Gaythorne Silvester

It remains a source of curiosity for Gaythorne Silvester, that a good grounding for a pop journalism career should be a History degree at Lancaster University – but so it proved.

Gaythorne, who went on to become an Observer features editor, says that the recurring themes from his student days still crop up today.

"It was a bit of a gamble going there," he admits. "But what I learned at Lancaster was key to the way that my life has gone - I just didn't know it at the time."

He came from a slightly unorthodox background, living on the tiny Channel Island of Alderney and studying for his A levels on his own, only applying to Lancaster at the recommendation of a family friend. "It was almost brand-spanking new, which appealed," he says, "and it was a long way from Alderney."

Academically, he found history at Lancaster increasingly absorbing, especially enjoying the Tudor economic and social studies in the third year, which he was encouraged to pursue at postgraduate level.

"Lancaster taught me to study properly, take in facts and to process them in a literate and understandable way, which was invaluable for my career," he says.

Although he did not remain in academia after his degree, his working life has continued to tap regularly into the interest in history that took him to Lancaster – he later edited the official Queen's Golden Jubilee magazine for the Prince's Trust and the Lord Mayor's Show programme for years, and has written articles for Heritage Today and Beautiful Britain.

It was the University's music scene that really made a deep impression. This was the era of The Who, Wings, T.Rex and Fairport Convention - all of whom came up to Lancaster. In the case of Johnny Winter, the concert really did stay with him – the US rocker played so loudly that Gaythorne, "impossibly close to the speakers", is convinced that night was the start of his tinnitus.

Working as a pop journalist in later years, he asked Cliff Richard about his gig at Lancaster University which he remembered. Cliff did too, very well, and for a different reason – a challenging meeting with the Gay Liberation Front.

Gaythorne has fond memories of student life in Lancaster. He lived in a 'quasi-hippy' shared house, dallied in coffee bars that seemed unchanged since the 1950s, spent late hours snacking at the chaplaincy centre with friends, visited folk clubs, bopped in Morecambe discos, hitched to Manchester to hear bands. "Three quite wonderful years." he says.

At the end of his Lancaster days, all he knew was that he wanted to do something 'arty'. He says: "I thought I would see how the wind blew and was confident in a naive way that I would slot into something."

He flirted with the idea of becoming a Hollywood scriptwriter and was told that working on comic strips was good training. So he entered a scriptwriting competition and landed a job with the Dundee-based publishing company, DC Thomson.

"I soon found myself plunged into the pop scene" he says, "interviewing people like Queen, David Essex, 10cc, the Hollies – all big names at the time".

He joined IPC Magazines down in London and worked his way up to group editor, and turning back to fiction, changed the face of teenage magazines forever by introducing photo stories in the highly successful titles My Guy and Photo Love.

One of the later highlights in Gaythorne's varied career were the years as features editor on the Observer Magazine. "I was working alongside top journalists like Robert Harris and Blake Morrison," he says. "That was an exciting time, but I've had bad patches in my CV too. Working on Today newspaper, for instance, was excruciating – forever harassed by aggressive assistant editors, aggrieved readers and bewildering new technology."

In a lengthy spell in customer publishing, he edited magazines for a range of clients, including the AA, the Department of Education and Skills, Sky TV and another career high, for Thomas Cook. "Editing their magazine was a dream job – travelling around the globe, all expenses paid, with my own photographer. As they say, what's not to like?"

As a freelance, he went down a new, and rather delightful, path – mixing pleasure with business as the editor of the award-winning Tesco Wine Club magazine.

Even now Lancaster's influence resonates. Gaythorne is starting a new career as a printmaker. "Lancaster's art facilities were fantastic," he says. "My roommate in the first year spent all his free time in there, changed his course and became a professional artist. I wish I'd joined him more at the time," he says, "but I'm catching up now."

"Lancaster wove so many threads into my life that went under the surface, but they just keep reappearing."