed up as cowboys with toy guns – we probably wouldn’t be allowed to do it now!
“We invited his surgeon and his family, as well as the nurses who looked after Sir Ray, and had a great time.
“It was a lunchtime and people still remember it.”
In time Tindle Newspapers expanded to Wales and opened a centre in Abergavenny.
“We had executive meetings with the Welsh managers so we needed somewhere so they didn’t have to travel all the way to Farnham.
“That was an interesting time. A lot of people were approaching Sir Ray with newspapers to sell.
“Sometimes he would hear a whisper that a paper was in trouble but usually people would phone Sir Ray because they knew he would be interested.
“The papers would be cheap because they were on the brink of being closed, so he would either send me or we’d go together.
“We travelled all over the place – but we didn’t buy everything we saw.
“It wasn’t just us doing it – everybody was doing it at the time, because people were buying newspapers left, right and centre.
“Sometimes you had to get ahead of the game. We would turn up at a town and I’d go into a newsagent and ask for a copy of the local paper, and ask them if they sold many... we did a bit of undercover work.
“Sir Ray would sit in the car, because he was quite recognisable, and send me off to talk to people about their local paper. They must have thought I was mad, accosting them in the street.
“Sometimes I’d make these trips on my own and come back with information – the intelligence, so to speak.”
Sir Ray had a secret weapon when he took over a newspaper and met the staff for the first time – the Tindle teddy bear.
“We’d go to the office to meet all the staff of the new company and they’d all be wondering what the heck I was carrying in this black dustbin bag.
“Sir Ray would do his little speech of welcome and how we would look after the staff and get them on side.
“And then from the bag I produce the teddy bears.
“We started off by giving them to the ladies only. And then all the men in the offices would say, oh, I want one for my son or grandson or granddaughter. And you know, that used to break the ice.
“Go into any Tindle office now and you’re likely to see a bear somewhere on display.
“If it was Easter time, I turned up with Easter eggs. It was only a small thing but whenever you buy a paper, staff never quite know what will happen, so it was a nice thing to do. It used to work very well.”
The Tindle headquarters at The Old Court House in Union Road in Farnham wasn’t just home to Sir Ray’s office – it was well known by members of the royal family.
“If they were making visits to places in the local area, sometimes they needed somewhere to have a relaxing hour or so in the middle of the day,” said Wendy.
“So we’d put on a buffet lunch for them.
“Princess Alexandra used to do a lot of visits locally and came here, as did Sophie when she was Countess of Wessex. She came on her own and then with Edward.
“The security staff and police used to love it because we’d always give them lunch or at least a buffet. They always thought this was the best place to come because they didn’t get fed in other places.
“And I must tell you, Princess Alexandra was absolutely charming.
“She said she was terribly sorry but couldn’t actually eat any of the food, even though it was so kind, because of her lipstick and she didn’t want to eat at lunchtime.
“But she asked if we would mind making up a little bag so she could take it with her, so she went with a little goodie bag.
“She was a lovely, lovely lady.
“Sophie is charming. I’ve met her several times and she is very nice, very down to earth.
“Sir Ray was also very close to Prince Charles, as he was then.
“Sir Ray was born the same year as the Queen, and died the same year as the Queen.”
Anyway, back to those parties. What about the famous Tindle Wayzgoose?
“Ah, the outings in the olden days,” said Wendy.
“The manager or the owners of the newspaper would give the staff the day off. They’d hire a charabanc and often go on an outing to the seaside.
“So this is what we did. We hired coaches. And everybody piled in. We went to the Dudley hotel in Brighton, had a lovely lunch in the hotel, and then we all traipsed down to Brighton on the pier and to go on the merry-go-round and all those things.
“It was a wonderful day out and all the staff had a lovely time.”
Sir Ray, said Wendy, loved newspapers and he always had a soft spot for the Farnham Herald.
“He had a Midas touch with papers.
“He used to always say, get down to the nitty gritty – people want to read about themselves and what’s going on in their street and their town.
“Take the Tenby Observer. It was being run by somebody who wanted to cover all of West Wales and became the West Wales Observer.
“It was going downhill fast. So Ray bought it and told the staff to make it the Tenby Observer again and report the tiniest, tiniest thing.
“You know, like somebody’s lost their dog – silly little things. And it worked. And it took off. And it was one of our most profitable papers at one time.”
But life wasn’t all about newspapers.
“I nearly bought a castle in Scotland once. We were up there looking to buy a newspaper and it caught Sir Ray’s eye.
“We didn’t buy – the castle or the paper. But it was a good trip – I got the plane up there again, not the little one, a bigger one thankfully.
“We thought about buying Farnham Castle at one time when it came up. We didn’t buy it, thankfully, because I don’t know quite what we would have done with it.”
And now it’s time for Wendy to put her feet up – although she remains very busy.
“I’m 79 in October so I think it’s high time I retired.
“Circumstances kept me here this long. Sir Ray had been ill but he always bounced back, and we never thought he wouldn’t bounce back.
“Once he died, there was lots of things to deal with. But it was high time I left.
“I still buy the Herald every week. I will miss it – I’ve worked with some wonderful people and had some great times. We did so many wonderful things it never felt like work.”