Lives Remembered

Annie Stephens: Bangor woman was Ireland's first female newspaper editor

 Annie Roycroft retired from the Co Down Spectator in 1983

ANNIE Stephens – better known as Annie Roycroft in her native Bangor – was a trailblazer in the world of journalism as the first female editor of a newspaper in Ireland.

She was in her teens when she first joined the Co Down Spectator during the Second World War and by the time of her retirement in 1983 she was a legendary figure in the town.

Annie steered the weekly title for three decades during the industry’s heyday, when the Spectator reached four out of five people in the area and she seemingly knew every one of them.

However, present editor Paul Flowers said she was also fearless in what she saw as her duty to readers, balancing forthright journalism with a compassion for the people she was dealing with.

As well as the first woman to edit the paper, Annie had been the first female reporter in the newsroom, having worked her way up from office junior by penning pieces on interests such as church matters, hockey and tennis.

“No member of the fair sex had been there before,” she said.

“There were worries on how a woman would cope with covering evening meetings and returning to the office late at night to despatch news items to the daily papers. In fact, I loved the work.”

Among the young reporters Annie gave a start to as editor were author and screenwriter Colin Bateman, BBC journalist Ann Marie Foster and crime novelist Jo Bannister. 

Bateman told the Spectator how one his first stories was about the Sex Pistols LP Never Mind the B*****ks being banned by local record shops.

“When I wrote the name of the record down I used asterisks instead of using the word ‘B*****ks’ because I presumed no local paper would let me use it – let alone a woman like Annie, who was seemingly so straight-laced and a Sunday school teacher to boot,” he said.

“She asked me what the missing word was and I got very red-faced and said ‘B*****ks’. She immediately said, ‘Well, if it’s called B*****ks, B*****ks it is.’

“And so the first article I ever wrote for the paper with my byline on it was literally a load of B*****ks. That was entirely down to Annie’s open-mindedness, and that’s exactly how she was.”

Mr Flowers said Annie was “firm but fair” in her dealings with people and has left an indelible mark on her home town, where she lived at Roslyn Street and was a familiar figure driving around the town in her orange Hillman Imp.

“Despite seemingly knowing everyone in the Spectator’s circulation area, she was never reluctant to publish or print stories that ruffled the feathers of those she knew well,” he said.

“She was always a supporter of the young journalist who passed through on her watch and her protégées can be found in the senior ranks of broadcast and newsprint journalism.

“She is still fondly remembered in Bangor despite departing for Cork on her marriage in 1983. Her legacy will long live on in Bangor and no doubt further afield as both a pioneering journalist and a friend to many.”

Annie was married to Kerry man Joe Stephens and lived with him in the Blackrock area of Cork.

She continued to write a column for the Spectator for some years and recorded her experiences in journalism in the book Memoirs of a Scribbler.

She was also editor in a voluntary capacity of a Church of Ireland magazine and involved in the life of her parish and community in Blackrock. But her biggest interest was her growing family of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Annie Roycroft died aged 92 at St Luke’s Home in Beaumont on January 11.

Predecesed by her husband, she is sadly missed by her stepchildren, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, brother, sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews, relatives and friends.

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Lives Remembered