Melvyn Bragg pays tribute to Cullercoats publisher Peter Mortimer

BROADCASTER and author Melvyn Bragg has lavished praise on the village publishing house which gave him his first break in print.

BROADCASTER and author Melvyn Bragg has lavished praise on the village publishing house which gave him his first break in print.

Peter Mortimer’s company Iron Press, based in Cullercoats, North Tyneside, published a short story he penned in the mid-1970s.

Forty years on, as the company marks its anniversary, the Radio 4 presenter returned to give a poetry reading to show his “great admiration” for the company’s founder.

Lord Bragg, 73, said: “To keep going the way Peter has done is wholly admirable. I think like all good editors he’s got strong ideas of his own, and I don’t think you can do better than that. That’s what great editors do – they follow their instincts.

“It was a short story I submitted back then. It wasn’t a big community in those days. I think I met Peter through a poet, and we must have stumbled across each other that way.”

Mr Mortimer runs the company from his house in Cullercoats and has printed over 150 books and featured work of 1,500 poets since 1973.

As well as taking a chance on the then unknown Lord Bragg, he printed the first two books of Tyneside writer David Almond, who went on to pen the award-winning children’s novel Skellig.

In yesterday’s final event of the five-day The Iron Age literary festival to mark the company’s 40th birthday, Lord Bragg took to the stage at Cullercoats Community Centre with nationally acclaimed poet Sean O’Brien.

The pair read aloud a selection of work by poets who have endured oppression, and later actress Charlie Hardwick gave readings from two award-winning Iron Press books.

The South Bank Show presenter added: “I admired Peter from the start and what he set out to do, and I’ve admired him ever since. He keeps going and it must be extraordinarily difficult for him.

“For some years I think the money must have run out, and the competition from other better financially-supported publishing houses would be seen as a challenge.”

Carlisle-born Lord Bragg worked as a BBC trainee in Newcastle after graduating from Oxford University on the Voice of the People programme.

His parents spent their honeymoon at Whitley Bay and he explained how the region holds a special place in his heart – despite arriving during yesterday’s thick bout of seaside mist.

Mr Mortimer said: “It’s been a remarkable thing to put on a whole festival in Cullercoats. It’s been a real mix of visitors but a real community event, and lots of people came along who live here and that’s the most important thing.”

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