Mercury Press Agency has been one of the leading names in journalism in Liverpool and across the North West for more than 40 years.
Back in the 1960s the landscape of freelancing was very different and every town of any size in the UK was big enough to sustain a correspondent or "corr" who filed copy to national daily newspapers and the local evenings on their "patch".
In contrast the larger cities were less likely to have a general freelance agency, since the national dailies retained staff to cover events in those main centres.
Mercury Press traces its roots back to the glass-making town of St Helens where Terry Smith set-up his first agency in the early 60s in competition with the existing agency known as "Reynolds Press Agency".
In those days, before mobile phones or computers, it was not unusual for agency staff to find themselves in a race to the phone box when they were covering a magistrates court case. The first to the nearest phone box would file first... and the agency reporter who filed first would land the cash credit (or lineage rate) for the story and therefore justify his existence. (And in those days it was a male dominated profession.)
Within a couple of years Terry Smith had decided that bustling city of Liverpool was a better location for his operations and he opened the first Mercury Press Agency office in Vauxhall Road, on the edge of the city centre, in the mid 1960s as the Merseybeat sensation took off.
Records from this period of very sketchy and sadly few of the photographs from this era were preserved. Negatives of news pictures were regarded as having no long-term value and a few of the Agency's prints from this period have been traced in the National Museum of Photography and Television in Bradford.
During this period many national daily newspapers retained staff reporters and photographers in Liverpool. While it was always competitive the Agency targeted a good deal of its efforts at producing exclusives for Sunday Newspapers and a overseas syndication for titles like the USA's National Enquirer and European magazines.
One of Terry Smith's exclusives from this period entered into the annals of history when he got his hands on Prince Charles' Gordonstoun Diaries in which the schoolboy heir to the throne described his Scottish school as a "hellhole" and recounted how he quaffed cherry brandy during midnight feasts in the dorm. Yarns surrounding this exclusive are legion. It is interesting to note that it was not published in the UK but instead made headlines around the world when it was featured in magazines like the German "Stern".
By the end of the "Swinging 60s" Mercury had moved to offices at 6 Manchester Street and was well-established with a staff of two or three reporters and two photographers, but Terry Smith concentrated his efforts on the upcoming launch of commercial local radio.
Terry Smith, then a leading light in the Variety Club Liverpool, founded "Sound of Merseyside Ltd" and enlisted the support of numerous Scouse celebrities in his bid for the franchise. Sound of Merseyside won the bid and Radio City was launched with Terry and Managing Director in October 1974.
Broadcasting authority regulations at that time prohibited a radio station MD from having an interest in any other media in the area it served. Mercury, under its experienced news editor Wally Scott, was put up for sale as a going concern
Down the road in Southport, Roger Blyth and his business partner Charles Garside were running a another freelance agency, originally acquired as "Southport Press", and re-named by Roger and expanded under the West Lancs Press Agency banner.
Roger was working on contract as a presenter at BBC Radio Merseyside and it was he and Charles Garside who bought Mercury from Terry Smith. For a period of more than a year both the Southport and Liverpool offices were operated simultaneously.
It was at this time that Chris Johnson - current Editor and MD of Mercury Press - first joined the staff. Chris had been employed originally by West Lancs and following the merger switched to the Liverpool office.
Both Roger Blyth and Wally Scott worked for Radio City, as a Disc Jockey and Sports Editor respectively and in the succeeding years Mercury frequently found itself a recruiting ground for national newspapers, Radio City and Granada TV.
During the miner's strikes and three-day-week economic crisis of 1974 Chris Johnson had left the Agency as a photographer, returning in 1976 having re-trained as a reporter. Within 12 months he was appointed News Editor.
Under Chris's guidance the agency expanded through the late 70s and by the end of the the decade its offices in Manchester Street were not big enough for its purposes, which included the systematic archiving of photographs, which continues to this date.
Meanwhile, Granada had opened its Liverpool News Centre and Roger Blyth spent most of his time at the Exchange Flags studio where he was the news anchorman, later switching when Granada move to the Albert Dock.
The 1980s was a momentous decade for Liverpool with the city frequently the centre of national attention, first as the scene of the Toxteth Riots and then with the period of Labour "Militant Tendency" rule in Liverpool with Derek Hatton as the firebrand Deputy Leader of the Council Derek Hatton commanding banner headlines.
Mercury Press had moved to spacious offices at 77 Victoria Street early in 1981 and the 80s saw a period of even greater expansion when its compliment of staff reached as high as 18.
For a period of three years a separate public relations agency was successfully operated under the name of TVC Ltd until that undertaking came back under the Mercury name in the late 80s.
The 80s also saw Mercury acquire the business of West Cheshire News Service, based in Birkenhead, and in 1986 an operation was set-up in partnership with the EMPICS photo agency, in Nottingham, under the name Mercury East Midlands.
In 1988 Mercury acquired one of Britain's longest-established news agencies, Caters News of Birmingham, and the Nottingham office was closed within the following 12 months. In this period Roger Blyth ghosted Derek Hatton's biography "Inside Left".
The following years saw a period of further expansion and Mercury made a foray into the field of publishing with the launch of a newspaper for Liverpool supporters under the name of Xtra-Time which was published for two years and much lamented by fans when it folded in its second year.
The early 90s saw a new wave of technical advances in photography, with the advent of efficient digital cameras. These innovations had a considerable impact on the press photography market and their impact continues to date.
In 1995 Mercury Press was on the move again, this time to top floor offices at the Cotton Exchange, Old Hall Street.
Sadly, on 9th June 1997, Roger Blyth lost a long battle with lung cancer. At the time of Roger's death Granada Television executive Rob McLoughlin, said: "Roger was a first rate journalist and broadcaster.
"In front of the camera or, in front of the microphone, he was a natural. After becoming synonymous with Radio City, he became the face of Granada on Merseyside and was enormously popular.
"Those of us knew him during his Granada years will never forget his generosity as a professional and as a friend."
And in an obituary tribute to Roger, his co-director Chris Johnson said: "Roger was a model of professionalism, integrity, loyalty and sheer determination.
"Generations of journalists who came under his influence have benefited from his inspiration and enthusiasm for the job."
Following Roger's death the ownership of the Agency was shared by Roger's wife Lyndon and Chris Johnson and the late 90s saw Mercury develop an internet design and web hosting operation under the name Pure Multimedia.
In 2004 Chris Johnson became the sole owner of Mercury Press Agency and in 2005 Pure Multimedia was the subject of a management buy out later in the same year.
In 2006 Mercury moved to its current home, a docklands warehouse conversion in the Brunswick Business Park where it continues to supply national newspapers, magazines and broadcasters with news, pictures, features, and sport. Mercury also continues to providing press PR services to a range of clients.