September 7, 2007

 

Blowing in the wind By Paul Bannister

Obituary: Christine Garbutt

Running amok with the Style Book By Austin Wormleighton

My first murder By Geoffrey Mather

Taking tea with a poisoner By Edward Rawlinson

Gone fishing By Alan Knight

Upstick job arsewards, stop By Revel Barker

How to be a toady By Colin Dunne

 

The Gentlemen Ranters site is a brilliant compendium of reminiscences of the great days of Fleet Street. – The Times, August 25

 

A contrasting view is that: 

 

Most older hacks turn into crashing pub bores banging on relentlessly and tediously

 about the ‘glory days of Fleet Street’ – which could easily be subbed down in most cases to long lazy days in the pub with very little work. – Piers Morgan, Mail on Sunday columnist.

Make you swear, does it not? But would that be allowed? To check on when the F-word first appeared in a newspaper (that is, in the paper, not on the back bench or the news desk) check our new diary: THE STAB... Just curse across to the left and click on the link.

Otherwise, what can we say about Mr Morgan as a Fleet Street commentator, except perhaps that, yes: that’s probably what you would say, if you have no ‘glory days’ to remember, and only dodgy share deals and even dodgier splashed ‘exclusives’ to look back on.

But back to reality and reliable reminiscences…

There’s nothing, when recalling those glory days, like a good murder. ‘Good’ murder? – Oh yes: hacks, snappers, news editors and splash subs used to grade them (as, no doubt did readers). Perhaps they still do, but these days they lack the frisson of the judge putting on his ‘black cap’ (in reality a handkerchief-size square of silk) and sending the prisoner away with the words:

The sentence of this court upon you is that you be taken from here to the place from whence you came and there be kept in close confinement and… be taken to a place of execution. And that you there be hanged by the neck until you are dead. And may the Lord have mercy upon your soul.

It’s doubtful whether any reporter, still working, ever heard that chilling sentence delivered, except maybe on TV.

But we have two memories from that era this week: GEOFFREY MATHER, cutting his reporting teeth on his first capital case, and EDDY RAWLINSON taking tea with a poisoner.

Coming right up to date, this week’s hurricane devastating the Caribbean reminds former Daily Mail man PAUL BANNISTER of an earlier version in exactly the same place – that nearly devastated a former Fleet Street snapper in its wake.

AUSTIN WORMLEIGHTON ponders on the devastating potential of clinging too closely to the office Style Book, and remembers Gilbert Harding.

COLIN DUNNE dresses devastatingly for an encounter with Hugh Cudlipp, having already had a go at toadying to the bosses, and failing the physical.

REVEL BARKER reports on the financially devastating effects when editors got carried away by new technology (as the system of sending copy by cable once was, in the days before faxes, international dialling, telephonic typists and even phone conversations).

And… we all remember (and sometimes recall on these pages) our first encounter with the lads from the nationals. But what did the children make of it all? ALAN KNIGHT went along with his dad, Victor, on an office fishing trip to find out. He quite liked us, it seems.

Good lad.

###

 

Blowing in the wind

By Paul Bannister

Hurricane Felix smashed devastatingly into Central America this week just about where his predecessor, Hurricane Fifi, did in 1974, and my memory of that assignment includes a personal account of an escape from great danger. But not, I quickly point out, for me.

It was in the era before bean-counters, when the National Enquirer spent lavishly on news, in the best Fleet Street tradition.

Former Miami Herald super-snapper Jeff Joffe and I were dispatched from Florida and endured 28 hours of bumpy misery in aircraft and rented Landcruiser to get to the scene.

We arrived in the small town of Choloma, north of San Pedro Sula in Honduras, to a wrenching vista.

In the mountains, Fifi had levelled huge swathes of Honduran hardwood, which had been swept down the rivers towards the Atlantic.

There, the lumber wreckage hit a chain of bridges, and dammed the rivers until the backed-up water pressure blew the bridges one by one.

Those burst dams released high walls of water and felled 200-ft trees. Any settlement on the ocean side of the highway was doomed. Such was Choloma.

The place was nine feet deep in grey silt, a few homes still standing, most shanties (which is what most of them were) simply vanished. Exhausted, I parked our vehicle on a bank of drying sand while we trudged away to record the chaos and talk to survivors.

Two hours later we found our vehicle sunk three feet deep in the silt.

Red-faced, we had to divert locals who were digging out their homes and loved ones to rescue our vehicle instead, an episode snidely reported in the Herald a few days later.

Over the next week we gathered a dozen stories, from the nuns who saved the orphans to the youth who’d been swept far out to sea on a log and had survived three days before being washed back, and rescued.

We met another team from the paper, Londoner Bill Cole and former Daily Sketch photographer Vince Eckersley, about to leave for the swamped offshore islands, but we noted that Vince’s mind wasn’t on his work.

Before our rendezvous at the airfield, the smitten Eckers had met a tightly-wrapped, dark-eyed beauty whom he seemed to be checking for instructions in Braille. He introduced her to us as the Next Mrs Eckersley.

She certainly seemed taken with Vince, we noted sourly, and wondered at it. The very shapely bride-to-be had no English at all, so how had Eckers’ Lancastrian ee-by-gums stretched to a successful proposal of marriage – and in a half-hour, at that?

Vince flew out, still cooing, and vowing to see his brand-new fiancée in a week’s time. She certainly was a stunning girl, so Jeff and I unselfishly arranged to meet her in the bar of our hotel that evening. We’d tell her all about her next husband, we promised, although our basic Spanish would not allow much elaboration of Vince’s well-disguised charms.

We got back late. Jeff had something urgent to send from the hotel. I let him out and as I drove off to return our interpreter home, spotted the Next Mrs Eckersley waiting in the lobby, a vision of Latina beauty in a white dress that was even tighter than her airfield ensemble had been.

Half an hour later, I was back at the hotel. No sign of the NME. Jeff hadn’t seen her either. In the bar I chatted to some British squaddies who had come down from Belize, one of the last pink bits on the map of the British Empire, to help.

‘What goes on up there?’ I asked.

‘Not much,’ said a friendly sergeant of the Durham Light Infantry. ‘No trade, nothing really. About all they export is prostitutes, good-looking girls mostly, but we don’t go anywhere near them, they’re all poxed up with something terrible.’

He told us about a newly arrived subaltern who’d reported that a local girl had fallen in love with him, saying ‘She fell for me the first time she clapped eyes on me,’ prompting the RSM’s response: ‘Yes, sir: clapped eyes just about sums all of them up.’

And how the MO had warned all incoming soldiers about the dangers of consorting with Belizean bar girls, saying that he checked some of them on Wednesday mornings – so if they couldn’t keep it in their trousers, Wednesday lunchtime would be the best time to do it.

‘But they do get around,’ said the sergeant. ‘There was one of them in here just now, in a very tight white dress…’

#

 

Christine Garbutt

‘Garbo’ in Marje Proops’ department and later in Daily Mirror features, ‘Grabbit’ in the editor’s office, Christine Garbutt died last weekend.
Her funeral will be at noon next Friday – September 14 – at ‘Holy Joe’s’, St Joseph’s RC Church on Highgate Hill, Highgate (nearest Tube station is Archway).
Followed, of course, by drinks.
Meanwhile, here’s a piece she wrote for Round Up The Usual Suspects – a Festschrift to mark Mike Molloy’s departure as editor in chief in 1990.

By Christine Garbutt

Mike Molloy held a poker school, I was told. Marje at that time was on the Gambling Commission. I played poker in an actors’ school on a Sunday night, maximum loss the telephone money in the box by the phone, maximum win possibly £15. I was intrigued.

Sid Williams was the Mr Big of the poker school. Sid Williams was a friend of Mary Malone who worked in our department. He talked of the poker school, I said I played. ‘We won’t have women,’ he said. End of story?

Time passed, it was a Monday, going home in the lift. Sid: ‘Can you really play poker? I can’t get a school for Mike tonight.’

I told him I could, and he phoned the editor… The answer was ‘Yes, bring her’. But with one condition: ‘She mustn’t talk; we don’t want to turn a poker school into a prattling party.’ So, cashing a £10 cheque in the Stab, I went to the editor’s office. It looked like a scene from The Cincinnati Kid.

Molloy, well-dressed as ever, was stacking the deck on his own poker table. There was Paddy O’Gara, Tony Pratt, Peter Thompson, Sid Williams. Stud poker was the game. The bar was open.

My tenner hadn’t a hope in hell in this company where the ante was £1 and doubling was the norm. But luck was with a lady that night, and I came home winning hundreds.

At the next poker school, it wasn’t CAN the lady play? It was WILL the lady play? And the lady played on many occasions winning enough in cash to buy a freezer and washing machines – but not as much as Private Eye said at the time – to line the walls.

Mike was ever polite, always the gentleman. ‘Good on yer, kid,’ he would say as I left at a respectable hour. Mike was the coolest player in the room, playing a percentage game rather than taking huge risks. And of course, he always wore the original straight poker face.

They nicknamed me Grabbit; they called him the King.

#

 

Running amok with the Style Book

By Austin Wormleighton

In his autobiography Getting Personal, the author Brian Masters recalled a boyhood meeting in the 1950s with the irascible broadcaster Gilbert Harding. ‘Where are you off to now?’ Harding inquired when their meeting ended. ‘I’m going to visit a relative,’ Masters told him.

‘Oh no you’re not’, Harding thundered. ‘You’re going to see a relation. You cannot visit an adjective; you can only visit a noun.’

Reading that anecdote again made me realise that every newsroom in my day seemed to have its Gilbert Harding – the pedantic revise sub, the paper’s guardian of the language to whom we deferred on matters of spelling, punctuation and style.

But then I worked on the stuffy side of the Street – The Times and the Financial Times and the morning press in Scotland – where all reporters and subs were expected to observe a sometimes arcane set of rules governing the use of English known as The Style of the House. 

The point of course was that if the code was observed, the style and tone of the newspaper was always consistent, right or wrong. The alternative was a lack of order and control and a mess of the kind we see today with ‘quality’ newspapers pushing through stories unchecked and unedited, telling us only recently that ‘less’ ships were being built and that more men were dying from ‘prostrate’ cancer.

But who cares about any of this now? Who knows, or is the least bit bothered, that The Crofters Commission does not need an apostrophe; that a firm is only a firm if it is a partnership (such as a firm of lawyers), otherwise it is a company with a board of directors; that linchpin is the correct spelling of ‘lynchpin’; that there is no such thing as a billiard room – the game is billiards, played in a billiards room; or why economic measures from the government always seem to arrive in ‘packages’; or why we continue to muddle the words disinterested and uninterested; or why if the etceteras are not worth listing we bother to mention them at all?

The house style on one of my papers explained that only Malaysians ran amuck, everyone else ran amok; that ‘probe’ was a medical instrument and could be used only in a medical context; that modern warfare had made the word ‘bombshell’ obsolete and its use to express shock or horror was to be avoided; and that pipelines carried gas, oil or water, never policies or ideas.

On The Times a ‘shock’ decision was always turned into an ‘unexpected’ one on the grounds that the paper was never surprised or caught off its guard by anything or anyone. So all of this was clear and understood then in what now seems like a golden age before Murdoch and Docklands.

But it wasn’t always plain sailing for the authors of style.

At The Daily Telegraph many years ago I understand that strict adherence to the style book got the paper into a ridiculous tangle. Style decreed that there was no such word as plastic; the material was plastics. And that the word binoculars was to be used only if more than one instrument was intended. Otherwise, the correct word was a binocular.

All was well until along came a story about a girl found murdered in a cornfield. The subs, following house style to the letter, edited the story to read: ‘Close to the body police recovered a plastics binocular.’

I think even old Gilbert might have cracked a smile over that one.

  • One has to be a certain age to remember Gilbert Harding, a former schoolteacher, who died in 1960. He was described as the rudest man on television and made his name on the panel game What’s My Line? and on radio in Round Britain Quiz. Compton Mackenzie likened him to Dr Johnson, saying ‘the rotundity of his spoken sentences, the accuracy of his verbal memory and his ability almost always to penetrate the common sense of an argument made him formidable.’
    To Lord Beaverbrook Harding always sent roses on his birthday – one for every year of his life. Beaverbrook reciprocated with
    Havana cigars – one for every year of Harding’s life.

#

 

My first murder

By Geoffrey Mather

I first came across national journalists in my early twenties. I had a white mac and a trilby and had panned Accrington Arts Club more than once – well, chastised them, anyway – so I felt important enough and not altogether cowed by anybody. But I did find them unnerving. I had expected a lot of Alan Ladds, with perhaps Sydney Greenstreet in charge. They were loud, fast-moving, a bit dislocated in their language. They seemed to have the legendary relationship to beer that cars have to petrol: they needed frequent filling at the pumps. But that was not unexpected. The rumours had reached me. And there I was, sitting among them small as life, at a press conference, being addressed by a policeman from London named Capstick.

That name in itself had a quality I had previously found only in crime films. I had not come across it before, or, indeed, since. I could, at the time, identify local bigwigs precisely. Alderman W W Cocker, JP, comes to mind, as does C G Looms, chief constable of Blackburn. Capstick seemed more identifiable with Boys’ Own or Sexton Blake. He did not require initials or a first name. Capstick of the Yard had a wonderful ring to it.

What Captstick said – or Mr Capstick as he was to me alone in those days – was: ‘I am going to fingerprint every male in this town aged more than 16, starting with you buggers.’ I duly lined up to have my dabs recorded, although I felt a bit iffy about it.

Coming across the National Lads’ reporting practices was instructive. Up to then, I thought I was there to record what was, to keep a clear conscience, and to maintain all the ethics real or imagined practised within the National Union of Journalists. ‘Certainly not!’ I had cried in court when some defendant asked how much it would cost to keep his name out of the paper.

Now, I was a Northern Daily Telegraph rookie, and the incomers from Manchester newspapers were playing a game previously unknown to me. They were, well, devious.

A fellow called Griffiths had taken a girl of three years eleven months, June Ann Devaney, from her cot at Queen’s Park Hospital, Blackburn, assaulted her, then killed her by dashing her head against a wall. As nasty an event as one could imagine in 1948. His finger-prints were on a bottle found in the ward. Hence Mr Capstick’s – sorry, Capstick’s – resolve to find the needle by burning the haystack, ie, fingerprints for the lot.

My seniors covered the murder by day. And I saw tricks that filled me with apprehension. The National Lads congregated in bars as a mob, not because they liked each other, but because there was no other way of keeping an eye on the rest. There were decoys. When one man left the group and whizzed off in a car, the rest streamed out after him, leaving his colleague to go where he would in search of an exclusive.

My job was to patrol the empty streets of Blackburn at night and, at frequent intervals, walk between office and police headquarters to observe any activity. There wasn’t much. Not a milkman whistling, or a lost drunk; not even the old hag who used to come from Bolton on the last train jingling the bottles concealed in her labyrinth of clothing and cursing everyone in sight before dancing on the island at the boulevard. The streets were absolutely, positively, ink-black empty apart from me, and there was not the slightest sound apart from that of my own marching feet.

I had a friend on the Blackburn Times who was also doing a bit of sleuthing, but it was not him I joined in a dark doorway across from the lighted police station in the early hours of one morning. It was a real national journalist with eyes apparently so keen that I almost gave up the profession on the spot.

A vehicle arrived at the station as we watched. It was vague in poor light. From it emerged two figures, both just black shapes. These figures went down a yard and disappeared. Nothing there, I thought. My companion took an opposite view.

‘See that?’ he said. ‘An arrest. A copper wheeling in a prisoner – short chap, about 5ft 6ins, pale complexion, dark hair, in his twenties or early thirties.’

‘Did you see all that?’ I said in some wonder. ‘All I saw was a couple of shapes.’

‘Oh yes. Take my word for it laddie,’ he said. ‘Good story. Just for the two of us.’

I didn’t think much of it myself, and doubt whether I told the Daily Dispatch, which was our group morning paper. They became so accustomed to my ‘Nothing doing’ each night they probably thought I was a friendly constable on desk duty.

The National Lads all vanished when Griffiths was arrested (returning only for the trial and later when he was hanged in Liverpool for murder). Turned out that my friend on the Blackburn Times had a worse experience than me. He produced a photograph showing Griffiths and himself in the same Guards troop during national service. I should have grabbed the picture and sent it to the nationals, but I'd had enough of them for the time being.

  • Geoffrey Mather has a web site, www.northtrek.co.uk , as the mainstay of his retirement. It baffles him completely, engages him endlessly, challenges him more often than he can count, and gives him the impression that he is working for a newspaper. He did so at one time: on the Daily Express in Manchester, where he was, in turn, sub-editor, features editor, then an assistant editor.

#

 

Taking tea with a poisoner

By Edward Rawlinson

In November 1965 Sydney Silverman, MP for Nelson and Colne, won his Private Members Bill and the campaign he had conducted since 1948 to abolish capital punishment. Those in favour of hanging then forecast a big increase in murders and opened a fresh debate that continues even today.

The last two people to be hanged in this country were from Silverman’s home county of Lancashire and had gone to the gallows at the same time on August 13 1964. One died in Walton Jail, Liverpool, the other at Strangeways in Manchester, for the murder of John Alan West in Cumbria.

Those with extreme views are still howling for capital punishment to be brought back as murder appears to be on the increase, although since its abolition crime has not risen to the sort of figure that was originally forecast.

In 1953 thirteen people went to the gallows in Britain, including two from famous trials. One was Derek Bentley, later to be pardoned, and the other John Reginald Halliday Christie of Rillington Place fame. One hanging in the north of England that didn’t get the same prominence was that of Louisa Merrifield for the murder of Mrs Sarah Ricketts.

When Mrs Merrifield met up with hangman Albert Pierrepoint in the execution room of Strangeways on September 18, Albert was the only one who went back for his breakfast. He had taken the life away from three-times-married Mrs Merrifield for murdering a wealthy widow with rat poison at her home in Blackpool.

At her trial it was said that Merrifield had been her victim’s housekeeper and told friends she worked for an old woman that had died and left her a bungalow. To others she had allegedly said: ‘She’s not dead yet but soon will be.’ Her husband Alfred had also been charged with murder but was acquitted.

While police enquiries were going on the Merrifields invited reporters and photographers into their home. It was an experience never to be forgotten when I went to Blackpool to meet them in the bungalow left to them in Mrs Ricketts’ will. They loved the publicity and Mrs Merrifield was convinced she would not be found guilty.

The reporter and I sat down in the front room while Alfred went into the kitchen to make tea, then Mrs M got up and left us, ‘to help him open a biscuit tin’. When they returned she said she had cut two slices of home-made cake as a special treat for us. I looked at the reporter with apprehension, about what should we do. He just smiled at me, took one bite of the cake and complimented this woman under suspicion of murder by poisoning on her baking.

merrifieldWhen it came to the trial in Manchester, Mrs Merrifield was brought from Strangeways by taxi. In those days there were no hoards of photographers pushing and shoving to get a picture, everything was orderly. She would always sit in the back seat at the right hand side of the taxi and give a wave with a synchronised smile while waiting for the doors into the court yard to be opened. It was a daily routine while the trial lasted... always the same smile, the same wave, from the woman who thought she would never hang.

On the day Mrs Merrifield was found guilty of murder I couldn’t express the feeling of the photographers waiting outside the court on hearing the news other than to say that we were devastated. Some had been to Blackpool, invited into her home like me, and others watched the dumpy little woman go every day into court.

Now sentenced to die, she had become like an old friend. I had been on the case from start to finish and had forgotten about the dear old lady she had killed by administrating poison. Here was a woman the age of my mother going to the gallows.

On the day of her execution the Manchester Evening News didn't send me to Strangeways to cover the early morning crowd scenes and the placing of a notice of execution on the giant doors of the prison. I had told picture editor Owen French my view that the taking of one life didn’t justify the eradication of another, and he let me off that job.

Had I not met Merrifield I would probably now be crying shame on Sydney Silverman for bringing in his abolition of hanging bill and possibly baying in some cases for capital punishment to be restored.

#

 

Gone fishing

By Alan Knight

I called to wish my brother, Keir, a happy birthday. He’s just turned forty, which must make me… Oh dear.

We covered a lot of ground in thirty five minutes or so in a chat from Waiheke Island, New Zealand, to Washington DC. He told me about this website and asked: ‘Do you remember much of Dad’s colleagues from the Mirror?’

I had to admit that I was a bit vague on the subject. I remembered visiting his office at Westminster whenever we came to the Press Gallery children’s Christmas party. So I certainly remembered a youthful Alastair Campbell, but apart from that…

To be honest, I always viewed the journalistic world with a certain amount of gloomy trepidation. In his own quiet way I think Dad had dynastic ambitions and I felt that as the eldest son I was more or less expected to follow in his professional footsteps.

Left to my own devices I might well have done just that, but being expected to, made a big difference. As a result, I became a brewer instead (providing the inspiration rather than the actual journalism) though looking through my files I’m always amazed at quite how much stuff I have ended up writing for newspapers over the years. What’s bred in the bone and all that.

I’ve wondered over the years how my recollections of Victor Knight as a father differ from those of his work colleagues. To his family he was a quiet and thoughtful sort of chap. He had a very large yet gentle presence and the air of a man perfectly accustomed to thinking about a great many things simultaneously and managing to do so with great clarity. His voice is one of the things that stays with me, indeed, I have inherited a great deal of it. He had a great talent for mimicry and even the simplest anecdote was beautifully illustrated with impressions of those he was describing.

If he ever conformed to the stereotype of the bibulous Fleet Street journo, then we never saw a hint of it. The solitary bottle of Laphroaig in the living room cupboard would have quite a layer of dust on it before it was finished. His intake of alcohol always seemed to me to be kept at the sort of level that the medical fraternity recommends as being good for us. Still, my own considerable fondness for beer and whisky must have come from somewhere, so it’s entirely possible that Dad’s thirst may have been greater than my memories of it.

Anyway, back to my memories of his Mirror colleagues. I have one really big memory to share. A tale of desperate deeds upon the high seas, look ’ee. Of rum soaked adventures that would shame those of Blackbeard Teach and suchlike lads, by the powers!

It was like this…….(Screen does that wavy thing for a moment and we find ourselves on the Newhaven Wharf on a summer’s morn in 1976.)

The Mirror had a Fishing Club. I don’t know how long it lasted, and this was certainly the only time I ever encountered it.

Dad was a keen fisherman. He loved the whole business of getting up early and sitting next to water impaling worms on hooks. The fact that word seemed to have got about in fishy circles that this was a man with no great interest in the normal desired outcome of such expeditions didn’t seem to bother him. Indeed, his answer to the question ‘Did you catch anything?’ was a quizzical ‘No’. Fishing was primarily a way to relax, and the last thing you needed spoiling your solitude was having to deal with some horrible flapping fish that had had the impertinence to get itself stuck on the end of your line.

And yet… A memo had gone up on the Mirror’s staff notice board announcing a fishing expedition by boat from Newhaven. All Good Men & True to sign below so as not to miss out, etc etc.

So, as a pale dawn broke over the Sussex coast, Dad and I got out of the car to join the assembled fishing party. There were maybe six others, all of whom looked…..Well, I’m sorry, but it was a while ago and if any of them were actually fine upstanding chaps blessed with film star good looks I’m afraid I don’t remember that. From where I was standing, the whole lot seemed terribly reminiscent of Willie Rushton’s classic ‘Lunchtime O’Booze’ illustration.

To begin with, it seemed that each man had come along prepared for some serious FISHING. Each carried a huge, important looking shoulder bag which I took to contain their fishing gear, plus a flimsy plastic shopping bag that presumably held lunch.

In fact it was the other way round. The plastic bags contained a sparse assortment of hooks and sinkers purchased from the fishing store on the dockside mere minutes before, while the huge shoulder bags contained the kind of vital provisions without which no true son of Fleet Street would venture further than the end of the road for fear of coming over all faint with hunger and thirst.

The boat was of a modest size and looked perfect for the trip. Its captain looked suitably salty and tar stained. We got aboard and set off for the open sea. For the first couple of hours everyone applied himself to the business of fishing with modestly successful results. The mackerel were running in the Channel. These fish are notoriously easy to catch. No sloppy bait is needed, simply a line of brightly coloured feathers on a trace of five or six hooks, weighted with an ounce or two of lead sinker to hold it all out behind the boat. Nothing to it.  Set it up right and you can bring five fish up at a time.

Well, that’s the theory. But by eleven the assembled company were starting to drink their lunches. This was turning into the: ‘Right……Fishing. Can’t be too hard…Seen chaps do it before. Hooks, that’s the thing… and there’s worms involved somewhere too. Got some here in a pot…Good God! Bloody things look revolting! Right, steady now…Put the beer down there…Somebody hold this for me a moment please. Thank you… Whoa! Hold the boat still dammit! Right you wriggly little bastard, let’s get you on the hook…There we …OW! Fucking hell! My fucking finger! Oh you little bastard! Can you believe that? Look, I’m fucking bleeding! Oh God, where did I put my beer? Ah! Got it. Thass better. Right, worm on, lovely. Over the side you go. Simple. Nothing to it. Settle back, nice drink…Now where’s my bloody fishing rod gone? I had the bugger right here just now…Oh dear…’ – school of angling.

Things got more and more undignified. Dad was cringing with embarrassment as the jokes got worse and worse. ‘So then the traffic warden says, ‘If that’s your cock, then what have I got in my mouth?’ Har har har…

What had possessed him to bring the lad along? Dear God, he’s only sixteen! He’ll tell his mother about this I just know it! I’m never going to hear the end of this. Oh no! Derek, PLEASE don’t tell that joke! Not now! …Too late.

By mid afternoon the scene on the pitching deck of the boat was truly squalid. Think of Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa with about forty empty Heineken cans rolling about and you are somewhere near. How we managed not to lose a couple of men overboard I’ll never know. Most were slumbering peacefully in a heap as we made our way back to Newhaven.

Gentlemen, if you were there that day then I thank you for one of the most amusing days of my life. I’d had a sheltered upbringing until then and you opened my eyes to a world of wonderful boozy possibilities. I still live in that particular world and I’m damned grateful to do so.

#

 

Upstick job arsewards, stop

By Revel Barker

I mentioned to some of the lads in an email the other day that while covering the Italian invasion of Abyssinia for the Daily Mail in 1935, Evelyn Waugh – out there with Bill ‘Scoop’ Deedes – received a cable from his editor:

200 words upblown nurse

Cable charges were assessed in those days on a price per key-stroke, including spaces.

Waugh, after an exhaustive investigation, determined that rumours of a certain English nurse having been killed in an Italian air raid – or, indeed, of any nurse being blown up – were in fact bogus. He cabled back:

nurse unupblown.

This prompted what these days is called a thread, a string of messages, among a small emailing forum.

Alastair McQueen somehow (because he must have been at school at the time) remembered that the Mail’s Noel Barber had been shot in Buda, or maybe in Pest, and Sefton Delmer received a cable from the Express demanding:

barber shot why you unshot.

This reminded me of a story, I think originally told to me by George Gordon, of an exchange between the Telegraph’s foreign desk and its man in the Congo:

why unnews query

- unnews here stop

unnews there unjob here stop

- upstickjob arsewards stop rude letter follows stop

It was certainly George who told me about a reporter who had enjoyed the hospitality of a Congolese girl and, on departing, had given her five Embassy cigarette coupons, saying ‘Use these to buy yourself a better hut.’ But I digress: that story has nothing to do with cables and telexes.

Michael Christiansen, when editing the Sunday Mirror, loved sending them and had his own clever cable signature, xsen.

When John Knight was on a job in Johannesburg he received a cable – pro  mirrorman knight joburg hyatt – from the boss saying:

saliswards soonest regds xsen stop

And he replied:

my  dear  chris  comma  imagine  my  astonishment  when  on  answering  the  door  of  my  suite  at  the  hyatt  i  encountered  a  dusky  houseboy  bearing  a  silver  platter  and  on  it  your  totally  indecipherable  message  stop

 

the  weather  here  by  the  way  is  delightful  and  the  hotel  is  decidedly  grand  stop

 

this  is  really  the  sort  of  place  we  should  think  about  bringing  the  girls  for  a  holiday  comma  especially  during  our  winter  comma  when  the  climate  here  comma  I  have  it  on  the  best  authority  comma  is  suitably  temperate  and  the  scenery  at  all  times  of  year  is  perfectly  stunning  stop

 

the  story  on  which  you  sent  me  has  failed  to  stand  up  comma  so  I  intend  to  spend  a  few  days  getting  my  bearings  and  if  nothing  presents  itself  I  may  take  a  trip  to  salisbury  later  and  have  a  look  round  there  stop

 

hoping  that  this  finds  you  as  it  leaves  me  stop

 

best  regards  stop

 

john  stop

 

pee  ess  colon  incidentally  comma  if  your  message  was  in  any  way  important  comma  please  do  not  hesitate  to  telephone  me  stop

 

open  bracket  collect  close  bracket  endit

It was of course the ‘(Collect)’ that did it. John says he thinks the telex charge was half-a-crown per key-stroke at the time, and with the single word Collect at the end he had made his cable reverse-charge.

Thereafter ‘XSEN’ took to using the telephone.

#

 

How to be a toady

By Colin Dunne

Personally, I always wanted to be a toady. Oh yes, I know most reporters dreamed of a foreign posting or craved the glamour of a column or the power of the back bench, but toadying was the job I fancied.

Toadies got the lot: the best jobs, the best exes, and a seat at the most important lunch and dinner tables. All you had to do was to laugh at the editor’s jokes, marvel at his (or her) wisdom, ensure her (or his) glass never emptied, and be able to whistle up a taxi in a minute. Best of all, it was a no-talent appointment. Surely I could handle that?

Actually, no. As it turned out, I was hopelessly unqualified for the job. In the first place, I couldn’t drink. You’ve heard of the Churchill Gene, which enables you to drink all day, non-stop, without a single hiccup, just like Winston? Most evenings there were enough Churchill Genes in the Stab to fight them on the beaches.

Unfortunately I had the Attlee Gene, which meant that after three drinks I was speaking perfect Pitman’s. You didn’t know Pitman’s is a language? It isn’t. I was the only Mirror employee who could be having his first drink in the Stab at 6pm, and be home in time for Coronation Street, totally smashed, having spent only £3. That rather cut out the courtier’s late-night attendance duty.

On top of that, for some reason I never entirely grasped, my sense of humour seemed to jar. I laughed in wrong places. My own cheery jokes never seemed to hit the right note. Like the time I asked an assistant editor if people of his rank were allowed to choose their own mistresses or were allocated them from the secretarial pool. I thought that demonstrated shrewd observation and cavalier wit. He nearly bit a piece out of his glass. It wasn’t my fault if he got the one with the squint, was it? In those days, the seventies, no-one got fired, but I got closer than most.

The truth was that, for me, socialising with my superiors was far too dangerous. I worked out my own Disaster Ratio: 10 minutes with an executive equalled career setback of 10 years.

My only chance of survival was to keep my head down and steer a wide course around anyone with a carpet in his office. And it worked fairly well until the day I returned to the fourth-floor features room in Holborn (yes, the one day in the month I’d been out on a job) to find my colleagues grinning with a glee that had a suspiciously malicious glint.

Hugh Cudlipp had invited everyone who’d worked on a special Shock Issue up to his ninth-floor palace for congratulatory drinks. This was deeply worrying. For a start, no-one was more important than Hugh Cudlipp – he wasn’t God, that’s true, but he had given God a couple of subbing shifts on The People. What’s more, office legend insisted that on these meet-the-lads occasions, someone always caught Cudlipp’s eye, and that someone was soon emptying his desk. What caught his eye was anything out of the usual which was why my colleagues were grinning.

They’d received their invitations as soon as they’d arrived in the morning so they’d had all day to ensure that they presented a picture of bland conformity… Sensible haircuts, dark suits, smart shirts, silk ties, shining shoes. Similarly, the men were immaculately coiffed and sober suited. You simply couldn’t fault them.

On the other hand…

This was in my ageing hippy period. Certainly I was an arresting sight. My hair at that time touched my shoulder-blades. My suit was a sort of electric blue colour, with wide lapels and flared trousers. It was velvet. No tie, but a huge collar that flopped like bunny’s ears. Dark glasses completed the look which was of Little Lord Fauntleroy posing as a drug dealer.

‘Well, old man,’ said Sid Williams, in his kindliest tone. ‘Cudlipp likes to have a victim – good of you to volunteer.’ Sid often suspected there was a conspiracy afoot from which he was excluded. It was clear on this occasion that if there was a conspiracy here, he was on the inside and I was on the outside. This appeared to be causing him no distress.

Paula James, another soft-hearted sweetie, looked at her watch. ‘Got to go,’ she snapped. ‘We mustn’t be a minute late. You know what darling little Hughie is like – we don’t want to attract attention, do we?’

Williams, James, Evans, Hughes, Gomery, Sear, Hellicar, Walker, the whole damn lot of them swept me up and headed for the lift. I’d done human interest, but this was the first time I’d been a human sacrifice.

There wasn’t a lot of cover on the ninth-floor but I did the best I could, retreating between a tallish filing cabinet and a tropical plant, as far as I could from our noble leader. Cudlipp had a lovely time delivering one of his bitter-witty speeches, taking the mickey out of Murdoch (‘this amateur Ned Kelly’) and the Express (‘a burnt-out case’), and praising to the skies this assembly of astonishing talent. The pix, the layout, the writing, the headlines, all in the finest traditions of the Mirror at its best.

 Boy, was he proud of us all. With people like this, the Mirror had nothing to fear. Not a damn thing. Then – oh God – he began to move around among his talented, and in one case terrified, team. He stopped here and there. A word with Walker. A bit of a lech with Evans. Coming nearer and nearer. I was just wondering what jobs were open to a man with the Attlee Gene when I looked up and there he was, right in front of me. I tried to slide further behind the filing cabinet. Too late. He’d spotted me. What was worse, he’d spotted the suit.

His hand came out and touched it. He took the lapel between finger and thumb. ‘Velvet?’ he inquired, his sharp eyes driving into mine and quite possibly six inches out of the back of my head. ‘Mmmmm,’ I gulped, trying to avoid confirmation or denial. Was there time, I wondered, to sink two g-and-t’s quickly and reply to him in fluent Pitman’s? Could I have three and die of alcoholic poisoning before he fired me?

He stepped back. ‘Blue velvet.’ It was barely audible. It didn’t need to be. He was talking to himself. He was talking to himself to see if he liked what he was saying.

‘Blue velvet,’ he repeated, slightly more loudly. ‘Yes, I rather like that.’ He cocked his head on one side. What he really liked was the sound of himself saying it. ‘Yes, I think that’s good. No, it’s great. No it isn’t, it’s absolutely bloody marvellous.’ The more he said it, the more he liked it. He wasn’t some old stuck-in-the-mud afraid of new styles and fashions. Not a bit of it. Scared of change? Not me, sunshine.

Then he turned to address his editorial team. He did so at a volume pitch that would’ve been sufficient to address the entire British Army assembled on Salisbury Plain. ‘That’s what newspapers need,’ he thundered, in his rasping voice. ‘A bit of fun, a bit of colour, a bit of bloody daring – that’s what newspapers are all about.’

He ran his eyes over the astonished throng. With contempt he looked at the neat partings and the blade-sharp creases in the trousers. ‘What we don’t want,’ he said, dropping his voice to a low growl, ‘is little grey men in their little grey suits… with their little grey minds.’

The little grey men shifted about uncertainly and wondered what to do. Start a fist-fight perhaps? Unzip their trousers? It was too late. Bloody daring had passed them by.

‘People who’re like that – people who wouldn’t know excitement if it bit them on the leg – shouldn’t be in journalism. I don’t want them on my newspapers. I want to see them behind the counter in the bloody bank where they belong. What I want is people with guts and courage who don’t give a damn what anyone thinks. That’s what we need in Fleet Street.’

He turned back to me. ‘Tell my secretary where you got it. I want two.’

It was quiet ride down in the lift. I couldn’t seem to catch anyone’s eyes. They were all looking down, closely examining their brilliantly polished toes.

I did tell Cudlipp’s secretary. She wrote it down too. ‘Lord John, Carnaby Street,’ she repeated. Then I reverted to my heads-down policy, and avoided speaking to anyone who was more important than myself. This eliminated nine-tenths of the people in the building.

I saw him occasionally over the next few years. Not once was he wearing flyaway lapels and flares. And this stunning bit of luck didn’t advance my career one jot.

Cudlipp was never once heard to shout: ‘Bring me my man in blue velvet.’ Not once.

But it did earn me the respect of Sid Williams. It proved that he was right all along. Clearly there was a conspiracy afoot, and equally clearly I was in on it. ‘Just one thing, old man,’ he used to whisper to me, when we met in the corridor. ‘Who told you that he liked velvet? You can trust me.’

###

 

 

 September 14, 2007

 

The Gentlemen Ranters site is a brilliant compendium of reminiscences of the great days of Fleet Street. – The Times, August 25

 

September 14

We are not all computer geeks. Not everybody can navigate a website that easily. So everything is on this page, this week – except the diary, which you find by clicking on THE STAB, over there on the left. And Letters, which you get by clicking on Letters.

For everything else, scroll down here, or click on the links as you reach them. To get back to where you were, click BACK at the top of the screen.

Letters, incidentally, kick off with a discussion about what The Times describes as ‘the most bombed pub in Western Europe’ – a bar that we think was never actually bombed at all. See whether your memory agrees. And then check your memory about F Cashin.

Meanwhile, on this page, we start happily with two Rants.

Then ALAN HART sleeps through A Night at the Europa, and ANDY LEATHAM wakes to find that he’s missed – but not been missed out in – a Night of the Long Envelopes.

MICHAEL WATTS earns a mythical Crisp Oncer by explaining how John Junor contrives to get porridge on the breakfast menu of a Scottish hotel.

FRED WEHNER meanwhile, has lost his contacts book. Or, more likely, somebody has nicked it. How will he get quotes from the Beverley Sisters, now?

EDDY RAWLINSON describes how legendary reporter and news editor Tom Campbell turns a non-story into a page lead (and there’s more about Tom in THE STAB). And ALASDAIR RILEY reveals how to get beer money out of diary columns to help eke out the pension.

And COLIN DUNNE brings us all back to reality with a bang, and tales of sex in the office.

Difficult to beat, that.

But first, KEN ASHTON wants to know whether the folk out there – the ones we used to describe as Our Loyal Readers (not to be confused with Our Friendly Newsagents) – can distinguish between real life and fiction.

We often wondered about that, when we read the copy. And the evidence seems to support his belief that they can’t. But perhaps they never could. For it is not even a generational thing: it happened In Our Day.

In 1955 (when it was said to be a spoiler for the launch night of ITV) the BBC killed off ‘Grace’ in The Archers; and its switchboard was jammed for 48 hours, some of the callers protesting about the script, but most of them offering their condolences to the family, and BH was swamped by bouquets and wreaths in a fashion that wouldn’t be seen again until the death of Diana. They had to appeal on the news for people to stop sending flowers.

But are the newspapers pandering to this ignorance, maintaining it, or encouraging it?

Are we not partly to blame for this attitude? When actress Pat Phoenix died, most papers announced the death of ‘Elsie Tanner’ – only, not in quotes, because they treated the Corrie character as a real person, and the actress who had played the part had merely a supporting role in the report of her own death.

Small wonder, perhaps, that viewers come to believe that when they are watching Emmerdale, Coronation Street or Eastenders they are not such much following fairly badly written (but compulsive) soap-drama sagas, as actually watching real communities go about their daily lives – perhaps courtesy of the 14million CCTV cameras that are said to be tracking English citizens these days.

And PAUL BANNISTER is still getting the cold shoulder from publishers and agents while trying to hawk his memoirs. There are two problems, apparently: first he is not a celeb and second his memoirs are – perhaps not entirely surprising, this – mainly about things that happened in the past.

Maybe he is going about the project in totally the wrong way. Here’s a thought.

If he included in his autobiography all the meals he has eaten over the years on exes, and littered the text with recipes and menus for them, he could be onto a winner. Although, as he learnt from one single friendly literary agent, even celebrity chefs have a short shelf-life, these days.

If Paul, or anybody else, takes up that suggestion, it’s the usual 25% to Ranters, obviously.

#

 

Are they all out of step, except us?

By Ken Ashton

Once a week we entertain mother-in-law. Mother-in-law day means sex, booze, some petty and some major crime, funny vicars and a few tarts.

emmerdaleYes, she’s an Emmerdale fan. The only small problem is she actually believes it. She’s already proclaiming seven hours before the programme that Rosemary ought to be locked up, as she’s evil. She doesn’t see what Jimmy sees in Kelly, she marvels that Jamie and Louise can spend virtually every day in the sack – not like my day, you had to work - sniffs at the boozy sessions in the Woolpack, reckons the Hotton Courier is bolder than her own local paper. Need I go on?

Born into an age of innocence, she was banned by my late father-in-law, a BBC NDO sax player, from watching TV, on the grounds he knew lots about what went on in the industry and it was all too seedy to be involved with. Since he departed this world a decade or so ago, she’s made up for lost time.

She’s well into the soaps of a northern bent, but she is so deeply involved that she honestly believes what she sees. And because her eyesight is failing and her hearing disappearing, I have the dubious honour of explaining the ‘plots’.

Now you may feel this is sad and wonder where I’m going here, so let me tell you about my good wife, aka Her Indoors, who was trained in the same class as the Mirror’s David Banks, SKY’s Eddie Hemmings et al and is a pretty bright journo and former deputy editor. She gets her kicks these days from giving occasional talks to media students. Then she comes home weeping and wailing about today’s youth.

Why? Because, she says, they are just like her mother. They, too, have penchant for believing that what they see is true. They accept The Bill storylines, believe, like mother-in-law, that the Hotton Courier is better than local papers – and don’t see any harm in that fictional newspaper’s libelling of local dignities.

Its headlines, they suggest, are ‘more to the point’ than anything they read for real. LOCAL COUNCILLOR IS CORRUPT is an example of what I mean.

Now this is sad. Because while we old codgers, we who have written a million intros and in many cases twice as many headlines on tabloids and ‘classy’ newspapers, tend to believe that people think the way we do.

Rubbish. Forget the Paxman lectures, the glorious columns of the media professors in the Guardian. The politicians and spin doctors, who rant on about lowering standards at the BBC and in the media generally.

If we look closer to grassroots and stop and listen to the people who actually digest media in its basic forms – the TV news on your screen, the freebie newspapers that plop through the letterbox – you’ll find that many, many people don’t give a toss about the pundits, the programming and the copy tasting.

TV news is often background noise to work in the kitchen. How many people do you know who actually listen carefully to the poor guy explaining in depth outside Downing Street or the Commons the latest moves by the government, the wars around the world, the climate change problems, the world’s misfortunes?

As for local newspapers, well it’s a skip through some very poor journalism. Living where we do (in North Wales), you’ll find many people tune their TV aerials to Granada and BBC North West rather than Wales. Their local paper is skimmed through while news from Manchester, Merseyside and the Midlands is devoured. Cardiff is out of sight and out of mind, somewhere where the Assembly makes decisions for South Wales people.

This pick-and-mix approach to news and soaps is reflected by the tastes of both my mother-in-law and the 16-year-olds to whom Her Indoors speaks to more in hope than anticipation.

The interest in local events is summed up by the teenage student who told her he wasn’t interested in local or council news because his dad pays the rates. His reading matter? Music magazines, full stop.

We old ’uns, who pride on ourselves that we worked on newspapers that were ‘real' papers, sniff haughtily at the style and approach of the tabloids in 2007.

Many of my contemporaries have resorted to watching only documentaries on TV and have switched from TV news because of the ‘shout it at your face’ news reading by the people in Top Shop suits. Male or female.

Are we wrong? Are we fuddy-duddy? Are we staring dreamily through our rosy specs all the time?

Or are the non-media people like mother-in-law and the up-and-coming journalists like the teenage media studies people telling us something? The debate is open…

#

 

The past: imperfect, say publishers

By Paul Bannister

I was going to write a book about the problems of getting someone to read your book, but everything seems to point to the fact that nobody would read it.

What happened to the Good Old Days when you could dash off an epigram or two – whatever they are – and the velvet smoking jacket and languid attitude arrived in the afternoon post?

The editor of this website has me over a barrel. He’s about the only person left who will still use my rubbish, and then only because he has space to fill. I’d normally ignore him, but because I’m hawking a manuscript, I dare not.

Give him his pound of fleshy copy, I think, and maybe a book publisher will show up at the door with a wheelbarrow full of bank notes.

I’ve tried the usual things: harassing friends (including him), emailing agents, even daringly sending queries direct to publishers to get my memoir considered.

Acolytes for Mirrorman-turned-publishing-tycoon John Blake responded gently and negatively, as did a couple of literary agents, but about 20 of the latter haven’t even acknowledged either my existence or my ultra-polite query letters.

One of the exclusive duo who did reply was a very nice lady literary agent in New York, and I drop the phrase even as I stoop to recover it for re-use.

That sainted Lit Lady told me that my memoir, while moderately interessant, was ‘too dated.’

Hiding my indignation and using a fencing term, I riposted that most memoirs were about things past and it was difficult to write 75,000 words on what might laughingly be described as my career, and keep it all current.

She told me: ‘Last night at a Literary Event, I mentioned Julia Child and the Galloping Gourmet. Nobody present had ever heard of them.’

I knew that one American in four had not read a book in the past year, but I’d hoped that the ones who have turned a page or two knew something.

I mean, the late, great Julia Child, a lovely and cooperative interviewee; or Graham Kerr, who used to slosh wine all over the set while he cooked (no longer, by the way) who possibly could not know them?

The answer to that question seems to be: very young people who are swathed in ignorance of celebs other than Paris and Lindsay. [Old readers start here: that is a reference to ex-jailbird Paris Hilton and somebody called Lindsay Lohan. – Ed.]

Publishing’s little secret, in the New York circles of my slight acquaintance anyway, seems to be that these children are running the shop.

The nice Lit Lady told me that the publishing houses don’t have the staff ‘to hit niches’ and the editors and buyers at the bookstore chains ‘tend to be quite young’.

Translated: they’re all bright, barely-educated, twenty-somethings from Ivy League colleges who have no clue about anything that did not appear on their BlackBerries since the last Frankfurt Book Fair.

What the Lit Lady also told me is that the children who choose books for us are sheep. They only buy, she told me, crime fiction and celebrity titles. These are proven sellers, and that’s what they look for. Go West, young man, but stay on the well-trodden bits.

Anything off that crime/celeb path is classified into a niche, or as I just typed and corrected, a jiche.

If that isn’t the subject for a rant, what is?

Where’s the justice? I’ve spent decades gathering material for My Epic Tome, and the children turn down their little pink thumbs because they don’t know anything.

Actually, the emperor turned his thumb sideways, but that wasn’t how it was shown by Hollywood, and the wunderkinder of the publishing world didn’t read the book.

On the other hand, did anybody read this rant?

#

 

A night at the Europa

By Alan Hart

There’s a common expression used to describe a sound sleeper: ‘When his head hits the pillow, a bomb wouldn’t waken him.’ I know this to be true in my case.

When I joined the reporting staff of the News of the World in 1971, ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland, as they were known, had erupted into newsworthy violence. Ulster’s newspapers were printed in Thomson House, Withy Grove, so it was Manchester’s job to cover the province.

My journalistic credentials were geographically limited when I was offered the job. After six months’ trial and three years’ indentureship at the Sale and Stretford Guardian, I had spent a year at the Oldham Evening Chronicle and four years with Stewart and Hartley’s News Agency in Manchester. I had never worked more than 12 miles from my birthplace in Sale.

I well remember my first day at the ‘Screws’ when northern news editor Ollie Bachelor asked me to go on a job to Sheffield. To avoid loss of face, I decided to ask a stranger where it was and how to get there, after I left the office.

Yet a few months later I was flying from Manchester to Aldergrove airport, on the outskirts of Belfast, and catching a taxi to the city’s Europa Hotel. This was the home of the international press corps.

Their previous pied-a-terre was the Royal Avenue Hotel, from which they had disloyally decamped in favour of more modern facilities.

The local man sent to meet me and show me the ropes was Trevor Hanna who had his own one-man freelance business with the grandiose title Ulster News International.

Trevor was a fearsome looking individual. He was short and stocky with a stong, determined jawline. Somebody once said of Trevor’s face in repose that he looked like a bulldog that had just licked piss off a thistle.

In fact Trevor was extremely affable and full of fun.

Throughout Ireland they would describe a man who only supped five pints a night as someone who ‘hardly touched the stuff’. If you consumed vast quantities, they would say fondly ‘He likes a drink’.

Trevor Hanna liked a drink. His favourite was Black Bush, a Protestant whiskey from the Bushmills distillery near Coleraine.

On the night we met he instructed me to take a taxi to a bar from where he would drive us to a rugby club to join his friends. After exchanging pleasantries, I recall my embarrassment when he asked the voluptuous, blonde barmaid ‘Do you have a Black Bush?’ And she replied: ‘No. It’s natural.’ At least, that’s how I like to recall it.

When we got into Trevor’s car for the short drive to the rugby club, I remember thinking it odd I hadn’t noticed before how they drove on the right in Northern Ireland. When a car came straight towards us from the opposite direction, Trevor swerved further to the right, narrowly avoiding a ditch.

It was only when we got into the car park that I realised Trevor was pissed. He drove into the back of a parked car, interlocking bumpers, dismounted and started to walk towards the club bar. When I pointed out the problem, he got back in his vehicle, tore
himself away with an expensive sound of untwisting metal, and reversed into the side of another parked car. Now satisfied, he alighted again and marched purposefully towards the bar.

There developed a routine in which I would fly over on a Thursday evening, meet Trevor for a ‘debriefing’, cover the weekend action, and fly home on Sunday morning. It was only after several visits that I discovered the standard measures in Ulster were one quarter of a gill compared to the miserly sixths that were served in England. This went some way to explain why I never remembered anything we had discussed at our Thursday night sessions.

Perhaps it also explains my lack of wisdom when I covered a riot in the Bogside area of Derry. Not knowing whether to align myself with the brick-throwing rioters or the security forces, I chose the neutral ground between them.

This was not my brightest move and I believe I was the only man to emerge from that disturbance with wounds from a rubber bullet and burns from a petrol bomb.

At least my discomfiture was appreciated by the hacks back at the Europa who filed their articles from their bar stools while watching my misfortunes on the TV News.

Once a year Trevor would come over to England just before Christmas to have a festive drink with his national newspaper chums in Manchester.

The first time I witnessed this event, Trevor came up to the third floor of Thomson House, beaming with pleasure and full of bonhomie. It was 12.30pm and Trevor was immaculately dressed in a suit, white shirt and tie, and was wearing a Crombie overcoat.

It was hard to avoid noticing he had one black slip-on shoe on his right foot. The left one was missing. I asked him about it. Trevor looked down casually, seemed momentarily surprised and remarked: ‘It must have slipped off in the taxi.’

That day we went to various bars near Thomson House where the sight of journalists without trousers would scarcely have raised an eyebrow. The presence of an Ulsterman wearing one shoe passed without comment.

Later in the evening, in one of Manchester’s famed Chinese restaurants, Trevor succumbed to tiredness and fell head down in his curry. Next day he was back in the office, saying his farewells before his return flight. The left shoe was still missing when he boarded the plane home.

The following week I was sent to Ulster. After booking my usual Europa alarm call for Saturday morning at 7.55, I retired to my room on the 5th floor around 2.30 am.

My next recollection is of my phone ringing at 7am and the London news desk asking if I could file an early piece about the bomb. They wanted a 1,000 word of colour. I hadn’t a clue what they were talking about, but knew better than to reveal my ignorance.

europaIt turned out that at 5am the evacuation alarm had sounded following a warning by the IRA that they had planted a bomb in the hotel. All the guests – with one exception – had trooped outside into the snow-lined streets to await further instructions. About half an hour later a blast on the 2nd floor had destroyed the toilets, from which there was a new view to the streets below. The building was checked, deemed safe and guests and staff returned.

I am eternally grateful to those rival reporters who gave me a fill-in on what happened while I was sleeping. With their help I filed 1,000 words describing the terrifying noise, the acrid smell and the sight of papers blowing down the rubble-strewn streets.

This masterpiece was reduced to a paragraph at the end of copy about more important things that had happened later that day. As far as I know, the news desk never knew how the man they had despatched to cover The Troubles had missed the event on his doorstep.

Now, as I work as a travel writer, I am sometimes asked if I’m worried about being blown up by terrorists. ‘No,’ I reply. ‘That’s already happened and I never felt a thing.’

·                    Alan Hart was a staff reporter on the News of the World from 1971 to 2000. He is now a freelance travel writer and has been to some other places.

#

 

Long envelope morning

By Andrew Leatham

I had been seconded from Manchester to the Sunday People features department in Holborn, if memory serves correctly, to work on the launch of a colour magazine. I had been there a couple of weeks, living in the Drury Lane Hotel, spending money from the golden eagle that was MGN’s cashiers department and generally having a high old time when my world came crashing down. It was April 1988.

Stumbling into the building one morning, I was confronted by Daily Mirror reporter Frank Thorne, with whom I had been drinking less than 10 hours previously, chanting: ‘We’ve got all the jobs, we’ve got all the jobs.’

It must have been obvious from my puzzled expression that I had no idea what he was on about because he immediately went ashen and asked: ‘You don’t know do you?’ ‘Don’t know what?’ I responded. And so it was that one of my oldest friends in newspapers dropped the bombshell: ‘There’s been a night of the long envelopes. Manchester’s going.’

A quick phone call north confirmed his news ... need to rationalise... equip the company for the future. All the usual excuses. Along with dozens like me on the People, Daily and Sunday Mirror in Manchester, I was out of a job. Given the enormity of this news and the potentially devastating impact on my family there was only one thing to do – I went to the Stab.

It must have been just a few seconds after opening time because I was the first in. Half way down the first pint, in bowled a buoyant Don Mackay who was at that time, I think, working on the Sunday Mirror. ‘Christ, you look like a man who’s seen his arse,’ he quipped as he ordered his tipple. ‘I’ve just been made redundant,’ I told him. ‘Manchester has been decimated.’

That simple statement was enough to signal a sea of sympathy, most of it in pint pots, from the ebullient Scot and we sat there at the bar drinking, smoking, joking and cursing MGN management in equal measure until Don suddenly looked at his watch.

‘It’s quarter past one. I’m gonna have tae go,’ he declared. I suggested another one before he left. ‘No, no,’ he protested. ‘Ye dinnae understand. If I dinnae go back now, they’ll no let me oot for ma lunch.’ And with that he disappeared through the pub door. Half an hour later he was back. And the rest of the day faded into oblivion.

  • Leaving the Sunday People after 14 years, Andy Leatham freelanced, mainly for the Express and the Daily Star. He now runs a PR company specialising in crisis and reputation management.

                                                          #

 

Doing porridge

By Michael Watts

Avoid, if possible, writing about golf or sailing. That was the rule (one of many) if you wanted to enjoy a quiet life on John Junor’s Sunday Express in its ‘glory days’. (Another rule – common to us all, of course – was to avoid clichés, though I think he might have allowed that one in this context.)

Why avoid golf and sailing? Because JJ would always know more about them than you did.

Above all, then, avoid Scotland.

This last, however, did not normally trouble the paper’s excellent travel editor Lewis de Fries – as, by definition, his adventures usually took him further afield.

He did operate under certain restrictions, though. In particular he had to be jolly careful about the food he ate (or said he ate) on his trips – a mighty important consideration, as browsing and sluicing played a major role in his travel pieces. (Similarly, Robert Glenton’s motoring articles contained rather less than one might have expected about the actual car being tested.)

Lewis was not allowed to begin a meal with soup, or to end it with ice cream. This because they were too plebeian. Ditto chicken. Bread, however, was OK – so our traveller invariably accompanied his meals with ‘as much crusty bread as I could eat’.

Most notoriously of all, he was not allowed to have anything washed down by white wine. The story is known to all: ‘Only poofters drink white wine’ was JJ’s legendary response when Lewis queried the matter. An accurate quote? Very probably – although I believe Junor later relented (and he himself often drank it at home).

To Scotland. One morning I came upon Lewis at his desk in Fleet Street’s Black Lubyanka and in despair. He had a somewhat lugubrious air at the best of times, but now he held his head in his hands. Why so? On this occasion, instead of voyaging to foreign parts, he had written about a trip closer to home – Norrth of the Borrder – where he had stayed at a Scottish hotel... and had begun his breakfast with cereal. Bong! Big mistake. JJ had buzzed to ask why he hadn’t started with porridge. Lewis said it was because there was no porridge on the menu.

Fair enough. So what, I asked Lewis, was the problem? ‘He said that of course there was porridge on the menu – it was Scotland.’ But you told him there wasn’t. ‘Yes, but he says I’ve got to I ring up now and tell the manager to serve porridge. Otherwise his hotel will not be mentioned.’ So? ‘I just can’t do it.’ But you’ll have to, Lewis. Steel yourself. You’ll have to.

Half an hour later, there was Lewis looking less doleful – cheerful, even. The deed had been done. And that Sunday we read: ‘I started with porridge...’

·        Michael Watts spent four years on the Nottingham Evening News before becoming London editor of The Viewer TV magazine, and then joining the Sunday Express – where he was variously diary editor, deputy news editor, briefly deputy editor in Manchester, and then started the ‘Inspector Watts’ column. Left the Express to freelance, but was asked back two years later. Now freelances again. Will still reward your corny joke with a Crisp Oncer.

#

 

Contact sport

By Fred Wehner

It was black and slim and when it left me I was devastated.

I had come to view its worn features as testimony to its pedigree. But that only after it disappeared; while we were together I confess I took it for granted. Utterly. Oblivious to the immense degree of dependency I’d developed.  

My contacts book wasn’t huge but it was potent, a mighty giant packed with home phones. There was a number for Morecambe, Eric – always good for a quick quip and he was almost always at home, no doubt waiting by that special little hall table by the front door on the off-chance I’d call him.

There was a good direct way to get to Parker, Colonel Tom, in Culver City, California. A bunch of friends of Scargill, Arthur (yes he had some). The popsters of the day – Wilde, Marty; Proby, PJ; Ryan, Marion; Most, Mickie; Poole, Brian; Kirby, Kathy...

There was Jagger, Mick and Richard, Keith before he added the ‘s’, as well as Richard, Cliff before they added a Sir.

All pretty much reachable in an instant.

There were other Sirs as well: Richardson, Ralph; Redgrave, Michael; Hardwicke, Cedric. Dukes like those of Richmond and Rutland, Earls and Lords like Mountbatten and Sutch, Screaming. And there was the Queen’s cousin, Harewood, Earl of, who got himself in a right royal pickle or two.

Two other numbers I cherished, AMB 1657 and HUN 3384, both for Keeler, Christine. AMB was Ambassador but the full exchange for HUN is now interred deep in the time-hardened clay that was once my brain. (I was from POLlards, later STReatham, south of the river with all the second-hand car dealers)

La Keeler had been a favourite of mine ever since she’d allowed me to interview her at some considerable length through the fibula-high letterbox of her Marylebone home at 30 Linhope Street. For Rice-Davies, Mandy, I had only an address.

But these were all People Who Mattered and I needed to have them at my fingertips just in case. They were my shortcuts to fame and glory, but now they were gawn. Lawst.

Any minute I expected to hear the Great Voice From The Sky: ‘THIS IS GOD SPEAKING. I’VE DELIBERATELY HIDDEN YOUR CONTACTS BOOK BECAUSE YOU ARE A SOUTH LONDON RATBAG WHO NEEDS TO BE TAUGHT A LESSON.’

For months I’d pine. It was like bereavement. I searched the drawers, the shelves, the pockets, the places... And when I’d done all that I searched the drawers, the shelves, the pockets, the places...

Without my contacts book I felt crippled. It was my treasure. Sure, there were oldies in there like Cogan, Alma; Trinder, Tommy, Pickles, Wilfred. But also Loren, Sophia in Rome and two Monaco entries for Callas, Maria.

There were times when I missed that book in the worst way. Moments when its presence was required immediately, and these moments clawed at my insides. But also there was that gnawing general need that wouldn’t go away. A headache minus the actual physical pain, although in time I realised that re-revisiting its old familiar possible hiding places was never going to surrender my prize. So where was it?  

There were folks who stole their mates’ contacts books. It was prevalent and almost a sport. And by now I was convinced this is what had befallen my own dear treasure. Lifted. Taken prisoner by some scurrilous Other Reporter (and by God I knew what bastards they could be because I was one of them). Abducted and held in some lonely spot and there, perhaps, torn limb from limb after first being debrided of all its important surface data.

Someone else, now, would be able to dial up Leighton, Margaret or Morley, Eric and Vaughan, Frankie. And all three of the Beverly Sisters, Joy, Teddie and Babs.

For months I harboured evil thoughts, thoughts of catching a fellow reporter red-handed with my little black book and what I would do to him. It had to be a him because had it been a her my terrible fantasy would have juddered to a halt right there and then.

But a him? Oh the screams of agony, oh the pleas for mercy from my perpetrator-turned-victim, the tears even after he’d confessed to the theft and returned my Little Black Book. But that delicious thought hit a halt sign the moment my mind pictured some of the beefiest hacks with whom I worked. Maybe a polite request to return it would suffice.

Naturally, I’d embarked on a replacement by now. One had to. A pessimistic start from scratch. But this time I bought a big, bulky behemoth, a three-pounder, eight inches by thirteen with stiff covers and thick as a brick. Contactus immensus. Bookzilla.

Try and steal that, you bastard.

So in tiny increments the replacement volume grew in content. Yet big as it was in actual length and girth, it never matched up to its little predecessor. Never could. There were names and numbers in there that were impossible to replicate. Or were they? Contacts were contacts. Perhaps some of my fellow hacks had the same data that I had had.

Of course we’d all taken a peek at a colleague’s contact book when the colleague was up in the canteen or chatting with Maurice Dodd at the library window.

Who’re this guy’s contacts? Does he have home phones for all the Beatles? Some choice international names, perhaps? Nah. Only the two Eamonn Andrews numbers known to everyone and his pet parrot.

I got a few decent ones that way, but not many. And so, yes, I dreamed of appropriating someone else’s contacts book in order to supplement my own. Perhaps I’d be thieving from the very bastard who got mine. Hey – perhaps I would wind up stealing my own book back: that was the ultimate fantasy.

Of course I had a few main suspects. Surely I should target these guys first. Those I thought most capable of filching my contacts book were... but oh no, no. I’m not going to name names here. Suffice it to say my friendships with these fellows always contained that tiny element of doubt: you’re the one, aren’t you, you’re the bastard!  

The loss continued to haunt me through my life. If no longer causing the same intense anxiety three decades on, it still hovered like a small storm cloud atop my soul. Over time my contacts book had grown steadily in status to become, eventually, the equivalent of a famed relic, much admired but never seen. My Holy Grail.

I had a great day last week. I found it.

  • Fired by just about every outfit that hired him, Fred Wehner did PR for East Germany, Volkswagen and Taiwan. He got the penultimate splash in the Daily Sketch, thereby missing greatness by a day. After staffing at the Daily Mail he founded and headed the New York News Agency 1978-88 before moving to rural Georgia, where, despite perfecting the drawl, he stands out because he has all his own teeth.

#

 

Non-story, page lead

By Edward Rawlinson

Tom Campbell was a Daily Express reporter who became northern news editor at the time when Manchester was the back door to Fleet Street. He was a member of the ‘once met never to be forgotten’ brigade. His Edinburgh accent certainly helped his appearance as a man of great charm. Below his large moustache he wore dark suits with creases not always in the right places and a pair of shiny boots, worn, he said, from the results of war. He had misgivings about anyone who wore removable plastic shirt collars – only stiff white collars fastened by gold studs were to be worn in the 1950s.

When he was news editor while partaking of his famous walk-about bollockings he would place the forefingers of both hands into the pockets of his waistcoat like guns in their holsters and while doing a slow march around the newsroom take two fingers from his right ‘holster’ and stroke his whiskers. After delivering a telling-off to a reporter he would then throw him a salute, do a smart about turn and return to duty on the desk.

When he was on the road I teamed up with Tom many times and learned quite a lot from this wily old Scot. He must have been only in his early thirties yet he appeared much older. One story we had to cover came from Ian Skidmore of Chester telling of soldiers stationed in the city being put on a fizzer if they didn’t salute the car in which the general in charge of Western Command (which in those days stretched from Hadrian’s Wall to Gloucestershire) travelled.

Usually following the general’s car would be two lorries carrying regimental policemen who jumped out and charged any soldier failing to pay their respect to the General if he was in his car and flying his pennant. It was a particularly stupid command. Tom being an ex-wartime soldier loved the story and relished it even more when a snotty army PR told him it was a ‘non-story’.

As I drove towards Chester Tom suggested we should not go in haste to the army camp and get intercepted by some lesser ranks but wait until the General arrived home on the outskirts of the city and engage the old man there. Brushing up his whiskers he reckoned that would be around eighteen hundred hours so we had time for a swift half or two in an ale house recommended by Skiddy. Then former Sergeant Campbell, East Lancashire Regiment, laid attack on the heavy studded door of the general’s quarter. It creaked open and a white-coated orderly accepted Tom’s card and took it away into the shadows of the large entrance hall to the boss of Western Command.

We were ushered into a well lit room where in front of a large fire in shirt sleeve order stood the general holding a large glass of scotch. There were the normal formalities of introductions and before the general could ask why the Daily Express was on his doorstep. Before explaining, Tom mentioned that he had served in France during the second World War. He had been a Militia Man at twenty one and called up to military service just before the outbreak of war, then in October 1939 went to France with the British Expeditionary Force. ‘I think we served in the same places at the same time, sir,’ were Tom’s introductory words and that was it, the lamps in the barrack room started swinging, and it was whiskies all round.

After a few large ones Tom told the general about the Military Police arresting soldiers for not saluting him in his car, the general looked puzzled, saying he had no idea that was happening and said there would be an immediate stop to the command. He posed for a picture and then there was ‘one for the album’ of the two old soldiers together and I was off back to Manchester leaving Tom to phone his copy from the General’s billet.

It made a page lead and that way the soldiery of Chester learnt that they were no longer required to salute passing cars. So much for it being a non-story.

As for Tom, much later in the evening he was returned safely to the office courtesy of the general’s car and driver.

Nobody saluted him on the way back, though.

#

 

Still digging, still finding gold

By Alasdair Riley

I share little with Norman Mailer, other than a birthday, a little past bar-room trouble and a propensity for anti-social behaviour that comes with advancing years. He may be 23 years older than me, but I empathise with his musing on the afterlife as the sands of time run for the exit. Must be something there, I thought, booking my seat for his satellite-link appearance at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival.

I did my homework. Sure enough, there was gold dust waiting for me, an old Fleet Street hack recently returned to his homeland north of the border but still not above asking the silly question. There it was, tucked away in novelist Andrew O’Hagan’s interview with the giant of American letters in the current issue of The Paris Review. Mailer admits to pee-ing in telephone kiosks when caught short. ‘You just can’t wait at my age,’ says the literary bruiser.

In an idle moment, one of many these days, I passed on this nugget to the Evening Standard Londoner’s Diary column where I worked in my twenties. Bingo! And the festival had not even started. What’s more, with staff leaving or on holiday, the diary wanted more.

A few weeks later, I am among the audience while O’Hagan, now in the Scottish capital, interviews Mailer, live via satellite, at his Cape Cod home. After the serious business, came the Q&A session with the audience who were keen to deconstruct his literary output. Not I. My hand upshot. I grabbed the mike from a minor Scottish novelist. ‘Mr Mailer, is it true that you believe in reincarnation and that you think you’ll return as a cockroach?’

Sort of, Mailer replied obligingly, but he had said it as a joke. I ignored the joke bit. A mere detail. Essential truths are wrapped up in life’s little jokes, right?

Ideally, Mailer continued, he’d like to return as a black athlete. ‘But the way I see it, I’ll meet the monitoring angel, who’ll look in his book and tell me they are oversubscribed in that department. Everyone wants to be a black athlete these days. So the monitoring angel looks in his book to see what they’ve got me down for. The bad news is that I’m returning as a cockroach. The good news is that I’m going to be the fastest cockroach on the block.’

Where have I heard that one before? El Vino perhaps. Or the Groucho? Never mind. Another detail. Bless you, Mr Mailer. Result: item number two in Londoner’s Diary.

Now I was on a roll. The long gunpowder trails that had been laid during five years on The Evening Standard diary more than three decades ago were now being ignited with random bewildering whooshes. Ask a daft question out of context at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and there might be a cheque in the post.

Alan Bennett is invited to appear on Ant and Dec’s I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here. (He refuses, of course – details, details). Pattie Boyd, muse to George Harrison and Eric Clapton, in striped jim-jams and bathrobe, joins Booker Prize-winner Ben Okri, Jeremy Bowen, Simon Armitage and Blake Morrison on the pavement after an early morning fire alarm evacuates them from their beds in their smart Edinburgh hotel. They contrast and compare pyjamas and dressing gowns.

Back to the bookfest. Andrew Marr recalls looking out of his Scottish hotel in the 1990s and seeing a ‘mad woman waving at him’ – who turns out to be Cherie Blair, on hols with Tony. A drunken afternoon ensues, during which Tony, not yet party leader, reckons he has made the wrong career choice and should have stuck to law.

And so it went on, day and night. Thank you Marr, Mailer, Bennett and Boyd. Bless you all and the rest of the diary fodder who let their guard down in Edinburgh in summer. I’d recommend the festival to any aspiring hack. Or any old diary hand with an unhealthy desire to relive the past.

After my Standard staff job in the early seventies, my career continued along predictable lines. The Sun, then the Daily Star, and eventual sacking from the Mail on Sunday YOU magazine 25 years ago. A golden future as a freelance was the only option. Huh!

I had even done a spell as reporter with Scottish Television, but this time I jumped before I was pushed. Understandably nervous before live studio interviews, I resorted to medicinal slugs of vodka in the gents before going on-air – a practice that required a measured approach and a sense of timing. Too little too late meant no zen-like calm as the studio floor manager counted down to my cue. Too much too early and all bets were off.

Several viewers, seeing me swaying slightly, complained that there was something wrong with their sets, which no amount of fiddling with the controls would correct. My STV bosses in Glasgow knew better, clucking sympathetically when I asked them not to renew my contract so that I could return to my flat and girlfriend in London.

However, two years ago, Scotland beckoned once again. Anthony Quinn, confessing a domestic blunder in the movie Zorba the Greek (remember? 1964? Seems like yesterday) says: ‘I have a wife, children, house, everything – the full catastrophe!’ Divorced, with a grown-up daughter and no house, I suddenly I had no catastrophe to hinder life’s journey. So I returned to Scotland.

The classical form of pipe music – bagpipe music, that is – is called pibroch. It’s been described as the essence of life’s long slow walk towards the grave, stirring the imagination with old legends, lost heroic causes and battles long ago – such as the time I was fired by telephone from my Daily Star TV column which, in its death throes, I had been trying to phone in from the Channel Islands. I hear pibroch with increasing frequency these days.

So, once in a while, I give a little back by teaching basic journalism on a course designed to help young ex-prisoners and offenders return to the workplace. Ever met anyone famous, my students ask. Rock singers? Celebrities? Actors?

The names of past crooners and mummers, many of them now dead, mean nothing to them. So I dredge up the time I hunted Mick Jagger, along with the rest of the pack, at a film festival. Endless phone calls to assorted managers, assistants and PRs proved fruitless. Until one day, after lunch, I struck lucky. ‘Mick’s happy to talk to you,’ said his personal PR man over the phone. ‘Exclusively. He’s here beside me in his hotel room. I’ll pass you over and you can arrange to meet.’

Yes, yes, yes. On came Mick. ‘Hi Alasdair,’ he said. ‘What about the Carlton terrace, about midday tomorrow?’

Yes, yes, yesyesyes! Then Jagger said: ‘It’ll be good to meet up again and chat over old times.’

Presumptuous bastard, I thought. We had never met before. Not even been in the same room. Who does he think he is?

The old devil alighted on my shoulder. Without thinking, I replied: ‘Great, Mick. But how will I recognise you?’

He passed the phone to his PR who said he’d call me back. Almost 30 years later, I’m still waiting. Perhaps I’ll get to do the interview when I am reincarnated as a cockroach. Or a rat.

#

 

No sex please, we’re… oh, all right, then

By Colin Dunne

Where did it all start? At the office Christmas party, of course, the launch-pad for most office affairs. Ian was a sports writer on the Express in Manchester. Sandra was a secretary. He was thirty-ish, with a half-forgotten family somewhere out on Saddleworth Moor. She was 25, a slim little blonde, with a live-in boyfriend who was obsessively, and possibly murderously, jealous. Not for nothing was he known as the Knicker Inspector, of which, more later.

They met in the Land o’ Cakes and were instantly mired in hot desire. There was only one cure for this, they both agreed, and it was going to take some time and more leg-room than you find in an office Escort. They couldn’t possibly meet outside the office, Sandra pointed out, because the Knicker Inspector would be hot on her trail. So, Ian in turn pointed out, it would have to be inside the office.

That was how it went. Every time her boss, an assistant editor of the tall ex-public-school variety, went for lunch, she’d ring Ian, and he’d break sprint records down the corridor. Do we need more details? I don’t think so, except perhaps to say that the asst. ed.’s desk was wide enough to land a Boeing.

Everything would have been fine if her boss hadn’t forgotten his pen. Back he came, and opened to door to see… well, legs aloft. He closed the door discreetly, and shot off to tell all his colleagues about it. An hour later, when Ian was back at his own desk, shaking, the sports editor came over and, with an unpleasant smirk, said they wanted him to write a feature for the headline ‘Sex in the Siesta Hour’. Sandra’s boss simply returned to his desk, sat down and said: ‘Would you mind changing this blotter, Sandra? It seems to be warm.’

In the second half of the last century, when the papers were crying out for stories of sex scandals, they could have filled their pages without leaving the building. There was more sex on the papers than there was in the papers.

Hardly a surprise, was it? If you put together men and women who are feckless (read it again: feckless, two Es) and reckless, immature and romantic, irresponsible and quick with a zip, which defines most journalists I’ve ever met, if you give them jobs with so little work they have to spend most of the time in bars, if you scatter this set-up with instant pocket money in the form of expenses, it will lead to a frightening amount of mixed-press-ups.

All very deplorable, and no-one regrets it more than me. Unless it’s you, of course. But the weaker of our brethren couldn’t handle this sort of temptation. As for the sistren, they were even worse. And since sex is the most hilarious of all human activity, it was all riotously funny.

At this point, can I suggest that you draw the curtains. That’s right. Now close the door. And keep one finger hovering over the delete key. It could be you we’re talking about. Actually, you needn’t worry about that. For all our sakes, the naughty boys and girls we’re talking about here will be called Ian and Sandra, which was not, of course, the real names of the couple on the Express in Manchester.

The old Hollywood maxim – ‘it doesn’t count on location’ – applied. Late-night talk in hotel lounges, fuelled by the night porter and his tray, could swiftly move upstairs. Usually, she would go down, to breakfast, first and he would follow five minutes later.

The Mirror’s most famously persistent swordsman took it as his right when out of town. He spent half the night patrolling hotel corridors offering his services to the lonely and desperate. Sometimes you could hear the slap of angry hand on fat face throughout the building. Equally, sometimes there was just the discreet click of a closing door.

A man can also be under some pressure on these occasions. When President de Gaulle turned up in West Cork, with a huge international press corps on his heels, one of the Paris Match photographers – black hair, blue eyes, black leather jacket, every woman’s dream – made off with young political writer from Fleet Street on the first night. The next morning he confessed that, for some reason, he’d failed to deliver. That evening, he set off for his room with a different Fleet Street lady swarming all over him. As he passed me, he shrugged and said: ‘No point in disappointing the same woman twice.’

A foreign assignment could give people the same licence as an engagement ring to their parents. A man, a woman, an expense account, a bed – for heavens’ sakes! Ian, a photographer who was already living with his paper’s fashion writer, found himself on a trip to Spain with a long-legged and lissom Sandra who wasn’t happy with her live-in sub. Then the picture desk rang him to say he’d won one of the major photo competitions. Stardom was his. Sandra shared his joy, his champagne and, inevitably, his bed. They’re still together. His fashion writer and her sub? Beachy Head, I should think.

Hit-and-run affairs weren’t half as interesting as the long-running ones. They were the stuff of drama. Would she leave her chap? Would he leave his woman? Oh, the rows, the moods, the sulks, the flounces – and that was just the football writers.

Every day you could witness scenes of fiery passion enacted everywhere from The Bell to the Stab. When it boiled over, as it usually did, the weapon of choice was white wine, flung contemptuously in the face. (Not red: red wine stains. However excited, you’d never get a fashion-conscious woman throwing red wine.) There was one affair – Ian, back-bench man, and Sandra, the columnist – which went on for so long they had silver and golden anniversaries. It’s probably still going on.

I did once come across them in what was clearly a moment of crisis in the Wine Press. He was handing out glasses of champagne with a strange bitter smile on his face. Sandra, a tubby lass, was sprawled across the table, eyes sore with tears. What were we celebrating? ‘Ian’s just become a daddy again,’ Sandra said. Actually, it was more of a snarl really. ‘It’s a miracle. He hasn’t slept with his wife for ten years.’

Time to leave, before the wine started flying.

The good thing about all this wickedness was that journos usually did it with some style. One of the longer running affairs – the sexual equivalent of The Mousetrap, I suppose – had collapsed in some unpleasantness. Ian, the Telegraph reporter, had failed to make permanent his flingette with Sandra, the buxom freelance. They had split.

A couple of days later, just before noon, she rang to say she was passing, happened to be in the King and Keys, and would like to buy him a pint for old time’s sake. He agreed. Why bear a grudge, he thought.

Sometimes I think that the half of the human race that shaves in the morning is so stupid they shouldn’t be let out alone.

So he went. She was standing there with his pint, wearing a bright smile and a flimsy dress held up by two bootlace shoulder straps. ‘Here’s your pint served just as you like it,’ she said. ‘By a topless barmaid.’ With that, she flipped off the two straps so the top of the dress fell off. He found the two reasons why he was drawn to her in the first place were pointing right at him, in pink-nosed rage. ‘You bastard!’ she screamed, as she threw the pint over him.

Now you have to admit, that’s style.

In Manchester, ‘sex in the siesta hour’ was a rarity. It was even, I think, frowned upon. I remember Ian, a young up-and-coming back-bench star on the Mail, putting a moral problem to the reporters in the Grapes. Imagine you’re in a foreign country. Imagine a woman looking something like Sophia Loren (this was 30 years ago) attempts to climb into your bed. Imagine that no-one could ever possibly know. How would you react? It must have taken the lads all of two seconds to come up with a clear and unanimous answer… ‘Now that shows weakness of moral character,’ he said.

A year later, now a hot-shot exec in London. Ian was shacking up with the sexiest lady magazine editor in London, and possibly the world. This was a woman who claimed that on her dressing-table she kept a pot of what I can only describe as men’s natural juices. It was, she said, a marvellous face cream.

I don’t know how she collected it, but no-one loitered when they went past her office, I can tell you. I did point out to Ian that his moral character seemed to have wobbled. ‘Oh, I just got sick of being a boy scout,’ he said.

Oh dear, I expect I’ll get an e-mail from that sub on the Indie again complaining that this is all very sexist. All I can say to that is that he never met the greatest Sandra of them all, Sandy Fawkes. A feature writer on the Express, she was tall, golden-haired, walked like a model and she gave more thought to changing her handbags than changing her men. She once walked in on a pub-full of reporters on an out-of-town story, with her dark glasses dangling from the zip of her jeans. David Nathan, on the Sun before the Jewish Chronicle, said: ‘I didn’t know you were short-sighted down there.’

She didn’t miss a beat. ‘Yeah, I couldn’t recognise one or two lately.’ On the great journey of life, both she and David are now sadly airside.

And it was Sandy who came back from an interview with the young Oliver Reed – then a magnificently handsome bull of a man – late the next morning, and wearing yesterday’s clothes. Before anyone could ask, she declared to the features room: ‘A thousand pounds of gelignite and a one-inch fuse.’

Were we patronising women? With women like that we wouldn’t dare. And Sandy was positively dainty compared with some of the others.

On the other hand, they may have been using the men. Another Sandra, this time a secretary on the Mail, stopped one of their big name writers to say how much she admired him. In fact, she said, she could best express this in bed, but she must warn him beforehand that she wanted only sex, not any emotional entanglements. Amazed at hearing the one sentence all men dream of, and from a young woman with a seriously bursting shirt problem, he was between the sheets of the Charing Cross Hotel before you could say ‘Who? Me?’

Dazed with sex, he listened as she told him of her ambition to be a journalist.

A few days later, half-a-dozen of the paper’s senior guys were chatting when her name came up. The writer murmured something about her probably having what it takes to make a good journalist. A senior back-bench man thought exactly the same. So did the star columnist, the sports writer, and the assistant editor, and that’s how it came about.

When she was safely launched on her new career, the writer found a card in his post with a large ‘Thanks!’ written on it. So did the back-bench man, the star columnist, the sports writer and the assistant editor. She wouldn’t give any of them shifts when she became an editor because she thought it wouldn’t be ethical.

Oh, now I haven’t explained about the Knicker Inspector, have I? He checked them every evening to see if she had been up to anything, or vice versa. What he should have checked was her handbag, where she kept a spare pair.

Was it all desperately immoral? Oh, definitely. Will they all go to hell? Well, it can’t be worse than subbing on the Star, can it? Was it fun? That’s what they told me. And am I going to name names? Heavens, no. Just make the cheques out to ‘cash’ please.

You don’t think ‘Colin Dunne’ is my real name, do you?

###

 

 September 21, 2007   

 

 

The Gentlemen Ranters site is a brilliant compendium of reminiscences of the great days of Fleet Street. – The Times, August 25

 


Column One – not everybody has noticed this – contains additional features: Last week’s edition, Books, Letters, our Cuttings book, Dr Syntax, the Archive of former editions, a Search function with a mind of its own, and THE STAB (which is the diary). It’s all across there, at top left.


September 21, 2007

How many weekly newspaper editors, taken to task by the local town’s council, would react by delivering a good old slapping to all concerned? Probably not many, but SIMON CARR, editor of the Milford Mercury, circulation 5,903, did that last week when his paper was criticised for reporting that a poorly attended local festival had been poorly attended.

‘The Merc is not a little PR monkey seconded to local councils to massage the egos of the great and the good,’ he wrote.

Nor did he stop there. He went on to explain to readers what the role of a local weekly actually is – which is not necessarily as all of its readers see it, every Thursday.

The heart of the matter, surely, is that the better a newspaper (local or national) is, the closer its readers associate with it, to the extent of imagining a sort of ownership; the editor’s problem is that they can’t all own it individually – what they actually like is what he is giving them in the first place. They just don’t realise that.

It was time somebody said what Simon says. And maybe more local editors should say the same – if, that is, they remember the name of the game. We republish his article, Time to dispel the myths of the trade, with his permission, in full. A worthy read.

For those Old Hacks who have forgotten what most weekly editors are like (or, at least, what they used to be like), REVEL BARKER transcribes a couple of instances from his first notebook.

Then JOHN GARTON remembers what night news editors on provincial mornings are (or used to be) like, and IVAN WATERMAN recalls what Fergus Cashin was always like.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL recalls what his late colleague Christine Garbutt was like (we publish an extract from his eulogy, delivered to a packed house last week at Holy Joe’s in Highgate). And PAUL BANNISTER remembers photographer Vince Eckersley, who died this week. [It would have been nice if any of his many friends could have been bothered to write a tribute to Connor Walsh.]

FRED WEHNER forms half a posse to hunt down the current whereabouts of Jesse James and finds himself upholding the law, until the world’s oldest deputy sheriff bites the dust.

Last week, Paul Bannister was complaining about his lack of success in finding a publisher for his Great Work, but BOB WATERHOUSE reports that things don’t necessarily get that much better when you find one.

DAVE WEBB reports on life among the cuttings.

And finally COLIN DUNNE reports on the acquisition of money for old rope. He’ll be with us just as soon as he returns from The Bank In The Sky with a story that could open floodgates of Ranters’ reminiscences – some of which may even be true.

Please send them – plus any contributions, feedback, letters or diary pars – to the address at the top of this page.

#

Local hero

By Simon Carr

The journalist is a strange, misunderstood and often underrated creature and it is about time some of the myths concerning this graceful animal were exploded.

Contrary to popular belief we are not a bunch of snarling, lecherous dimwits who wear dirty macs and revel in human misery.

Only this week the Mercury appeared on a town council meeting agenda.

Our good name was called into question for reporting that a poorly attended festival was in fact poorly attended.

Surely we should have polished it up until it looked like a bog standard press release – ‘What a wonderful day... hundreds turned out... happy, happy, happy, etc.’

Fortunately the Merc is not a little PR monkey seconded to local councils to massage the egos of the great and the good.

We are far more interested in reporting the truth to the public.

However, this criticism came as a particular surprise as our facts had come directly from the chairman of the festival committee.

Apparently members were horrified to find that we had published this conversation in context with fair and accurate quotes.

With this in mind the Mercury has spoken to its legal people and decided to reveal the most sinister secret of our dark art: If you are interviewed by a journalist your words may appear in print.

For a journalist it is a frequent annoyance that, after speaking to a reporter somebody will have a change of heart and start to worry what their colleagues will think of their comments.

When this happens a person’s ‘memory’ will often vary radically from the comprehensive notes of the reporter – fortunately a reporter’s shorthand notes are admissible as evidence in court.

Sadly it seems some people just don’t have the courage to stand behind what they say and pretend that the conversation was ‘off the record’, we ‘twisted their words’, ‘only put in the negative’ or simply ‘made it all up’. Almost without exception this is nonsense, as is the ignorant opinion some people have of journalists.

Most entering the profession are highly qualified university graduates who have to undertake a stringent course that can take more than a year to complete.

This covers law, politics, shorthand and writing ability.

After that the student starts a traineeship on a newspaper for a minimum of 18 months before they can sit even more exams to test their knowledge and ability to accurately record facts.

Fully fledged reporters can then look forward to a lifetime of poor pay and long hours.

They also have to tolerate a barrage of endless calls from people who demand to know why their child wasn’t on the front page for winning an egg and spoon race, why you can’t report the rumour that some guy they don’t like is a crook, why you haven’t printed 10 pages of their crazed, uninformed ravings.

It is hardly surprising that some people don’t really know what goes into producing a quality newspaper because those who talk most loudly about journalists or journalism in the pub have never been near a professional newsroom.

Next time the pub genius is volunteering his wise musing on the subject it may be worth checking that his opinion comes from a critical analysis of a variety of reputed news sources.

In most cases his dislike will tend to stem from the fact that the newspaper reported on his drink driving offences or his daughter’s benefits fiddle.

This petty and false view is enthusiastically supported by TV shows who hate the press because the tabloids report on the disgusting behaviour of their ‘stars’. Sadly their research is so feeble a trainee one week out of college could point out the glaring mistakes and legal blunders.

I would like to go on to talk about people who say ‘you only publish bad news stories, why not write a piece about my dog’s happy expression’ or ‘you got all the facts wrong I have it good authority from a seven-year-old that it didn’t happen like that at all.’ Sadly I am worn out after expelling all this rage so these stories will have to wait for another day...

# 

Fair comment

By Revel Barker

In my first job I had to do sport on winter Saturdays, which meant girls’ hockey at Fulneck Ladies’ College in the morning – a bit of a perk, that, actually being paid to closely observe sixth-formers in gymslips – and Bramley Rugby League Football Club in the afternoons.

In the year that the League was splitting into two divisions, Bramley (top middle) played York (bottom) and were beaten 26-nil.

My intro the following Thursday for the Pudsey and Stanningley News, 12,500 weekly sales, (the ‘and Stanningley’ bit was optional) was: ‘There are only two words to describe Bramley’s performance at Clarence Street on Saturday: the first is unprintable, the second is pathetic.’

Next day I’d gone as usual to the club secretary to ask him about travel arrangements for Saturday’s fixture at Batley’s incongruously named Mount Pleasant ground.

‘It’s not so much a question of what time the coach is leaving, as whether you’ll be on it,’ he said. ‘You’d better speak to the chairman. He’s not too happy about something you wrote.’

‘I’m not too happy about something you wrote,’ said the chairman when I went round to his house.

‘You said we was pathetic and we wasn’t.’

‘Oh yes, we was,’ I replied. We [that’s sports-writers’ possessive], I reminded him, had been thrashed by the worst club in two divisions.

‘Yes. But you shouldn’t say we was pathetic. You should say we was perhaps a little off-colour. Anyway, you are banned from the bus.’

No problem. The supporters club happily offered me a seat on their coach.

But I thought I should report to the editor that what were ambitiously described as my ‘press facilities’ had been withdrawn.

Hugely supportive, his immediate reaction (he hadn’t read the piece in his paper – it was merely the sports page lead, which in those days was Page Three) was: ‘Well you’d better have been fucking right! They could sue, you know.’

No, I told him, with all the authority that a 17-year-old doing law at night school could muster; they couldn’t. I’d read Essential Law for Journalists, even if he hadn’t.

So I went to Batley and first call as usual was into the changing room to chat with the lads. (We were all mates; I always attended the Tuesday and Thursday evening training sessions, and they were teaching me how to drink without falling over.) The chairman came in and told me I wasn’t welcome there. The skipper walked me out.

‘You shouldn’t have said we were pathetic,’ he told me. ‘You should have said we were crap.’

Harry Beverly, the manager and coach, joined us outside the changing room while I was translating the captain’s comment into Pitman’s in my notebook, to read back to the editor when I was next in the office.

‘We’re playing Leeds in the Cup next week,’ he said. ‘And I want to go and watch them. So would you mind sitting on the bench in my place, this afternoon?’

Er, what about the chairman?

‘He’d be no use,’ said Mr Beverly. ‘He’s too old to run onto the pitch with the physio if anybody’s injured or needs a new pair of shorts.’

No… I actually meant…

‘He’s no use for that, either. I need somebody there on the bench who will tell them, if they’re playing like a bunch of lasses.’ I put that quote in the notebook, too.

During the following week, a local councillor complained to the editor that he had not been quoted verbatim at a Town Hall meeting. Without a second thought or enquiry, the chief reporter was severely and publicly bollocked.

Fortunately, the reporter had more guts and more gumption than the editor; he also had 240 words-a-minute Pitman’s. So he rang the complaining councillor and told him that if he moaned again, he would start quoting him verbatim, instead of being helpful by reporting what the man meant to say – and the voters would quickly learn what a thicko they had elected. He read back some of his actual quotes to him, over the phone, much to the amusement of we teenaged reporters who held him in some sort of awe. We heard no more whines, after that.

I don’t know what eventually became of the editor, whose previous claim to fame had been that he’d worked briefly for the Daily Mail in Glasgow, but left because the competition was a bit tough.

What actually happened, as we heard several times, was that four national men had shared a taxi to a Gorbals murder. When it went round a corner the Record, Express and Mirror men tipped our hero out of it. Next morning he bought Worlds Press News in search of employment in calmer climes. For myself, I thought it odd that, if competition was so fierce, the national men had actually shared a cab, but the chief reporter told me the Scots had a reputation for canniness, which seemed to explain it.

But I digress.

When he heard that I’d been offered a job on the Yorkshire Evening Post, the Pudsey News editor immediately applied for the same (unadvertised) job.

The news editor, Ken Lemmon, asked him whether he knew me.

‘Oh yes,’ he said. ‘But I had to let him go,’

‘That was kind of you,’ said Mr Lemmon ‘– because he’s coming here.’

#

The bells! The bells!

By John Garton

To get my first subbing job I lied to the editor of the Yorkshire Post that I’d been subbing for a year on the Portsmouth News – although in truth I’d been a reporter. I guess it’s fairly safe to confess that, now.

Somehow, anyway, I got a job and spent a happy but uncomprehending time in Leeds hardly understanding a word that was said. For a 22-year-old Sarf London lad that Heavy-Woollen-District West Riding accent was a constant battle.

After a few months I became the stone sub and one of my duties was to take ‘the Wet’ – for any non-hot metal readers who have crept in, that was the final proof of Page One, a soggy one – to Henry Heaton, the unbelievably pompous night editor. The YP, then owned by the Yorkshire Conservative Newspaper Company, was long on pompous.

Heaton, perched on a throne-like chair surveying the subs room, wielded his red crayon above the page hoping to find a mistake, but never to my knowledge succeeding in spotting one. When he finished reading and approving the page, he was ready for his nightly grand gesture.

This was his great moment. He’d done it every night for years. A few moments after checking the Wet he ostentatiously pressed the bell-push on the wall behind his desk, to sound a bell in the machine room in the lower reaches of the building telling the obedient inkies to start the mighty presses rolling.

His performance was even more majestic on those nights when we had visitors – members of Women’s Institutes or church groups, touring the wooden and undulating maze of corridors in Albion Street.

There was always even a possibility that one of them would spot the bell-push – it had apparently been liberated at some stage from a Leeds Corporation bus, because it was circular, with a red button in the middle and the words Push Once To Stop engraved in faded red on a white ceramic perimeter.

‘Why is there a bus-stop bell fitted into the wall?’ someone would ask, if we were lucky.

‘Wait and see!’ their minder and corridor-sherpa would tell them. ‘That bell is the most important factor in the publication of this newspaper.’

So Henry would be observed applying his last-minute magisterial eye to the Wet, would ensure that he had everybody’s attention, then apply his forefinger to the little red button.

And within moments we would all – subs and civilians alike – become aware that the presses were rolling; the very floor would start to vibrate.

However, on one memorable night an unusually long time seemed to elapse after his ceremonial button-press. The floor was rock-steady. Heaton was worried. What was wrong? Had the horny hands of inky toil downed tools?

He instructed a minion to dial the machine room. ‘I’m calling on behalf of Mr Henry Heaton, the night editor. He has pressed the button that rings the bell instructing you to start the presses. But nothing has happened…’

The sub went pale as he repeated the response in a volume that the entire roomful of people, visitors and staff, could hear.

‘He says, Oh, that bell… They disconnected it years ago… They say it was just a bloody nuisance!’

Henry never seemed quite the same after that.

#

Making an entrance

By Ivan Waterman

As one of the breed of film/theatre critics/showbiz writers who did the rounds in the Seventies with, among others, Arthur ‘Upper’ Thirkle, I felt I should toss in my three pennyworth with ‘The Funniest Thing I Have Ever Seen Happen In a Cinema’. And of course, it involved Fergus.

All was still and deathly dull at 127 Wardour Street W1 at about 7 pm one Tuesday. A mediocre thriller called Spy Story by a mediocre director called Lindsay Shonteff was being shown to the assembly of tired, emotional, and mostly jaded hacks. Freda Bruce Lockhart, the infamous, disabled and ancient Catholic Herald film critic, was in her wheelchair in the aisle of what used to be the Rank Preview Theatre. And, as always, she was fast asleep, snoring her head off. Did anybody care? Nope.

Suddenly, there was a crashing sound of doors being thrown open at the rear of the cinema and a shadowy figure entered with what appeared to be a carving knife in his right hand. The man, obviously pissed out of his brain, staggered down the aisle in the darkness until he finally collided with Freda’s chair.

The brake was off and Fergus Cashin (for it was he) fell on to the chair, moving it and the sleeping Freda rapidly downhill and across the screen, waving what turned out to be a rolled up copy of the Evening Standard above the hapless woman’s head, while angrily shouting ‘Why the f*** do the seats move in this place?’

At which point Freda awoke and screamed while being propelled through the spotlight in her wheelchair, and then was jettisoned by fearless Fergie. The bizarre silhouette of this double-act in full flow reminded many of us of Albert Finney treating Mona Washbourne to the axe in the classic Night Must Fall.

Freda’s chair eventually came to rest against the side of the cinema by which time the projectionist had switched on the lights to reveal total pandemonium. Our Fergus was flat on his face somewhere in the front row of seating moaning about missing the movie.

While Maggie Hinxman of the Mail ran to Freda’s aid, others assisted Fergus to his feet.

I recall Ian Christie of the Express being unable to move, hunched crying with laughter while tears of mirth streamed down my face as I crossed my legs fiercely attempting to avoid wetting myself. As you do.

Indeed, there are many other Cashin yarns including his legendary evil, drunken crushes on ladies in the Tipperary bar which always ended in violence (and usually with him lying in a heap on the pavement).

But I shall always recall that night in Wardour Street. For the rest of the movie there were intermittent shrieks of laughter from those (like me) unable to control themselves.

I don’t think the unfortunate Miss Bruce Lockhart ever recovered.

#

Remembering Garbo

By Alastair Campbell

I would like to start at the end, and give you the highlights of my last conversation with Christine, during which she had two things to tell me. The first was to bollock me because I had already committed to doing a charity race around Loch Ness on the day of the recent Hampstead Heath duathlon which started from her beloved Lido and which she felt I should do, again.

The second was that she wanted me to help her become a Labour MP. I ventured to my 69-year-old friend the view that despite her lifelong membership of the party, her unshakeable convictions, her profound passion for noble causes, and considerable eloquence, she might be a little on the old side, and her health a bit of an obstacle, especially when you look at a Cabinet with several members now in their 40s. ‘Oh don’t be so bloody boring, darling,’ she said. ‘I’d do it a sight better than Glenda Jackson.’

And well she might. Glenda v Garbo as a selection contest. Sadly we will never see it.

So to the end, she was feisty, funny and constantly thinking up new ways of making a difference. She was a big character and we will all miss her.

The daughter of a Sunday Express news editor, she was born not far from here in St Albans Road. She went to school just down the hill at La Sainte Union. Then, in a rare venture out of north London she learnt her trade on a local paper in Hertfordshire. It was at the now defunct Reveille that she established herself. A fun paper for those times, and she a reporter and writer who captured its spirit.

But it was as a Mirror journalist that most of the grizzled old faces I see around the church will remember her.

As a journalist, she was of the old school. Able to turn her hand to anything, from the trite to the serious, from news at the front to sport at the back, with room for the diary column in the middle, from soft fluffy features to hard and uncompromising investigations, but someone who despite having very strong views had a good old-fashioned commitment to establishing fact before piling in with the comment.

Whether as right-hand woman to Dear Marje, giving her wit and wisdom to those who asked for help with their problems, and to Marje, whether asked for or not. Or whether doing a hard nosed investigation into misuse of funds in the miners’ union, or exposing the gangsters behind sex chat lines which led to her getting death threats, or being one of the original WAG spotters in cricket, there was nothing she couldn’t or wouldn’t take on.

She could knock out a Page Six in the time it took her to let a cigarette burn down to the filter. She could write, well and quickly. She had a fund of knowledge up top. She also had poise. One of my strongest memories of her is simply the daily sight of her walking in from the back of the newsroom, where I sat, to her desk, a little way further down, as she arrived for work. She was someone you noticed, and someone you liked to have around. I recall my first ‘hello, darling’ as she walked by, with a warm glow.

But none of that is enough fully to explain the turnout today and the widespread sadness at her death. What explains it to me was that she had a real warmth for her profession and for her colleagues. She took the job seriously without taking herself too seriously. She was a giver. When Fiona and I arrived from the training scheme, she was a real help and support, particularly when she learnt we were ‘locals’ looking for a home not far from her…

She and I talked about sport as much as anything else. Racing, golf, cricket, in particular, she was a fund of knowledge. In her love of, and skill at, poker, she was way ahead of her time. Had she been starting out now, it would be as a TV poker pundit.

It is sad that she fell out with Ian Botham as he and his wife Kathy were such an important part of Christine’s life with Chris Lander and the many happy years they spent together. But she loved cricket to the end. I started writing this tribute in between watching the recent one-day match between England and India at the oval, and thinking how much she would have loved it, and how many opinions she would have had as to why England so narrowly failed at the end. And how happy she would have been at the subsequent win at Lords. And even though the Botham connection ended, her dedication to raising money for the leukaemia charities we all supported did not. Hence the bollocking for missing the heath duathlon, and hence the donations people have been asked to make in lieu of flowers.

But there is one figure in sport above all she would want me to mention today. As she said to me a few weeks ago ‘you may have worked for prime ministers and met kings and queens and presidents. But my daughter is an Olympian. How good is that?’ The answer is very. Christine was proud of all her children, proud of who they are and what they have done with their lives. Rightly so. But Lucy’s Olympian achievement took the pride to beyond Olympian levels too.

We should also remember the work she did, again right to the end, for the Journalists’ Charity, formerly the Newspaper Press Fund, that tries to help former journalists in their later years. Christine didn’t just sit on committees; she went out and about and found the worthy causes that needed help.

She was a big, big character. She had good times. And she had bad times. The worst of all, being brutally attacked in her own home as her son was held elsewhere. I don’t think she ever got over that. But even such a ghastly experience did not make her bitter or self pitying. When it came for her attacker to get parole, she could have created a fuss. She didn’t. She got on with rebuilding her life. She let him get on with rebuilding his. Big character. Big heart.

So there was a lot of pain and sadness at times, and we all know she had her run-ins with doctors. But it took a hell of a lot to get her down. That big heart kept on beating, the throaty laugh kept on booming out, the stories kept flowing, the ideas kept coming, the causes kept enjoying her support. And now she has gone, we can all reflect on how much she gave to us, and to others, enjoy the memories and try to leave the church with a smile on our faces and a Garbo twinkle in the eye. It’s what she would have wanted, darling.

#

Vince Eckersley, ‘the Viscount’

By Paul Bannister

Most expatriates who worked in Florida remember super-snapper Vincent ‘Viscount’ Eckersley, who died, aged 68, on September 14.

Vince was an irrepressible and engaging talent, a raconteur and larger-than-life Lancastrian who trained as an architect but turned in his drawing board for a Nikon after scooping the prizes pool at Leigh Camera Club.

He began shooting for catalogue companies in Manchester until he tired of ‘snapping men in cardigans, pointing at things’. Vince moved on to a stint for Decca Records charming and photographing their stable of Brit stars, including Lulu, PJ Proby and the Rolling Stones, then went to Reveille and from there to the Mirror to ‘do daft features’, like flying with the Red Arrows.

EckersleyRecruited by the National Enquirer, he was one of an exclusive cadre of staff photographers, and travelled worldwide on everything from grabbing pictures of Bing Crosby in his casket – see the Ranters’ archive for the inside story – to getting world-first portraits of Cape Town quintuplets. Then he hired a Boeing 747 to rush his five rolls of film from South Africa to Florida. (In the end, they went a different way, by Concorde, another tale.)

Other assignments included covering the coronation of Emperor Bukassa, camping in the bush with George Adamson, photographing the Andes air crash survivors and Antarctic penguins and snapping a water-skiing squirrel.

We all have warm memories of Vince, and mine include the sight of him driving away from our vicars and tarts party in full clerical fig with a half-naked, inebriated, faux prostitute rolling around on the front of his car.

Something more illustrative of the Viscount’s optimistic nature came when we were in San Ignacio, Mexico on a job. We’d spent a celebratory evening eating squid cooked in its own ink, washed down with alleged brandy seemingly made from shoe polish and potato peel.

In my hotel bed, I watched the ceiling spin and lurched for the bathroom, hand over spurting mouth.

The next morning, I was dismayed to see a very large, Rorschach-test inkblot in the middle of the otherwise immaculate, pale lemon-coloured carpet.

The Viscount breezed cheerfully in and glanced at the acre or so of stain.

‘Excellent!’ he said. ‘This place will be famous. It will become a place of pilgrimage for all Mexicans. The Face of Christ just appeared in your carpet.’

With that attitude and eye, he became Hollywood photo editor for the Enquirer, worked for a time in South Africa on art exhibition catalogues and made an annual pilgrimage to shoot the Lugano Jazz Festival.

Vince is survived by his children Robyn and James, their mother Katie Diets (Palm Beach Post) and his younger brother Stephen, with whom he lived ‘like the Odd Couple’ for the past five years and who shared in his last project, creating an art book.

A funeral service is planned at St Joseph’s church, Chapel Street, Leigh, on September 25. Donations in Vince’s memory can be made to Wigan and Leigh Hospice, Kildare Street, Hindley, Wigan WN2 3HZ, Lancashire.

#

Support your local sheriff

By Fred Wehner

On a sweltering New York day during the story-less silly season it’s the kind of nugget that gets my journalistic juices cascading faster than a busted fire hydrant.

One little paragraph flushed out of one of the local papers that summer. Just a couple of lines, really, but they tell that there’s a lawman aged 93 who’s still on active duty.

The world’s oldest serving policeman. He would be a first class talk. The rozzer-codger is in Hot Springs, Arkansas, a town that was wide open back in the bad old days round the turn of the century, yes siree. So he’ll be able to spin a good yarn, for sure.

Truth to tell, three years after that shindig at the OK Corral there’d been the same kind of gunplay in Hot Springs, only more deadly... three killed, three wounded. That was when lawman faced lawman – the Garland County Sheriff’s Department versus the Hot Springs Police, each corrupt force working for a rival gambling concern.

I’m at World Headquarters, the name some piss-taking Fleet Street companeros have given the New York News Agency, my little hot shop on Madison Avenue. This has popped up just as I’m about to head south anyway on an Elvis story that proves such a blockbuster the only thing I remember about it is that at one point I was outside Graceland.

But my mind is in Hot Springs.

So a short commuter flight from Memphis and I’m in the Garland County Sheriff’s office, listening to Deadeye Deputy George Brown, a man who was alive back in the wild and woolly days of the Jesse James gang. Why, they even robbed the stage just outside of town.

In fact, Jesse himself wasn’t with his boys at the time. His no-good back-shootin’ sidekick Robert Ford had dispatched him to Boot Hill some years before.

And George cannot quite recall exactly which gunfight he himself was in and which ones he only heard tell about. But he’s sure some folks got themselves killed. And after a couple of cold beers across the street he finds he can describe the shootout really well. That’s if you understand Mumble, the only language in which this old fossil is fluent.

Yet dadblame it if he still cain’t remember if’n the gunplay left him jes’ winged or plugged bad an’ if’n it wuz a bad lawman or one of them James boys whut shot him, mumble-mumble.

All this way for that? Great!

However one thing he’s danged certain about is that Jesse lies cold in his grave some sixteen miles outta town.

‘Really? Why, I’d love to find that gravesite. Is it marked?’

Reckon so, opines two-gun George, although he’s recently been forbidden to carry any firearm at all by the sheriff, his nephew. It might just discharge in his trembling hand.

So we saddle up and mosey off by rental car along Highway 7 into the badlands.

Jessieville Cemetery (yes, Jessie-ville, and right there was an omen I failed to heed) was all it had promised to be and less. It was tiny, overgrown and yet eerily beautiful under a canopy of large shade trees. The gravestones were almost all simple jagged slates, the names and data scratched lovingly onto them well faded now, difficult to read.

In fact bloody impossible to read, you old fart, why in tarnation didn’t you tell me before we set out? There’s absolutely no way in the world we’re gonna find Jesse James here.

I’m only thinking the preceding paragraph, not actually saying it because Pecos George is nowhere to be seen now and I’m on a frantic search for him, hoping he hasn’t fallen into an open grave or something.

It’s becoming a real worry when suddenly I spot him: he’s on his knees before a small gravestone and he’s sobbing. Through his tears he’s mumbling that his first wife lies restin’ thar.

I get down beside him, help him to his feet and say: ‘C’mon old timer, let’s go home. I should never have brought you here.’ And so we start to leave.

We’re walking slowly along the pathway and I’ve got my arm around the old boy, straining to hold him up, for he’s a wobbly old cuss and a plumb awkward one.

And then suddenly I see this snake right in front of us. Dangerous-looking and moving very fast indeed while I’d always believed these critters just sauntered through life.

Which is when I do my notorious snake dance.

It’s a variation of St Vitus’, knees almost reaching the chin. One of my best friends, Dave ‘Scoop’ Horton, once dubbed it so when he watched the spectacle as I chanced upon a family of copperheads: not exactly ballroom.

Anyway, I’m not waiting for this creature to strike, so I jump to the right. And, being a good sidekick to old George, I push him out of harm’s way to the left.

Now, it isn’t a very big hill, but it is indeed a considerable incline. Deadeye, frail and feeble, loses his balance, staggers, topples and then rolls down the swale. Rolls and rolls at a frightening rate of knots. I’m transfixed. e just keeps going and going.

The pesky snake that dry-gulched us has skedaddled but I haven’t even noticed. All I see is my new friend literally biting the dust – involuntarily and physically.

He’s going to bash his head against one of those jagged slates on this Boot Hill. Fatally.

The oldest living lawman is now the EX-oldest living lawman who survived those bloody gunfights if they ever existed and if ever he was in them but met his match in an unarmed British reporter. I’ve killed the geezer.

I’ve killed my story.

Will he come to rest right next to his first wife? Now that would be a story... for the Hot Springs Sentinel-Record.

I’m chasing downhill after the rolling man faster than a jackrabbit on a souped-up Kawasaki but too late to stop him indeed hitting a head-slate, the name on which is totally illegible so entirely immaterial to this tale of woe.

There’s blood. Quite a bit of it. But not on his head, it’s his hand.

‘Whut yuh do thet fer?’ He’s alive. Heavens be praised.

‘There was this snake...’

‘I never seen no snake.’

‘There was one, honest. Red and green stripes...’

‘They’re harmless!

Well I don’t know, do I? I’m just this greenhorn from Crystal Palace who thinks the antidote to snakes is ladders.

We’re on the ride back in to Hot Springs. Silence all the way; the old bugger won’t even mumble a response when I try to parley with him. At a country store where we stop for bandages George knows the owner. He displays a badly gashed hand and announces: ‘This feller pushed me over.’ The storekeeper glares at me, orn’ry like: ‘Whut y’do thet fer?’

Immediately we hit town Sheriff Clay White orders me arrested and jailed. The charge: ‘damaging police property’, ie his uncle.

Ten minutes later he and his deputies return to my cell, near peeing themselves with laughter, all the more gleeful since I’d come to think this really could be serious. I note that his doddering relative is not among them.

What fun, huh? Hey, there’s a shindig tonight over at the VFW Hall. Why don’t yuh stay over and fly back to New York tomorrow?

But my concern is that Deputy George might likely git the rest of them townsfolk all riled up and next thing I know, after a ‘joke’ jailing I’ll maybe be the main attraction at a ‘joke’ lynching.

Best to get outta town before sundown.

#

Publish and be dumped

By Robert Waterhouse

Finding a publisher was the easy part.

For some time I had felt that the story of Manchester’s role in national newspaper publishing should be told. I happened to be finishing an Open University segment in comparative history, which had in its modest way introduced me to methods whereby academics attempt to put order into life’s chaos. Why not use some of this technique to research a subject whose variety was indeed daunting?

Any urgency came from the realisation that some of the players were getting on in years and would not be around for ever. If I wanted to include their views I’d better start now.

waterhouseMy title, The Other Fleet Street, was in my head from the start and the treatment wrote itself. I was introduced, via a Manchester operator who remains a friend so must be nameless, to a small publisher, Hochland Communications, based in Altrincham, Cheshire.

Henry Hochland harnessed picture libraries of provincial newspapers up and down the land to produce ‘50 years of the Black Country’ or that sort of thing; nostalgia books if you like but done in a straightforward, graphic way. His father had been a founder of Haigh & Hochland, the respected Manchester bookseller.

Our negotiations, begun late in 2002, were extraordinarily easy. I got to know why later. Henry insisted on a contract in which I undertook to supply the usual things in the usual way. I never asked for an advance, or for a contribution towards expenses (considerable because I live in France). I was promised the usual ten per cent of net profit, as spelt out in annual accounts.

My involvement with The Other Fleet Street was not about making money, perish the thought, nor was it about any need to be published myself. Like many of us I have had a thousand by-lines. It was about telling a story I thought to be a good one, to the best of my abilities.

I didn’t know at the time, though I should have suspected it, just how those abilities were to be stretched. Henry Hochland, whose company name evolved to First Edition Limited while I was writing, did not believe in overstaffing. He was the publisher, I was the self-publisher.

Which to say that, with minimal support, I researched, wrote and rewrote the book, researched and got permission to use the photographs, sorted out the chapter headings, blurbs and captions, then sitting beside the Mac operator saw every page into the book. When I’d proof-read it a couple of times I proceeded to enter my own on-screen corrections.

As publication date (September 2004) approached I interested The Independent in featuring the book in their media section. I had it excerpted in Press Gazette and in British Journalism Review. I organised press lists and assembled invitees to the launch, to be held in a bar at The Printworks, formerly Manchester’s Withy Grove.

Recalling such events three years or so on is something I find very painful. Not because I feel any shame about the book, but because so many people – mostly journalists and print workers – went out of their way to help me while Henry Hochland did virtually nothing.

From Jocelyn Stevens, old piranha-teeth himself, who revisited Withy Grove in style and opened up the Hulton Getty archives buckshee, to the managements of every national newspaper who let me plunder from the files at will, from Sheila Hardy, Bert Hardy’s widow, to the private collections of staff photographers like the Daily Mirror’s Johnnie Walker and the Guardian’s Denis Thorpe I was accorded free access.

Librarians and mainstream publishers bent copyright rules for me, former editors like Michael Kennedy, Derek Jameson and Geoffrey Taylor offered enthusiastic endorsement. Trevor Bates, Stanley Blenkinsop, Mike Cuerden, Bill Freeman, Bob Blake, Geoffrey Mather et al opened their memory cells and their contacts books (out of one of which popped Revel Barker brandishing Robert Maxwell and Andy Capp).

I was accorded the run of the Withy Grove Fellowship, that strong bonding of former print workers at what was the world’s largest newspaper factory. Albert Hartwell marshalled them for discussions and encouraged them to bring in their own archive material while Fred Booth, general manager of The Printworks, provided boundless logistical support.

I had guessed that emotions would run high when newsmen revisited their lives, but I hadn’t bargained on just how generously people would give of their time and resources. I was flooded by narrative, swamped with images.

I was dealing with editors, reporters, subs, photographers, management execs, FoCs, comps and publishing room tyros in a sort of dream world because, for the first and last time I suspect, they fell into my lap. I tried not to spike anyone, and also – breaking newspaper practice – went out of my way to let them read and comment on material in which they starred.

I was lucky enough to involve Bob Gray and Derek Wallis, Johnnie Walker and Don McPhee, Cyril Ritson of Manchester Press Club fame, and the pater familias of Withy Grove, 93-year-old Sam Marsh. They’ve gone now, but their contribution to The Other Fleet Street is part of a collective memory.

And Henry Hochland? Three years on I have yet to hear from him about book sales. We had an understanding that half the cost of welcome drinks at the launch party (organisationally a disaster) would go on my tab. I have no idea yet what that was. Nor, three years on, have I been offered any accounts.

Henry doesn’t answer my e-mails. During the summer of 2006, back in Manchester on another project, I literally bumped into him en route for the loo at a Gershwin concert. He looked as though he thought I might bop him, but let’s face it I’m a pensioner (or should be) - and the only occasion I tried to bop someone I came off badly.

I know the book is still available via Amazon, and is holding its price quite well. I know that it’s still on sale at several Manchester outlets. I know that the general response has made it worthwhile, for me at least. I also know that I will never, ever, again contract to a small-time publisher.

  • Bob Waterhouse’s splendid book, The Other Fleet Street, is reviewed by STANLEY BLENKINSOP on our Books About Us page (click on the link, at top left) and can be purchased directly by clicking on the book title. But whether Bob will ever see any benefit from the sale is anybody’s guess.

#

Life among the cuttings

By David Webb

To set the scene, Billy J Kramer was at number one; Manchester United had won the FA Cup; J F K made his ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ speech at the Berlin Wall; a Mini cost just five hundred pounds; the Tory government was reeling as the Profumo scandal raged on and kids everywhere were donning Beatle wigs and stepping out in Cuban heeled boots to the strain of I Wanna Hold Your Hand… 1963.

On a wet September Monday morning at 8.50 I exploded from the caged lift at Covent Garden underground station terrified of being late on my first day, turned left into Long Acre instead of right, slipped on the muddy pavement and arrived for my first day’s work in my brand new suit muddied and bowed – and late.

I was shown to what was little more than a cupboard with a desk and two chairs and introduced to my fellow messenger Barry. Alas, Barry and I had little in common. His main love was my main hate – horse racing. He would sit for hours studying form while I would be reading Disc magazine or John Lennon’s In His Own Write.

Odhams Press at that time occupied a large percentage of the buildings in and around Covent Garden. At the sound of a buzzer one of us would grab a shopping bag with a padlock attached to the zip and collect a pile of letters from a department in a building in Long Acre known as Central Clearing House. All the messengers met here and swapped gossip, and here I was to pick up a few tricks of the trade. Fax machines would have put us all out of work.

It was where I was befriended by a six foot spotty bean pole called Bernard. ‘Wise up me old mate,’ he said. ‘When they send you to the NPA in Fleet Street they give you the money to get a cab. Do yourself a favour, stick the money in your sky and get up on your toes.’ Translated, this simply meant pocket the taxi fare and run all the way to Fleet Street.

Later that week sitting in my cupboard the buzzer sounded and I obediently stood by Harry Thomas’s desk awaiting orders.

‘Right lad. Urgent letters for the NPA. Here’s the taxi fare. Walk back.’

As I walked towards the door he called me back. ‘Oh, and one thing – I said taxi. I know all the dodges.’

With this warning in my mind I determined not to do what spotty Bernard suggested and stood obediently in Long Acre trying to hail a taxi, something I had never done before (well, I was only fifteen). Perhaps it was due to the fact that my voice had not yet broken and there was not a lot of me, but I could not make a taxi do the decent thing and stop.

Eventually I did get one, delivered the letters and made my way back to Long Acre.

As I walked through the door I was greeted with ‘Where the bleedin’ ’ell have you been?’ from a very angry and red faced Harry. ‘I told you to get a taxi and not pocket the money.’

I protested my innocence for a good half hour until he gave me the benefit of the doubt. One lesson I had learnt though, and that was honesty did not always pay.

A well known story was the one of two Fleet Street messengers who collided outside the Law Courts. One greeted the other with ‘How are you? Long time no see.’ The other replied. ‘Sorry can’t stop I’m in a cab.’

One day sitting in my cupboard reading A Spaniard In The Works the buzzer sounded twice. A double buzz indicated something important. I stepped up to the desk and was handed a piece of paper with the telephone number TEMple Bar 1200 and a name I was unable to pronounce. ‘Give this number a ring. It’s a job interview in the Daily Herald reference library. If he offers you the job I suggest you take it.’

You were allowed two job interviews. If you failed them both or you were turned down you were no longer wanted as a messenger.

I still remember the smell of polish and the never ending line of filing cabinets.

My first impression of Tom Berentemfel, the librarian, was the likeness he shared with Harold Wilson. Middle-aged, he seemed a fairly large man with grey hair and a pipe clenched firmly between white teeth. With a slight cockney accent he explained that if I was offered the job as office junior my duties would include cutting and filing. He then took me to the cuttings room where three youths slightly older than me were wielding the largest and longest scissors I had ever seen. The speed and noise they made was incredible.

I got the job and there I remained for many years. I hold many fond memories of Tom. He would arrive for work at 6am and read and mark the ‘heavies’. This would take him until 2pm. A man with such a brain and strong Labour beliefs was not a man to engage in a political argument. Many times over the years I saw him slowly dissect the opposition. His knowledge appeared vast.

The lad I was to work with closely was known as Lenny. A cockney through and through. He was small but stocky, dark and full of life. But the most impressive thing of all was that he was lead singer with a group called The Clockwork Oranges. He even knew the words of Woolly Bully.

The reference library dated back to 1913 and at the time was regarded as the finest in Fleet Street. All the cuttings were stuck in pages and numbered, making it easy to keep files in order. With a staff of twelve it was open from 6am until 2 am seven days a week (open Saturdays for the Daily Herald’s sister paper The People.)

Much of the filing system would be perplexing today. If, for example, you’d wanted cuttings on Vietnam, you asked for the packet on ANNAM, which was actually the name of the northern part of modern-day Vietnam when it was ruled as a Chinese province.

Famous people would be seen in the library from time to time. Peter York, a librarian and old friend, often told the story of the day he nearly changed the face of British politics. He was on the top rung of a ladder re-filing some cuttings in heavy metal boxes. Directly below him was sitting Michael Foot. The librarian slipped from his perch bringing the heavy box with him. With a Bonetti-like save he managed to catch the box three rungs down the ladder, and inches from Michael Foot’s cranium.

Clement Freud, who wrote a column for us, once came into the library and asked for his by-lines. Lenny asked him his name (even though he recognised him). He then asked him if he liked his Clement Freud or boiled. I collapsed with laughter at this but Mr Freud maintained his bloodhound expression and showed no response whatsoever.

In 1964 the Daily Herald became known as The Sun. In 1969 Rupert Murdoch re-launched the paper as a tabloid. That’s another story.

  • Dave Webb worked in the reference library at the Daily Herald from 1963 and then The Sun and News of the World until five years ago.

#

Blank expressions

By Colin Dunne

All these years later, it still makes me laugh now when I think about it. There’s a Daily Record minor executive peacefully sleeping at home. Two in the morning. Telephone rings. Dozily he picks it up. A voice which at that time had instant recognition across several continents bellows in his ear.

‘Why are you giving away my fucking money, mister?’

It’s not difficult to imagine the rest. Did he fall out of bed? Probably. Did he experience several near-fatal heart attacks? Almost certainly. The addition of ‘mister’ at the end of such a sentence was always particularly ominous. Dithering and quaking simultaneously, he comes up with a rhetorical question. ‘Is that… er, is that Mr Maxwell?’

At this stage in his career, Cap’n Bob doesn’t think it necessary to produce proof of identity. This time his voice rises to a roar. ‘WHY ARE YOU GIVING MY FUCKING MONEY AWAY?’ No ‘mister’, this time: doubly dangerous.

What had happened was that while the world and Scots execs were restoring themselves with dreamless sleep, Robert Maxwell, finding a moment to spare in the middle of the night, was flicking through some old expense sheets. Much the same as you would yourself, I suppose. One of them, from a Glasgow photographer (Ian Torrance, I think), includes £5 for coming seventh or thereabouts in a photographic competition. He’d claimed the same on his exes because there was a tradition then – not any more, I’d bet – that the company would match any prize money. This he attempts to explain.

Unfortunately, Mr Maxwell is not a keen adherent of Scottish traditions. It is, he says, his fiver (can we take the f-word as read, now?). He wants it back. By return. Or exec and photographer will both be fired. End of conversation.

When we all first stepped into the wonderful world of free money – or expenses, as it was called – we didn’t know it was going to end with nocturnal telephone calls which would imperil both job and sanity. Even so, we sort of knew it would all hit the buffers one day.

You’ll have to excuse me for a moment while I explain something to that sub on the Indie who, at any mention of old-style Fleet Street, e-mails me about dishonesty and false pretences. Now my first thought is always to wonder how anyone without at least a brushing acquaintance with dishonesty and false pretences could hope to make a living in newspapers. Are all the monasteries full? My next thought was that someone should explain to these young puritans that the expenses system involved neither.

So here goes. Sit down, sonny, hang your halo on that hook, and I’ll explain it very slowly. This was how the management chose to top up our salaries during what was called a Pay Freeze. No-one was deceived. There was no fraud, as such. Every journalist knew roughly what he was allowed to charge. It suited the management because they could change our income by the week, if they so wished. We were probably foolish in going along with it, because this part of our income didn’t figure in holiday pay or pensions: great for them, not so great for us. But journalists, simple folk at heart, liked the idea of collecting cash from a sliding window on the ninth floor and going to the pub. It was fun, it seemed slightly dodgy, and it could be creatively challenging – all things that our raffish lot loved. 

Now we’ve cleared that up, can we carry on?

We’ve all got our favourite exes story, but let me go first, okay? My first expenses scam was one I inherited from Bernard Ingham. As a district man for the Yorkshire Post in Halifax, he had – so it was said – introduced ‘the Calder Valley calls’, a 40-mile trip each day that added up to a large chunk of mileage at the end of the week. The best thing about the Calder Valley calls was that you did them on the telephone, which made it even more profitable. When I took the job, a few years after Bernard, I was looking forward to this weekly bonus. It never came. The news editor cancelled them in the first week. By then Bernard was probably making daily calls to New York and Moscow – bet you anything he never went.

If you’d spent the week in the office, it required some ingenuity to make it look convincing. Once I remember finding a really good story on someone else’s expense sheet. It was Peter Stubbs’, the Manchester photographer who’d left them in the typewriter. It was a headline he’d lifted from the Accrington Observer about a woman who confiscated some kids’ football after it landed in her garden. He deleted it from his exes and substituted another one I’d found for him – about a beauty contest in Rhyl, I remember – and the football story made a Page Three lead.

It was a tradition which quickly established its own classics. Everyone claims at some time or other to have paid for a mooring for a boat or for being towed out of a bog (‘money for old rope: £5’), some of which may even be true, and all the show-biz writers in London were always delighted to see their Scottish counterpart, Billy Sloane…

‘Entertaining Mr Sloane – £30’.

Small triumphs like that were very satisfying.

And there was the story of the photographer (said to have been Tommy Lyons) who, just before Christmas, charged: ‘One year’s reversing mileage – 187 miles.’ Asked to explain it, he said: ‘You know when you’re looking for a house and you drive a bit past... then you have to back up to it. Or when you drive into a cul-de-sac and have to reverse out. It doesn’t show on the milometer, but I did 187 miles like that, this year.’

We all have our personal favourites. Mine was typing out the simple, unadorned sentence: ‘Medical treatment following fall from coconut tree: £50, see bill attached.’

It was perfectly genuine. There I was lying on a beach in the Seychelles (I was doing a piece on the shooting of the Pirelli Calendar) when I saw some local lads run up the slanting trunks of the trees and chop off some coconuts. Looks pretty easy, I thought. So I tried it. Running up was fine until I looked down… I fell off. I cut my arm open trying to grab the trunk on the way down. I was hoping someone would query it so that I could relate this story: of course, no-one did.

Certain skills were required. I think it was Paul Hughes who showed me how a line of firmly-struck full-stops enabled you to tear off a potentially embarrassing letterhead so that it looked as though it had been ripped off a waiter’s pad. Thus a bill for a shirt from the Savoy Tailors Guild could in seconds become a receipt for entertaining unidentified ‘Scotland Yard contacts’.

If you were lucky enough to have bills from some distant country, preferably in early Sanskrit, you didn’t even need to do that. After six weeks in Iceland (fishing wars), the first thing I did was to ring the accounts department and ask if any of their staff spoke Old Norse. No-one did. After that, the extension I built on my house was always called The Cod Room.

Sadly, I never truly mastered the language of accounts departments which was the key to it all. After a serious clamp-down on advance expenses, which threatened massive unemployment in the restaurant trade around Holborn Circus, it was said that Keith Waterhouse had cracked the code. He simply wrote ‘Cash Adjustment: £50’ and the cashiers, who recognised their own tongue, were more than happy to hand over the money.

There was a similar device used by freelances when – as happened very occasionally – they were paid twice for the same piece. Feebly, I used to hang on to it in the hope no-one would notice. They always did, and I always had to return it. But those who were smarter than me would send a note saying: ‘I regret we have no machinery for effecting this repayment’, and it was never queried after that.

One of the saddest sights I ever saw was when I shared a room with Jim Lewthwaite on the Sun. He was sitting typing out some exes, cursing foully with every key-stroke. It was enough to break any hack’s heart. Ken Donlan had presented Jim, John Hiscock and Dougie Thompson with air travel cards so they could whiz off on major international stories. After a few drinks in the top bar of the Tip, John and Doug decided to try them out. They went to Heathrow, took a flight to Los Angeles, and never came back. While they sat in the Californian sun, Jim was left to complete all their back expenses in Bouverie Street. By the way he spoke, you’d never have known they were all good friends.

Years later, after a month at the Hacks’ Holiday Home, otherwise known as the National Enquirer in Florida, I sat down to do my four week’s expenses. ‘Those are no good,’ one of their staffmen said, pointing to my pile of bills, ‘they’re all blank.’

From my pocket I produced a set of multi-coloured pens and pencils. I thought of all those great creative artists who’d gone before me… Penrose, Jackson, Hagerty, Williams, men whose creative genius did for the expense sheet what Sam Beckett did for literature. How fortunate for me that I should be the lucky one chosen to take this ancient wisdom out to our innocent colonial cousins.  ‘Let me introduce you to an old Fleet Street tradition…’

Now, like the lamplighter and the candle-maker, the Old Exes Forger of yore is no more. One day, I’ like to think he will appear in those illustrations of the Street Cries of Old London Town. A hack crouched over his typewriter calling out: ‘Any blank bills? Any blank bills?’

###

  

September 21, 2007

 

The Gentlemen Ranters site is a brilliant compendium of reminiscences of the great days of Fleet Street. – The Times, August 25

 


Column One – not everybody has noticed this – contains additional features: Last week’s edition, Books, Letters, our Cuttings book, Dr Syntax, the Archive of former editions, a Search function with a mind of its own, and THE STAB (which is the diary). It’s all across there, at top left.


September 21, 2007

How many weekly newspaper editors, taken to task by the local town’s council, would react by delivering a good old slapping to all concerned? Probably not many, but SIMON CARR, editor of the Milford Mercury, circulation 5,903, did that last week when his paper was criticised for reporting that a poorly attended local festival had been poorly attended.

‘The Merc is not a little PR monkey seconded to local councils to massage the egos of the great and the good,’ he wrote.

Nor did he stop there. He went on to explain to readers what the role of a local weekly actually is – which is not necessarily as all of its readers see it, every Thursday.

The heart of the matter, surely, is that the better a newspaper (local or national) is, the closer its readers associate with it, to the extent of imagining a sort of ownership; the editor’s problem is that they can’t all own it individually – what they actually like is what he is giving them in the first place. They just don’t realise that.

It was time somebody said what Simon says. And maybe more local editors should say the same – if, that is, they remember the name of the game. We republish his article, Time to dispel the myths of the trade, with his permission, in full. A worthy read.

For those Old Hacks who have forgotten what most weekly editors are like (or, at least, what they used to be like), REVEL BARKER transcribes a couple of instances from his first notebook.

Then JOHN GARTON remembers what night news editors on provincial mornings are (or used to be) like, and IVAN WATERMAN recalls what Fergus Cashin was always like.

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL recalls what his late colleague Christine Garbutt was like (we publish an extract from his eulogy, delivered to a packed house last week at Holy Joe’s in Highgate). And PAUL BANNISTER remembers photographer Vince Eckersley, who died this week. [It would have been nice if any of his many friends could have been bothered to write a tribute to Connor Walsh.]

FRED WEHNER forms half a posse to hunt down the current whereabouts of Jesse James and finds himself upholding the law, until the world’s oldest deputy sheriff bites the dust.

Last week, Paul Bannister was complaining about his lack of success in finding a publisher for his Great Work, but BOB WATERHOUSE reports that things don’t necessarily get that much better when you find one.

DAVE WEBB reports on life among the cuttings.

And finally COLIN DUNNE reports on the acquisition of money for old rope. He’ll be with us just as soon as he returns from The Bank In The Sky with a story that could open floodgates of Ranters’ reminiscences – some of which may even be true.

Please send them – plus any contributions, feedback, letters or diary pars – to the address at the top of this page.

#

Local hero

By Simon Carr

The journalist is a strange, misunderstood and often underrated creature and it is about time some of the myths concerning this graceful animal were exploded.

Contrary to popular belief we are not a bunch of snarling, lecherous dimwits who wear dirty macs and revel in human misery.

Only this week the Mercury appeared on a town council meeting agenda.

Our good name was called into question for reporting that a poorly attended festival was in fact poorly attended.

Surely we should have polished it up until it looked like a bog standard press release – ‘What a wonderful day... hundreds turned out... happy, happy, happy, etc.’

Fortunately the Merc is not a little PR monkey seconded to local councils to massage the egos of the great and the good.

We are far more interested in reporting the truth to the public.

However, this criticism came as a particular surprise as our facts had come directly from the chairman of the festival committee.

Apparently members were horrified to find that we had published this conversation in context with fair and accurate quotes.

With this in mind the Mercury has spoken to its legal people and decided to reveal the most sinister secret of our dark art: If you are interviewed by a journalist your words may appear in print.

For a journalist it is a frequent annoyance that, after speaking to a reporter somebody will have a change of heart and start to worry what their colleagues will think of their comments.

When this happens a person’s ‘memory’ will often vary radically from the comprehensive notes of the reporter – fortunately a reporter’s shorthand notes are admissible as evidence in court.

Sadly it seems some people just don’t have the courage to stand behind what they say and pretend that the conversation was ‘off the record’, we ‘twisted their words’, ‘only put in the negative’ or simply ‘made it all up’. Almost without exception this is nonsense, as is the ignorant opinion some people have of journalists.

Most entering the profession are highly qualified university graduates who have to undertake a stringent course that can take more than a year to complete.

This covers law, politics, shorthand and writing ability.

After that the student starts a traineeship on a newspaper for a minimum of 18 months before they can sit even more exams to test their knowledge and ability to accurately record facts.

Fully fledged reporters can then look forward to a lifetime of poor pay and long hours.

They also have to tolerate a barrage of endless calls from people who demand to know why their child wasn’t on the front page for winning an egg and spoon race, why you can’t report the rumour that some guy they don’t like is a crook, why you haven’t printed 10 pages of their crazed, uninformed ravings.

It is hardly surprising that some people don’t really know what goes into producing a quality newspaper because those who talk most loudly about journalists or journalism in the pub have never been near a professional newsroom.

Next time the pub genius is volunteering his wise musing on the subject it may be worth checking that his opinion comes from a critical analysis of a variety of reputed news sources.

In most cases his dislike will tend to stem from the fact that the newspaper reported on his drink driving offences or his daughter’s benefits fiddle.

This petty and false view is enthusiastically supported by TV shows who hate the press because the tabloids report on the disgusting behaviour of their ‘stars’. Sadly their research is so feeble a trainee one week out of college could point out the glaring mistakes and legal blunders.

I would like to go on to talk about people who say ‘you only publish bad news stories, why not write a piece about my dog’s happy expression’ or ‘you got all the facts wrong I have it good authority from a seven-year-old that it didn’t happen like that at all.’ Sadly I am worn out after expelling all this rage so these stories will have to wait for another day...

# 

Fair comment

By Revel Barker

In my first job I had to do sport on winter Saturdays, which meant girls’ hockey at Fulneck Ladies’ College in the morning – a bit of a perk, that, actually being paid to closely observe sixth-formers in gymslips – and Bramley Rugby League Football Club in the afternoons.

In the year that the League was splitting into two divisions, Bramley (top middle) played York (bottom) and were beaten 26-nil.

My intro the following Thursday for the Pudsey and Stanningley News, 12,500 weekly sales, (the ‘and Stanningley’ bit was optional) was: ‘There are only two words to describe Bramley’s performance at Clarence Street on Saturday: the first is unprintable, the second is pathetic.’

Next day I’d gone as usual to the club secretary to ask him about travel arrangements for Saturday’s fixture at Batley’s incongruously named Mount Pleasant ground.

‘It’s not so much a question of what time the coach is leaving, as whether you’ll be on it,’ he said. ‘You’d better speak to the chairman. He’s not too happy about something you wrote.’

‘I’m not too happy about something you wrote,’ said the chairman when I went round to his house.

‘You said we was pathetic and we wasn’t.’

‘Oh yes, we was,’ I replied. We [that’s sports-writers’ possessive], I reminded him, had been thrashed by the worst club in two divisions.

‘Yes. But you shouldn’t say we was pathetic. You should say we was perhaps a little off-colour. Anyway, you are banned from the bus.’

No problem. The supporters club happily offered me a seat on their coach.

But I thought I should report to the editor that what were ambitiously described as my ‘press facilities’ had been withdrawn.

Hugely supportive, his immediate reaction (he hadn’t read the piece in his paper – it was merely the sports page lead, which in those days was Page Three) was: ‘Well you’d better have been fucking right! They could sue, you know.’

No, I told him, with all the authority that a 17-year-old doing law at night school could muster; they couldn’t. I’d read Essential Law for Journalists, even if he hadn’t.

So I went to Batley and first call as usual was into the changing room to chat with the lads. (We were all mates; I always attended the Tuesday and Thursday evening training sessions, and they were teaching me how to drink without falling over.) The chairman came in and told me I wasn’t welcome there. The skipper walked me out.

‘You shouldn’t have said we were pathetic,’ he told me. ‘You should have said we were crap.’

Harry Beverly, the manager and coach, joined us outside the changing room while I was translating the captain’s comment into Pitman’s in my notebook, to read back to the editor when I was next in the office.

‘We’re playing Leeds in the Cup next week,’ he said. ‘And I want to go and watch them. So would you mind sitting on the bench in my place, this afternoon?’

Er, what about the chairman?

‘He’d be no use,’ said Mr Beverly. ‘He’s too old to run onto the pitch with the physio if anybody’s injured or needs a new pair of shorts.’

No… I actually meant…

‘He’s no use for that, either. I need somebody there on the bench who will tell them, if they’re playing like a bunch of lasses.’ I put that quote in the notebook, too.

During the following week, a local councillor complained to the editor that he had not been quoted verbatim at a Town Hall meeting. Without a second thought or enquiry, the chief reporter was severely and publicly bollocked.

Fortunately, the reporter had more guts and more gumption than the editor; he also had 240 words-a-minute Pitman’s. So he rang the complaining councillor and told him that if he moaned again, he would start quoting him verbatim, instead of being helpful by reporting what the man meant to say – and the voters would quickly learn what a thicko they had elected. He read back some of his actual quotes to him, over the phone, much to the amusement of we teenaged reporters who held him in some sort of awe. We heard no more whines, after that.

I don’t know what eventually became of the editor, whose previous claim to fame had been that he’d worked briefly for the Daily Mail in Glasgow, but left because the competition was a bit tough.

What actually happened, as we heard several times, was that four national men had shared a taxi to a Gorbals murder. When it went round a corner the Record, Express and Mirror men tipped our hero out of it. Next morning he bought Worlds Press News in search of employment in calmer climes. For myself, I thought it odd that, if competition was so fierce, the national men had actually shared a cab, but the chief reporter told me the Scots had a reputation for canniness, which seemed to explain it.

But I digress.

When he heard that I’d been offered a job on the Yorkshire Evening Post, the Pudsey News editor immediately applied for the same (unadvertised) job.

The news editor, Ken Lemmon, asked him whether he knew me.

‘Oh yes,’ he said. ‘But I had to let him go,’

‘That was kind of you,’ said Mr Lemmon ‘– because he’s coming here.’

#

The bells! The bells!

By John Garton

To get my first subbing job I lied to the editor of the Yorkshire Post that I’d been subbing for a year on the Portsmouth News – although in truth I’d been a reporter. I guess it’s fairly safe to confess that, now.

Somehow, anyway, I got a job and spent a happy but uncomprehending time in Leeds hardly understanding a word that was said. For a 22-year-old Sarf London lad that Heavy-Woollen-District West Riding accent was a constant battle.

After a few months I became the stone sub and one of my duties was to take ‘the Wet’ – for any non-hot metal readers who have crept in, that was the final proof of Page One, a soggy one – to Henry Heaton, the unbelievably pompous night editor. The YP, then owned by the Yorkshire Conservative Newspaper Company, was long on pompous.

Heaton, perched on a throne-like chair surveying the subs room, wielded his red crayon above the page hoping to find a mistake, but never to my knowledge succeeding in spotting one. When he finished reading and approving the page, he was ready for his nightly grand gesture.

This was his great moment. He’d done it every night for years. A few moments after checking the Wet he ostentatiously pressed the bell-push on the wall behind his desk, to sound a bell in the machine room in the lower reaches of the building telling the obedient inkies to start the mighty presses rolling.

His performance was even more majestic on those nights when we had visitors – members of Women’s Institutes or church groups, touring the wooden and undulating maze of corridors in Albion Street.

There was always even a possibility that one of them would spot the bell-push – it had apparently been liberated at some stage from a Leeds Corporation bus, because it was circular, with a red button in the middle and the words Push Once To Stop engraved in faded red on a white ceramic perimeter.

‘Why is there a bus-stop bell fitted into the wall?’ someone would ask, if we were lucky.

‘Wait and see!’ their minder and corridor-sherpa would tell them. ‘That bell is the most important factor in the publication of this newspaper.’

So Henry would be observed applying his last-minute magisterial eye to the Wet, would ensure that he had everybody’s attention, then apply his forefinger to the little red button.

And within moments we would all – subs and civilians alike – become aware that the presses were rolling; the very floor would start to vibrate.

However, on one memorable night an unusually long time seemed to elapse after his ceremonial button-press. The floor was rock-steady. Heaton was worried. What was wrong? Had the horny hands of inky toil downed tools?

He instructed a minion to dial the machine room. ‘I’m calling on behalf of Mr Henry Heaton, the night editor. He has pressed the button that rings the bell instructing you to start the presses. But nothing has happened…’

The sub went pale as he repeated the response in a volume that the entire roomful of people, visitors and staff, could hear.

‘He says, Oh, that bell… They disconnected it years ago… They say it was just a bloody nuisance!’

Henry never seemed quite the same after that.

#

Making an entrance

By Ivan Waterman

As one of the breed of film/theatre critics/showbiz writers who did the rounds in the Seventies with, among others, Arthur ‘Upper’ Thirkle, I felt I should toss in my three pennyworth with ‘The Funniest Thing I Have Ever Seen Happen In a Cinema’. And of course, it involved Fergus.

All was still and deathly dull at 127 Wardour Street W1 at about 7 pm one Tuesday. A mediocre thriller called Spy Story by a mediocre director called Lindsay Shonteff was being shown to the assembly of tired, emotional, and mostly jaded hacks. Freda Bruce Lockhart, the infamous, disabled and ancient Catholic Herald film critic, was in her wheelchair in the aisle of what used to be the Rank Preview Theatre. And, as always, she was fast asleep, snoring her head off. Did anybody care? Nope.

Suddenly, there was a crashing sound of doors being thrown open at the rear of the cinema and a shadowy figure entered with what appeared to be a carving knife in his right hand. The man, obviously pissed out of his brain, staggered down the aisle in the darkness until he finally collided with Freda’s chair.

The brake was off and Fergus Cashin (for it was he) fell on to the chair, moving it and the sleeping Freda rapidly downhill and across the screen, waving what turned out to be a rolled up copy of the Evening Standard above the hapless woman’s head, while angrily shouting ‘Why the f*** do the seats move in this place?’

At which point Freda awoke and screamed while being propelled through the spotlight in her wheelchair, and then was jettisoned by fearless Fergie. The bizarre silhouette of this double-act in full flow reminded many of us of Albert Finney treating Mona Washbourne to the axe in the classic Night Must Fall.

Freda’s chair eventually came to rest against the side of the cinema by which time the projectionist had switched on the lights to reveal total pandemonium. Our Fergus was flat on his face somewhere in the front row of seating moaning about missing the movie.

While Maggie Hinxman of the Mail ran to Freda’s aid, others assisted Fergus to his feet.

I recall Ian Christie of the Express being unable to move, hunched crying with laughter while tears of mirth streamed down my face as I crossed my legs fiercely attempting to avoid wetting myself. As you do.

Indeed, there are many other Cashin yarns including his legendary evil, drunken crushes on ladies in the Tipperary bar which always ended in violence (and usually with him lying in a heap on the pavement).

But I shall always recall that night in Wardour Street. For the rest of the movie there were intermittent shrieks of laughter from those (like me) unable to control themselves.

I don’t think the unfortunate Miss Bruce Lockhart ever recovered.

#

Remembering Garbo

By Alastair Campbell

I would like to start at the end, and give you the highlights of my last conversation with Christine, during which she had two things to tell me. The first was to bollock me because I had already committed to doing a charity race around Loch Ness on the day of the recent Hampstead Heath duathlon which started from her beloved Lido and which she felt I should do, again.

The second was that she wanted me to help her become a Labour MP. I ventured to my 69-year-old friend the view that despite her lifelong membership of the party, her unshakeable convictions, her profound passion for noble causes, and considerable eloquence, she might be a little on the old side, and her health a bit of an obstacle, especially when you look at a Cabinet with several members now in their 40s. ‘Oh don’t be so bloody boring, darling,’ she said. ‘I’d do it a sight better than Glenda Jackson.’

And well she might. Glenda v Garbo as a selection contest. Sadly we will never see it.

So to the end, she was feisty, funny and constantly thinking up new ways of making a difference. She was a big character and we will all miss her.

The daughter of a Sunday Express news editor, she was born not far from here in St Albans Road. She went to school just down the hill at La Sainte Union. Then, in a rare venture out of north London she learnt her trade on a local paper in Hertfordshire. It was at the now defunct Reveille that she established herself. A fun paper for those times, and she a reporter and writer who captured its spirit.

But it was as a Mirror journalist that most of the grizzled old faces I see around the church will remember her.

As a journalist, she was of the old school. Able to turn her hand to anything, from the trite to the serious, from news at the front to sport at the back, with room for the diary column in the middle, from soft fluffy features to hard and uncompromising investigations, but someone who despite having very strong views had a good old-fashioned commitment to establishing fact before piling in with the comment.

Whether as right-hand woman to Dear Marje, giving her wit and wisdom to those who asked for help with their problems, and to Marje, whether asked for or not. Or whether doing a hard nosed investigation into misuse of funds in the miners’ union, or exposing the gangsters behind sex chat lines which led to her getting death threats, or being one of the original WAG spotters in cricket, there was nothing she couldn’t or wouldn’t take on.

She could knock out a Page Six in the time it took her to let a cigarette burn down to the filter. She could write, well and quickly. She had a fund of knowledge up top. She also had poise. One of my strongest memories of her is simply the daily sight of her walking in from the back of the newsroom, where I sat, to her desk, a little way further down, as she arrived for work. She was someone you noticed, and someone you liked to have around. I recall my first ‘hello, darling’ as she walked by, with a warm glow.

But none of that is enough fully to explain the turnout today and the widespread sadness at her death. What explains it to me was that she had a real warmth for her profession and for her colleagues. She took the job seriously without taking herself too seriously. She was a giver. When Fiona and I arrived from the training scheme, she was a real help and support, particularly when she learnt we were ‘locals’ looking for a home not far from her…

She and I talked about sport as much as anything else. Racing, golf, cricket, in particular, she was a fund of knowledge. In her love of, and skill at, poker, she was way ahead of her time. Had she been starting out now, it would be as a TV poker pundit.

It is sad that she fell out with Ian Botham as he and his wife Kathy were such an important part of Christine’s life with Chris Lander and the many happy years they spent together. But she loved cricket to the end. I started writing this tribute in between watching the recent one-day match between England and India at the oval, and thinking how much she would have loved it, and how many opinions she would have had as to why England so narrowly failed at the end. And how happy she would have been at the subsequent win at Lords. And even though the Botham connection ended, her dedication to raising money for the leukaemia charities we all supported did not. Hence the bollocking for missing the heath duathlon, and hence the donations people have been asked to make in lieu of flowers.

But there is one figure in sport above all she would want me to mention today. As she said to me a few weeks ago ‘you may have worked for prime ministers and met kings and queens and presidents. But my daughter is an Olympian. How good is that?’ The answer is very. Christine was proud of all her children, proud of who they are and what they have done with their lives. Rightly so. But Lucy’s Olympian achievement took the pride to beyond Olympian levels too.

We should also remember the work she did, again right to the end, for the Journalists’ Charity, formerly the Newspaper Press Fund, that tries to help former journalists in their later years. Christine didn’t just sit on committees; she went out and about and found the worthy causes that needed help.

She was a big, big character. She had good times. And she had bad times. The worst of all, being brutally attacked in her own home as her son was held elsewhere. I don’t think she ever got over that. But even such a ghastly experience did not make her bitter or self pitying. When it came for her attacker to get parole, she could have created a fuss. She didn’t. She got on with rebuilding her life. She let him get on with rebuilding his. Big character. Big heart.

So there was a lot of pain and sadness at times, and we all know she had her run-ins with doctors. But it took a hell of a lot to get her down. That big heart kept on beating, the throaty laugh kept on booming out, the stories kept flowing, the ideas kept coming, the causes kept enjoying her support. And now she has gone, we can all reflect on how much she gave to us, and to others, enjoy the memories and try to leave the church with a smile on our faces and a Garbo twinkle in the eye. It’s what she would have wanted, darling.

#

Vince Eckersley, ‘the Viscount’

By Paul Bannister

Most expatriates who worked in Florida remember super-snapper Vincent ‘Viscount’ Eckersley, who died, aged 68, on September 14.

Vince was an irrepressible and engaging talent, a raconteur and larger-than-life Lancastrian who trained as an architect but turned in his drawing board for a Nikon after scooping the prizes pool at Leigh Camera Club.

He began shooting for catalogue companies in Manchester until he tired of ‘snapping men in cardigans, pointing at things’. Vince moved on to a stint for Decca Records charming and photographing their stable of Brit stars, including Lulu, PJ Proby and the Rolling Stones, then went to Reveille and from there to the Mirror to ‘do daft features’, like flying with the Red Arrows.

EckersleyRecruited by the National Enquirer, he was one of an exclusive cadre of staff photographers, and travelled worldwide on everything from grabbing pictures of Bing Crosby in his casket – see the Ranters’ archive for the inside story – to getting world-first portraits of Cape Town quintuplets. Then he hired a Boeing 747 to rush his five rolls of film from South Africa to Florida. (In the end, they went a different way, by Concorde, another tale.)

Other assignments included covering the coronation of Emperor Bukassa, camping in the bush with George Adamson, photographing the Andes air crash survivors and Antarctic penguins and snapping a water-skiing squirrel.

We all have warm memories of Vince, and mine include the sight of him driving away from our vicars and tarts party in full clerical fig with a half-naked, inebriated, faux prostitute rolling around on the front of his car.

Something more illustrative of the Viscount’s optimistic nature came when we were in San Ignacio, Mexico on a job. We’d spent a celebratory evening eating squid cooked in its own ink, washed down with alleged brandy seemingly made from shoe polish and potato peel.

In my hotel bed, I watched the ceiling spin and lurched for the bathroom, hand over spurting mouth.

The next morning, I was dismayed to see a very large, Rorschach-test inkblot in the middle of the otherwise immaculate, pale lemon-coloured carpet.

The Viscount breezed cheerfully in and glanced at the acre or so of stain.

‘Excellent!’ he said. ‘This place will be famous. It will become a place of pilgrimage for all Mexicans. The Face of Christ just appeared in your carpet.’

With that attitude and eye, he became Hollywood photo editor for the Enquirer, worked for a time in South Africa on art exhibition catalogues and made an annual pilgrimage to shoot the Lugano Jazz Festival.

Vince is survived by his children Robyn and James, their mother Katie Diets (Palm Beach Post) and his younger brother Stephen, with whom he lived ‘like the Odd Couple’ for the past five years and who shared in his last project, creating an art book.

A funeral service is planned at St Joseph’s church, Chapel Street, Leigh, on September 25. Donations in Vince’s memory can be made to Wigan and Leigh Hospice, Kildare Street, Hindley, Wigan WN2 3HZ, Lancashire.

#

Support your local sheriff

By Fred Wehner

On a sweltering New York day during the story-less silly season it’s the kind of nugget that gets my journalistic juices cascading faster than a busted fire hydrant.

One little paragraph flushed out of one of the local papers that summer. Just a couple of lines, really, but they tell that there’s a lawman aged 93 who’s still on active duty.

The world’s oldest serving policeman. He would be a first class talk. The rozzer-codger is in Hot Springs, Arkansas, a town that was wide open back in the bad old days round the turn of the century, yes siree. So he’ll be able to spin a good yarn, for sure.

Truth to tell, three years after that shindig at the OK Corral there’d been the same kind of gunplay in Hot Springs, only more deadly... three killed, three wounded. That was when lawman faced lawman – the Garland County Sheriff’s Department versus the Hot Springs Police, each corrupt force working for a rival gambling concern.

I’m at World Headquarters, the name some piss-taking Fleet Street companeros have given the New York News Agency, my little hot shop on Madison Avenue. This has popped up just as I’m about to head south anyway on an Elvis story that proves such a blockbuster the only thing I remember about it is that at one point I was outside Graceland.

But my mind is in Hot Springs.

So a short commuter flight from Memphis and I’m in the Garland County Sheriff’s office, listening to Deadeye Deputy George Brown, a man who was alive back in the wild and woolly days of the Jesse James gang. Why, they even robbed the stage just outside of town.

In fact, Jesse himself wasn’t with his boys at the time. His no-good back-shootin’ sidekick Robert Ford had dispatched him to Boot Hill some years before.

And George cannot quite recall exactly which gunfight he himself was in and which ones he only heard tell about. But he’s sure some folks got themselves killed. And after a couple of cold beers across the street he finds he can describe the shootout really well. That’s if you understand Mumble, the only language in which this old fossil is fluent.

Yet dadblame it if he still cain’t remember if’n the gunplay left him jes’ winged or plugged bad an’ if’n it wuz a bad lawman or one of them James boys whut shot him, mumble-mumble.

All this way for that? Great!

However one thing he’s danged certain about is that Jesse lies cold in his grave some sixteen miles outta town.

‘Really? Why, I’d love to find that gravesite. Is it marked?’

Reckon so, opines two-gun George, although he’s recently been forbidden to carry any firearm at all by the sheriff, his nephew. It might just discharge in his trembling hand.

So we saddle up and mosey off by rental car along Highway 7 into the badlands.

Jessieville Cemetery (yes, Jessie-ville, and right there was an omen I failed to heed) was all it had promised to be and less. It was tiny, overgrown and yet eerily beautiful under a canopy of large shade trees. The gravestones were almost all simple jagged slates, the names and data scratched lovingly onto them well faded now, difficult to read.

In fact bloody impossible to read, you old fart, why in tarnation didn’t you tell me before we set out? There’s absolutely no way in the world we’re gonna find Jesse James here.

I’m only thinking the preceding paragraph, not actually saying it because Pecos George is nowhere to be seen now and I’m on a frantic search for him, hoping he hasn’t fallen into an open grave or something.

It’s becoming a real worry when suddenly I spot him: he’s on his knees before a small gravestone and he’s sobbing. Through his tears he’s mumbling that his first wife lies restin’ thar.

I get down beside him, help him to his feet and say: ‘C’mon old timer, let’s go home. I should never have brought you here.’ And so we start to leave.

We’re walking slowly along the pathway and I’ve got my arm around the old boy, straining to hold him up, for he’s a wobbly old cuss and a plumb awkward one.

And then suddenly I see this snake right in front of us. Dangerous-looking and moving very fast indeed while I’d always believed these critters just sauntered through life.

Which is when I do my notorious snake dance.

It’s a variation of St Vitus’, knees almost reaching the chin. One of my best friends, Dave ‘Scoop’ Horton, once dubbed it so when he watched the spectacle as I chanced upon a family of copperheads: not exactly ballroom.

Anyway, I’m not waiting for this creature to strike, so I jump to the right. And, being a good sidekick to old George, I push him out of harm’s way to the left.

Now, it isn’t a very big hill, but it is indeed a considerable incline. Deadeye, frail and feeble, loses his balance, staggers, topples and then rolls down the swale. Rolls and rolls at a frightening rate of knots. I’m transfixed. e just keeps going and going.

The pesky snake that dry-gulched us has skedaddled but I haven’t even noticed. All I see is my new friend literally biting the dust – involuntarily and physically.

He’s going to bash his head against one of those jagged slates on this Boot Hill. Fatally.

The oldest living lawman is now the EX-oldest living lawman who survived those bloody gunfights if they ever existed and if ever he was in them but met his match in an unarmed British reporter. I’ve killed the geezer.

I’ve killed my story.

Will he come to rest right next to his first wife? Now that would be a story... for the Hot Springs Sentinel-Record.

I’m chasing downhill after the rolling man faster than a jackrabbit on a souped-up Kawasaki but too late to stop him indeed hitting a head-slate, the name on which is totally illegible so entirely immaterial to this tale of woe.

There’s blood. Quite a bit of it. But not on his head, it’s his hand.

‘Whut yuh do thet fer?’ He’s alive. Heavens be praised.

‘There was this snake...’

‘I never seen no snake.’

‘There was one, honest. Red and green stripes...’

‘They’re harmless!

Well I don’t know, do I? I’m just this greenhorn from Crystal Palace who thinks the antidote to snakes is ladders.

We’re on the ride back in to Hot Springs. Silence all the way; the old bugger won’t even mumble a response when I try to parley with him. At a country store where we stop for bandages George knows the owner. He displays a badly gashed hand and announces: ‘This feller pushed me over.’ The storekeeper glares at me, orn’ry like: ‘Whut y’do thet fer?’

Immediately we hit town Sheriff Clay White orders me arrested and jailed. The charge: ‘damaging police property’, ie his uncle.

Ten minutes later he and his deputies return to my cell, near peeing themselves with laughter, all the more gleeful since I’d come to think this really could be serious. I note that his doddering relative is not among them.

What fun, huh? Hey, there’s a shindig tonight over at the VFW Hall. Why don’t yuh stay over and fly back to New York tomorrow?

But my concern is that Deputy George might likely git the rest of them townsfolk all riled up and next thing I know, after a ‘joke’ jailing I’ll maybe be the main attraction at a ‘joke’ lynching.

Best to get outta town before sundown.

#

Publish and be dumped

By Robert Waterhouse

Finding a publisher was the easy part.

For some time I had felt that the story of Manchester’s role in national newspaper publishing should be told. I happened to be finishing an Open University segment in comparative history, which had in its modest way introduced me to methods whereby academics attempt to put order into life’s chaos. Why not use some of this technique to research a subject whose variety was indeed daunting?

Any urgency came from the realisation that some of the players were getting on in years and would not be around for ever. If I wanted to include their views I’d better start now.

waterhouseMy title, The Other Fleet Street, was in my head from the start and the treatment wrote itself. I was introduced, via a Manchester operator who remains a friend so must be nameless, to a small publisher, Hochland Communications, based in Altrincham, Cheshire.

Henry Hochland harnessed picture libraries of provincial newspapers up and down the land to produce ‘50 years of the Black Country’ or that sort of thing; nostalgia books if you like but done in a straightforward, graphic way. His father had been a founder of Haigh & Hochland, the respected Manchester bookseller.

Our negotiations, begun late in 2002, were extraordinarily easy. I got to know why later. Henry insisted on a contract in which I undertook to supply the usual things in the usual way. I never asked for an advance, or for a contribution towards expenses (considerable because I live in France). I was promised the usual ten per cent of net profit, as spelt out in annual accounts.

My involvement with The Other Fleet Street was not about making money, perish the thought, nor was it about any need to be published myself. Like many of us I have had a thousand by-lines. It was about telling a story I thought to be a good one, to the best of my abilities.

I didn’t know at the time, though I should have suspected it, just how those abilities were to be stretched. Henry Hochland, whose company name evolved to First Edition Limited while I was writing, did not believe in overstaffing. He was the publisher, I was the self-publisher.

Which to say that, with minimal support, I researched, wrote and rewrote the book, researched and got permission to use the photographs, sorted out the chapter headings, blurbs and captions, then sitting beside the Mac operator saw every page into the book. When I’d proof-read it a couple of times I proceeded to enter my own on-screen corrections.

As publication date (September 2004) approached I interested The Independent in featuring the book in their media section. I had it excerpted in Press Gazette and in British Journalism Review. I organised press lists and assembled invitees to the launch, to be held in a bar at The Printworks, formerly Manchester’s Withy Grove.

Recalling such events three years or so on is something I find very painful. Not because I feel any shame about the book, but because so many people – mostly journalists and print workers – went out of their way to help me while Henry Hochland did virtually nothing.

From Jocelyn Stevens, old piranha-teeth himself, who revisited Withy Grove in style and opened up the Hulton Getty archives buckshee, to the managements of every national newspaper who let me plunder from the files at will, from Sheila Hardy, Bert Hardy’s widow, to the private collections of staff photographers like the Daily Mirror’s Johnnie Walker and the Guardian’s Denis Thorpe I was accorded free access.

Librarians and mainstream publishers bent copyright rules for me, former editors like Michael Kennedy, Derek Jameson and Geoffrey Taylor offered enthusiastic endorsement. Trevor Bates, Stanley Blenkinsop, Mike Cuerden, Bill Freeman, Bob Blake, Geoffrey Mather et al opened their memory cells and their contacts books (out of one of which popped Revel Barker brandishing Robert Maxwell and Andy Capp).

I was accorded the run of the Withy Grove Fellowship, that strong bonding of former print workers at what was the world’s largest newspaper factory. Albert Hartwell marshalled them for discussions and encouraged them to bring in their own archive material while Fred Booth, general manager of The Printworks, provided boundless logistical support.

I had guessed that emotions would run high when newsmen revisited their lives, but I hadn’t bargained on just how generously people would give of their time and resources. I was flooded by narrative, swamped with images.

I was dealing with editors, reporters, subs, photographers, management execs, FoCs, comps and publishing room tyros in a sort of dream world because, for the first and last time I suspect, they fell into my lap. I tried not to spike anyone, and also – breaking newspaper practice – went out of my way to let them read and comment on material in which they starred.

I was lucky enough to involve Bob Gray and Derek Wallis, Johnnie Walker and Don McPhee, Cyril Ritson of Manchester Press Club fame, and the pater familias of Withy Grove, 93-year-old Sam Marsh. They’ve gone now, but their contribution to The Other Fleet Street is part of a collective memory.

And Henry Hochland? Three years on I have yet to hear from him about book sales. We had an understanding that half the cost of welcome drinks at the launch party (organisationally a disaster) would go on my tab. I have no idea yet what that was. Nor, three years on, have I been offered any accounts.

Henry doesn’t answer my e-mails. During the summer of 2006, back in Manchester on another project, I literally bumped into him en route for the loo at a Gershwin concert. He looked as though he thought I might bop him, but let’s face it I’m a pensioner (or should be) - and the only occasion I tried to bop someone I came off badly.

I know the book is still available via Amazon, and is holding its price quite well. I know that it’s still on sale at several Manchester outlets. I know that the general response has made it worthwhile, for me at least. I also know that I will never, ever, again contract to a small-time publisher.

  • Bob Waterhouse’s splendid book, The Other Fleet Street, is reviewed by STANLEY BLENKINSOP on our Books About Us page (click on the link, at top left) and can be purchased directly by clicking on the book title. But whether Bob will ever see any benefit from the sale is anybody’s guess.

#

Life among the cuttings

By David Webb

To set the scene, Billy J Kramer was at number one; Manchester United had won the FA Cup; J F K made his ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ speech at the Berlin Wall; a Mini cost just five hundred pounds; the Tory government was reeling as the Profumo scandal raged on and kids everywhere were donning Beatle wigs and stepping out in Cuban heeled boots to the strain of I Wanna Hold Your Hand… 1963.

On a wet September Monday morning at 8.50 I exploded from the caged lift at Covent Garden underground station terrified of being late on my first day, turned left into Long Acre instead of right, slipped on the muddy pavement and arrived for my first day’s work in my brand new suit muddied and bowed – and late.

I was shown to what was little more than a cupboard with a desk and two chairs and introduced to my fellow messenger Barry. Alas, Barry and I had little in common. His main love was my main hate – horse racing. He would sit for hours studying form while I would be reading Disc magazine or John Lennon’s In His Own Write.

Odhams Press at that time occupied a large percentage of the buildings in and around Covent Garden. At the sound of a buzzer one of us would grab a shopping bag with a padlock attached to the zip and collect a pile of letters from a department in a building in Long Acre known as Central Clearing House. All the messengers met here and swapped gossip, and here I was to pick up a few tricks of the trade. Fax machines would have put us all out of work.

It was where I was befriended by a six foot spotty bean pole called Bernard. ‘Wise up me old mate,’ he said. ‘When they send you to the NPA in Fleet Street they give you the money to get a cab. Do yourself a favour, stick the money in your sky and get up on your toes.’ Translated, this simply meant pocket the taxi fare and run all the way to Fleet Street.

Later that week sitting in my cupboard the buzzer sounded and I obediently stood by Harry Thomas’s desk awaiting orders.

‘Right lad. Urgent letters for the NPA. Here’s the taxi fare. Walk back.’

As I walked towards the door he called me back. ‘Oh, and one thing – I said taxi. I know all the dodges.’

With this warning in my mind I determined not to do what spotty Bernard suggested and stood obediently in Long Acre trying to hail a taxi, something I had never done before (well, I was only fifteen). Perhaps it was due to the fact that my voice had not yet broken and there was not a lot of me, but I could not make a taxi do the decent thing and stop.

Eventually I did get one, delivered the letters and made my way back to Long Acre.

As I walked through the door I was greeted with ‘Where the bleedin’ ’ell have you been?’ from a very angry and red faced Harry. ‘I told you to get a taxi and not pocket the money.’

I protested my innocence for a good half hour until he gave me the benefit of the doubt. One lesson I had learnt though, and that was honesty did not always pay.

A well known story was the one of two Fleet Street messengers who collided outside the Law Courts. One greeted the other with ‘How are you? Long time no see.’ The other replied. ‘Sorry can’t stop I’m in a cab.’

One day sitting in my cupboard reading A Spaniard In The Works the buzzer sounded twice. A double buzz indicated something important. I stepped up to the desk and was handed a piece of paper with the telephone number TEMple Bar 1200 and a name I was unable to pronounce. ‘Give this number a ring. It’s a job interview in the Daily Herald reference library. If he offers you the job I suggest you take it.’

You were allowed two job interviews. If you failed them both or you were turned down you were no longer wanted as a messenger.

I still remember the smell of polish and the never ending line of filing cabinets.

My first impression of Tom Berentemfel, the librarian, was the likeness he shared with Harold Wilson. Middle-aged, he seemed a fairly large man with grey hair and a pipe clenched firmly between white teeth. With a slight cockney accent he explained that if I was offered the job as office junior my duties would include cutting and filing. He then took me to the cuttings room where three youths slightly older than me were wielding the largest and longest scissors I had ever seen. The speed and noise they made was incredible.

I got the job and there I remained for many years. I hold many fond memories of Tom. He would arrive for work at 6am and read and mark the ‘heavies’. This would take him until 2pm. A man with such a brain and strong Labour beliefs was not a man to engage in a political argument. Many times over the years I saw him slowly dissect the opposition. His knowledge appeared vast.

The lad I was to work with closely was known as Lenny. A cockney through and through. He was small but stocky, dark and full of life. But the most impressive thing of all was that he was lead singer with a group called The Clockwork Oranges. He even knew the words of Woolly Bully.

The reference library dated back to 1913 and at the time was regarded as the finest in Fleet Street. All the cuttings were stuck in pages and numbered, making it easy to keep files in order. With a staff of twelve it was open from 6am until 2 am seven days a week (open Saturdays for the Daily Herald’s sister paper The People.)

Much of the filing system would be perplexing today. If, for example, you’d wanted cuttings on Vietnam, you asked for the packet on ANNAM, which was actually the name of the northern part of modern-day Vietnam when it was ruled as a Chinese province.

Famous people would be seen in the library from time to time. Peter York, a librarian and old friend, often told the story of the day he nearly changed the face of British politics. He was on the top rung of a ladder re-filing some cuttings in heavy metal boxes. Directly below him was sitting Michael Foot. The librarian slipped from his perch bringing the heavy box with him. With a Bonetti-like save he managed to catch the box three rungs down the ladder, and inches from Michael Foot’s cranium.

Clement Freud, who wrote a column for us, once came into the library and asked for his by-lines. Lenny asked him his name (even though he recognised him). He then asked him if he liked his Clement Freud or boiled. I collapsed with laughter at this but Mr Freud maintained his bloodhound expression and showed no response whatsoever.

In 1964 the Daily Herald became known as The Sun. In 1969 Rupert Murdoch re-launched the paper as a tabloid. That’s another story.

  • Dave Webb worked in the reference library at the Daily Herald from 1963 and then The Sun and News of the World until five years ago.

#

Blank expressions

By Colin Dunne

All these years later, it still makes me laugh now when I think about it. There’s a Daily Record minor executive peacefully sleeping at home. Two in the morning. Telephone rings. Dozily he picks it up. A voice which at that time had instant recognition across several continents bellows in his ear.

‘Why are you giving away my fucking money, mister?’

It’s not difficult to imagine the rest. Did he fall out of bed? Probably. Did he experience several near-fatal heart attacks? Almost certainly. The addition of ‘mister’ at the end of such a sentence was always particularly ominous. Dithering and quaking simultaneously, he comes up with a rhetorical question. ‘Is that… er, is that Mr Maxwell?’

At this stage in his career, Cap’n Bob doesn’t think it necessary to produce proof of identity. This time his voice rises to a roar. ‘WHY ARE YOU GIVING MY FUCKING MONEY AWAY?’ No ‘mister’, this time: doubly dangerous.

What had happened was that while the world and Scots execs were restoring themselves with dreamless sleep, Robert Maxwell, finding a moment to spare in the middle of the night, was flicking through some old expense sheets. Much the same as you would yourself, I suppose. One of them, from a Glasgow photographer (Ian Torrance, I think), includes £5 for coming seventh or thereabouts in a photographic competition. He’d claimed the same on his exes because there was a tradition then – not any more, I’d bet – that the company would match any prize money. This he attempts to explain.

Unfortunately, Mr Maxwell is not a keen adherent of Scottish traditions. It is, he says, his fiver (can we take the f-word as read, now?). He wants it back. By return. Or exec and photographer will both be fired. End of conversation.

When we all first stepped into the wonderful world of free money – or expenses, as it was called – we didn’t know it was going to end with nocturnal telephone calls which would imperil both job and sanity. Even so, we sort of knew it would all hit the buffers one day.

You’ll have to excuse me for a moment while I explain something to that sub on the Indie who, at any mention of old-style Fleet Street, e-mails me about dishonesty and false pretences. Now my first thought is always to wonder how anyone without at least a brushing acquaintance with dishonesty and false pretences could hope to make a living in newspapers. Are all the monasteries full? My next thought was that someone should explain to these young puritans that the expenses system involved neither.

So here goes. Sit down, sonny, hang your halo on that hook, and I’ll explain it very slowly. This was how the management chose to top up our salaries during what was called a Pay Freeze. No-one was deceived. There was no fraud, as such. Every journalist knew roughly what he was allowed to charge. It suited the management because they could change our income by the week, if they so wished. We were probably foolish in going along with it, because this part of our income didn’t figure in holiday pay or pensions: great for them, not so great for us. But journalists, simple folk at heart, liked the idea of collecting cash from a sliding window on the ninth floor and going to the pub. It was fun, it seemed slightly dodgy, and it could be creatively challenging – all things that our raffish lot loved. 

Now we’ve cleared that up, can we carry on?

We’ve all got our favourite exes story, but let me go first, okay? My first expenses scam was one I inherited from Bernard Ingham. As a district man for the Yorkshire Post in Halifax, he had – so it was said – introduced ‘the Calder Valley calls’, a 40-mile trip each day that added up to a large chunk of mileage at the end of the week. The best thing about the Calder Valley calls was that you did them on the telephone, which made it even more profitable. When I took the job, a few years after Bernard, I was looking forward to this weekly bonus. It never came. The news editor cancelled them in the first week. By then Bernard was probably making daily calls to New York and Moscow – bet you anything he never went.

If you’d spent the week in the office, it required some ingenuity to make it look convincing. Once I remember finding a really good story on someone else’s expense sheet. It was Peter Stubbs’, the Manchester photographer who’d left them in the typewriter. It was a headline he’d lifted from the Accrington Observer about a woman who confiscated some kids’ football after it landed in her garden. He deleted it from his exes and substituted another one I’d found for him – about a beauty contest in Rhyl, I remember – and the football story made a Page Three lead.

It was a tradition which quickly established its own classics. Everyone claims at some time or other to have paid for a mooring for a boat or for being towed out of a bog (‘money for old rope: £5’), some of which may even be true, and all the show-biz writers in London were always delighted to see their Scottish counterpart, Billy Sloane…

‘Entertaining Mr Sloane – £30’.

Small triumphs like that were very satisfying.

And there was the story of the photographer (said to have been Tommy Lyons) who, just before Christmas, charged: ‘One year’s reversing mileage – 187 miles.’ Asked to explain it, he said: ‘You know when you’re looking for a house and you drive a bit past... then you have to back up to it. Or when you drive into a cul-de-sac and have to reverse out. It doesn’t show on the milometer, but I did 187 miles like that, this year.’

We all have our personal favourites. Mine was typing out the simple, unadorned sentence: ‘Medical treatment following fall from coconut tree: £50, see bill attached.’

It was perfectly genuine. There I was lying on a beach in the Seychelles (I was doing a piece on the shooting of the Pirelli Calendar) when I saw some local lads run up the slanting trunks of the trees and chop off some coconuts. Looks pretty easy, I thought. So I tried it. Running up was fine until I looked down… I fell off. I cut my arm open trying to grab the trunk on the way down. I was hoping someone would query it so that I could relate this story: of course, no-one did.

Certain skills were required. I think it was Paul Hughes who showed me how a line of firmly-struck full-stops enabled you to tear off a potentially embarrassing letterhead so that it looked as though it had been ripped off a waiter’s pad. Thus a bill for a shirt from the Savoy Tailors Guild could in seconds become a receipt for entertaining unidentified ‘Scotland Yard contacts’.

If you were lucky enough to have bills from some distant country, preferably in early Sanskrit, you didn’t even need to do that. After six weeks in Iceland (fishing wars), the first thing I did was to ring the accounts department and ask if any of their staff spoke Old Norse. No-one did. After that, the extension I built on my house was always called The Cod Room.

Sadly, I never truly mastered the language of accounts departments which was the key to it all. After a serious clamp-down on advance expenses, which threatened massive unemployment in the restaurant trade around Holborn Circus, it was said that Keith Waterhouse had cracked the code. He simply wrote ‘Cash Adjustment: £50’ and the cashiers, who recognised their own tongue, were more than happy to hand over the money.

There was a similar device used by freelances when – as happened very occasionally – they were paid twice for the same piece. Feebly, I used to hang on to it in the hope no-one would notice. They always did, and I always had to return it. But those who were smarter than me would send a note saying: ‘I regret we have no machinery for effecting this repayment’, and it was never queried after that.

One of the saddest sights I ever saw was when I shared a room with Jim Lewthwaite on the Sun. He was sitting typing out some exes, cursing foully with every key-stroke. It was enough to break any hack’s heart. Ken Donlan had presented Jim, John Hiscock and Dougie Thompson with air travel cards so they could whiz off on major international stories. After a few drinks in the top bar of the Tip, John and Doug decided to try them out. They went to Heathrow, took a flight to Los Angeles, and never came back. While they sat in the Californian sun, Jim was left to complete all their back expenses in Bouverie Street. By the way he spoke, you’d never have known they were all good friends.

Years later, after a month at the Hacks’ Holiday Home, otherwise known as the National Enquirer in Florida, I sat down to do my four week’s expenses. ‘Those are no good,’ one of their staffmen said, pointing to my pile of bills, ‘they’re all blank.’

From my pocket I produced a set of multi-coloured pens and pencils. I thought of all those great creative artists who’d gone before me… Penrose, Jackson, Hagerty, Williams, men whose creative genius did for the expense sheet what Sam Beckett did for literature. How fortunate for me that I should be the lucky one chosen to take this ancient wisdom out to our innocent colonial cousins.  ‘Let me introduce you to an old Fleet Street tradition…’

Now, like the lamplighter and the candle-maker, the Old Exes Forger of yore is no more. One day, I’ like to think he will appear in those illustrations of the Street Cries of Old London Town. A hack crouched over his typewriter calling out: ‘Any blank bills? Any blank bills?’

###

 September 28, 2007   

The Gentlemen Ranters site is a brilliant compendium of reminiscences of the great days of Fleet Street. – The Times, August 25


September 28, 2007

Colin Dunne started something with his piece last week about Money for Old Rope and, not surprisingly, a number of expenses claims were immediately submitted but many of them have been rejected by the EDITORIAL MANAGER, with a (courteous) note asking for them to be revised and re-submitted.

FRED WEHNER misses an office party to go off, unwillingly, on a buy-up for the Daily Mail that's frustrated by a man from the Mirror.

BOB WATERHOUSE decides that if the local evening isn’t going to cover the stories that interest him he’ll start his own paper.

ALUN JOHN keeps the flame burning for all those wannabe authors out there (and there’s more about authors – successful and sometimes less so – in THE STAB, our diary).

STUART WHITE goes to expose some evil doer in Margate for the News of the World and gets mistaken for his cousin Chalkie.

REVEL BARKER remembers Robert Maxwell’s last day in the office and reveals the existence of what’s described as a suicide note.

And we bring up the rear with a tribute to our friends in panchromatic artistry; PADDY BYRNE remembers AliMac – Alisdair Macdonald, IAN BRADSHAW recalls old-timer Tommy Braithwaite being sent on what was possibly the biggest job of his life, and COLIN DUNNE celebrates life on the road with the lot of them.

There’s even more snapper stuff in The Stab, plus that rare thing – a hitherto untold story about Jimmy Nicholson, the Prince of Darkness (which we are claiming as a World Scoop), plus how to save £219 by buying the autobiography of Richard Stott, and a piece or two about other publisher’s errors.

If you find any mistakes in Gentlemen Ranters, feel free to tip off Dr Syntax, or write to the Letters Page, or contribute your own offering about expenses, sex in the office, life with snappers or anything else related to the glory days that made our old office address Number One in the Street of Adventure.

Use the email address at the top of this page.

But first, read on…

#

 

Please revise and resubmit these claims

By the Editorial Manager

Rene McColl of the Daily Express appears to have been the acknowledged master of the exes sheet.

He is the one credited with submitting the legendary bill for hiring a camel to take him to the front line of the Suez war and, when a hawk-eyed bean-counter pointed out that he had charged well over ‘the going rate’ for such transport, had explained simply: ‘Mine was a racing camel.’

Only it probably isn’t true.

Because another story is that McColl’s exes for that trip had read simply: ‘To coverage of Suez War – £500.’

And in this version of the tale editorial management had demanded ‘more details, like taxis, gratuities, and things’. So he’d re-submitted them, and now they read:

Taxi: office to Victoria station, including tip – 7s 6d
Coverage of Suez War – £499. 5s
Taxi:
Victoria station to office, including tip – 7s 6d.’

And they’d been paid. Of course they had: it wouldn’t have been worth telling, otherwise.

They can’t both be true. But if you want to tell the story, ok, maybe he went twice; decide for yourself which set of those expenses would have been the first lot.

In any case, another reason for doubting what’s exhibited here as the Mark II model was an unwritten law of expense writing stipulating that if management had the temerity to return your docket, you ‘fined’ them – so the taxi fares would without doubt have been added to the total amount, rather than included in it.

In common with many submitted forms for reimbursement, stories about exes rarely stand up to close examination. Although containing an element of truth, they were frequently embellished to make them bigger and better. I’m talking, here, about… Well, both.

Never mind that old chestnut about ‘money for old rope’ which was queried, almost management-style, by Colin Dunne (Last Week), or even ‘Entertaining Mr Sloane’, which admittedly would have been difficult to resist if the opportunity arose.

Or an investigation into fraud at a transport firm on Humberside: ‘Mileage fiddle – 500 miles return.’

Was it true that the first call a certain feature writer always made on any out-of-town assignment would be to the local jobbing printer, to whom he would explain that he was planning to open a new restaurant, and needed samples of the sort of bills he printed for all the food outlets in the area?

Possibly. The Evening Standard news desk kept a pad of blank bills for the Temple Bar Grill in Fleet Street – an eaterie that existed only in the inspired imagination of a former reporter (later an MP) who’d had them printed when his weekly exes fell short of his pre-approved limit.

But can anybody actually name the reporter who had claimed for the purchase of a pair of Wellington boots to cover a flood and then, mysteriously asked by management to produce them, been unable to explain why they were still fastened together at the top by a piece of string?

Was it the case that photographers who walked to a fashion shoot in Kendal Milne’s store in Deansgate, Manchester, always charged 160 miles return to Kendal (or even to a ‘Kendal mill’) in Cumbria – remembering, of course, to charge out-of-town meal allowances for the trip?

Somebody probably did that, once.

Does anybody believe the one about the guy sent to the Arctic circle who charged for hiring a team of huskies and, finding that his claim fell well short of the advance, invented first, vet’s fees, then interment of one of the dogs and then – when it was pointed out that his submitted total was still £30 light – said ‘Oh, I forgot’… and inserted: ‘Flowers for bereaved bitch’…?

Or about the reporter who charged £3 for ‘taxi to tenth floor to collect expenses’, and having got away with it for a couple of weeks made it £6 for the return trip, and all going well until, thus encouraged, he wrote: ‘taxi to tenth floor and return, including waiting time – £7’ at which point they were rejected by cashiers who said now he was taking the piss because he hadn’t had to wait at all?

I am prepared to believe that when Daily Mirror editorial manager Len Woodliff telexed Don Wise and asked him why his expenses for covering the war in Viet Nam were so high, Don cabled back with the message: ‘I give up: why are they?’ thus ending the conversation.

And it’s a fact that a memo was once sent to a features editor saying: ‘I know that London cabbies say the most generous tippers are tarts, Jews and journalists – but is this any reason for Paul Callan to tip three times the normal amount on every journey he takes?’

It is also true that Syd Young once sent in, and received without question, exes listing only:

Entertaining special legal contacts
(no receipt available) – £147.00
Purchase of stamp to post expenses
(receipt attached) – 17p.

But the one about the reporter writing his exes on the plane back from Poland and picking a vowel-less word at random from the in-flight magazine because it looked like a surname, then being asked by a new member of cashiers: ‘And was he much help to you, this Mr Sickbag?’…

Or the guy who was told to remove some expensive item – it depends on the story but in extreme cases it could have been a suit – from his exes because it was unacceptable, then being thanked for so readily complying with the request telling his manager: ‘Oh, it’s still there; you just try finding it!’… ?

Well, frankly: no.

In other words, we are not accepting any of these claims.

Please reconsider and resubmit, with receipts.

It would be cheating, otherwise, wouldn’t it?

#

Beam up me, Scotty

By Fred Wehner

It’s the evening of the Daily Mail’s Grand Christmas beano; hosted, but not funded, by Sir David English in his days as plain old mister.

Which, to the chagrin of my colleagues, makes this very much a pay-as-you-drink affair, not a lot different from any ordinary night at our most-favoured gargling venue, The Harrow.

Except that certain managerial types were going to be there also. Therefore, partaking overly of the Fleet Street Water with its ensuing effects on one’s behaviour could well have major repercussions regarding one’s job security. Oh dear.

My anticipated presence at this subdued rave-up is torpedoed when, an hour beforehand, Jonathan Holborow, the news editor, sends me off to St Albans. I’m to ‘supervise’ the handover of a child from the clutches of Harry Krishna (as he calls it) to its rightful mother who had just distanced herself from the father and from the cult. He says we’ve paid her for an exclusive.

I’d always hated buy-ups – when we’re the ones paying the money, that is. Nerve-wracking. You can actually feel the grey hairs taking over.

Quite different when the opposition has shelled out the ackers and your job is to do a spoiler and get at the target somehow using charm, wiles and a generous helping of luck.

But this time it was our buy-up and those involved – including me at the eleventh hour – are forced to protect our investment. Bummer, but what can you do?

My colleague Roger Scott, who I’ve never met, is travelling down from t’north accompanied by a photographer and transporting the child along with a Krishna goon. We’re to meet at a hotel where the mother awaits. I’ve booked a room for all us Daily Mailers and informed both Manchester and mummy – but when I arrive there’s no sign of her.

I’ve been making regular check calls to our northern news editor, Pat Mullarkey, hearing that Roger and team are in Coventry, then Daventry, then Milton Keynes...

Soon I’m keeping a solid vigil at the main entrance and when I see a pair of shifty characters march straight to the public phone I know, I know. I wander over, ear’oling just enough to verify my conviction that these two cowboys have to be reporters. Can’t you just smell a fellow hack?

One more quick Manchester call and Pat Mullarkey confirms his blokes are already in the hotel – they just phoned him. From the reception desk, which I'd primed earlier, I learn a party has checked into a different room from the one I’d booked.

Stub out the Players Navy Cut I’d just lit (what a waste! The price of fags had just gone up). Race up the stairs because the lift has decided to dawdle. Belt along the corridor...

I knock. The door is cracked open. A face appears. I see the kid in the background. I ask for the mother. The door is slammed in my face – almost. A gnarled and oft-bruised foot (inside my shoe) is propelled into the jamb... automatic after years of Fleet Street foot-soldiering, but it still bloody hurts.

There follows a shove-of-war twixt those inside and myself outside. Whenever I manage to barge it open a little I catch a glimpse of other folk inside, but then in an instant the occupants shoulder it back again. And so it goes on for a while.

Suddenly instead of being pushed now, the door is pulled – yanked open and the two burlies come barrelling out. I’m flattened against the wall. We’re wrestling, punches are thrown. Writhing and cursing again, with these two demanding to know who I am and me not telling.

I hear one of them call the other Roger. I say I’m Daily Mail and who are you?

The moment is frozen in time. A knee stops short of my groin. Potential future Wehner generations are saved. And one of my opponents pants: ‘I’m Roger Scott.’

My northern brother.

So let me in! And once inside I see there’s the mother, the child... and one other gentleman I already know. The ruddy cheeks, that farm-lad frame – it’s Roger Beam from the bloody Daily Mirror!

What’s he doing here? Nobody seems to know.

But what we all realise is that while three Daily Mail stalwarts are pummelling each other on the outside, the Daily Mirror is getting the exclusive for which our rag has paid good money on the inside.

I quickly move everyone to the room I booked, telling Beamy his persona ain’t grata. He’s a persistent so-and-so and a big ’un. But I’m forced to usher him out physically, summoning strength from the firm knowledge that two hero-grams from John Womersley years earlier would now likely be negated by a serious wanker-gram from Holborow, his successor.

Yes, we do get the story. But the Mirror also get their story for which the Daily Mail paid. In the restaurant that night nobody can explain precisely how the enemy came to be inside our buy-up, but Roger Beam tells me later. All he did was sidle up to the mother and keep his mouth shut, then saunter along with her to the reunion with baby while everyone else assumed he was mum’s friend.

The Mirror desk are calling his coup ‘a Mini Nice One’.

And the Daily Mail’s grand Christmas knees-up? Judging by the complaints about booze prices voiced by many a luckless imbiber it seems I saved money big-time.

#

Do-it-yourself publishing

By Robert Waterhouse

Simon Carr’s salutory story about the Milford Mercury (Ranters, Last Week) takes me back to the autumn of 1978 when I was one of a small group who founded a community freesheet, the Withington Reporter.

We were members of Withington Civic Society, distressed at the decline of a once-flourishing South Manchester suburb. The Manchester Evening News showed no interest at all in covering our fight to prevent what seemed to us the city council’s determination to drive the area into a clearance zone, so we decided to take the matter into our own hands.

Anyone who knows Withington will be aware that the ‘village’ was always split by Wilmslow Road, one of the city’s main southern arteries. To the east were solid houses built for Manchester’s prosperous middle classes from mid-Victorian times. To the west stood rows of terraces built principally for the masses who serviced them.

Wilmslow Road was a shopping street, once quite elegant but by the 1970s decidedly patchy. It, and the village, had been hit by triple blight: it was designated a district shopping centre by Manchester planners shortly after the Second World War; through traffic was to be taken out of the shopping centre and compulsory purchase had drawn a line of devastation through streets to the east of the shops; finally, Manchester’s overblown slum clearance programme marked out streets on the west side for demolition.

Triple blight spelt disaster for the village when the district shopping centre never happened. Neither did the road. And most of the demolished terraces became vacant crofts.

That, by 1978, was the state of play and we residents didn’t intend to put up with it silently any more. We started the Reporter with £2,000 of our own cash, four equal stakes of £500. I was editor; the other three investors were essentially sleeping partners.

My Withington house served as the office. We were to be fortnightly, an eight-page tabloid, typeset and printed professionally, distributed to 10,000 homes and businesses by our own team.

Our unpaid – nobody was paid at that stage – ad manager was a woman called Audrey Jones. Audrey had a high profile in the civic society, was a stalwart of St Paul’s Church, and was well-known to all and sundry as a true Withingtonian (unlike me, an incomer). She seemed the perfect choice, and luckily she was not prepared to invest.

What I didn’t know, but was to learn quickly enough, was that Audrey had political ambitions. Fate ordained it that a council by-election for Withington ward took place in the week of our launch. And who should be the winning Liberal candidate? Audrey Jones.

Foolishly, perhaps, we gave the story prominence. It was, after all, the Liberal Party’s first post-war municipal success in Manchester, then as now a staunchly Labour city. We were immediately branded a Liberal rag by city councillors, who cold-shouldered Audrey in the council chamber (when they weren’t vainly attempting to get their leg over).

Councillor Allan Roberts, Manchester’s fiery housing committee chairman, lost no opportunity to denounce Audrey, the Reporter, and me. Middle-class Nimbys only interested in the value of our houses, he alleged. No danger of Roberts trying to get Audrey on her back: he was openly gay, renowned for exploits in Berlin and Hamburg.

We were the Distorter, even to more sensible councillors. They didn’t want to know that Audrey had no say at all in what went into the paper. I saw to that. We were aligned over community interests, not politics.

What concerned Audrey was the independent line we took with advertisers. They got no glowing write-ups alongside their very cost-effective ads – which many showed a distinct lack of interest in paying for.

What concerned me was when Audrey started circulating a ‘newsletter’ called Focus in which, following Liberal Party practice, she played her own community cards, detailing the little victories councillors boast of:

‘Audrey has ensured that rubbish from Arnside Road will now be removed every week, not every month’… ‘Audrey has petitioned for Withington Library to open a further half hour on Saturdays’. Gripping stuff. But did readers associate that with the Distorter?

In the early days most Reporter contributors were locals. They included a restaurant critic, Dave Best, whose day job was with the Greater Manchester Council. He knew his food, and wrote honestly. When the Jabberwock restaurant opened in Fallowfield he attacked its pretensions, creating a wonderful headline opportunity: Beware the Jabberwock.

A hard-looking guy knocked on my door one day and told me he thought our sports coverage was fucking rubbish. I invited him to be sports editor. His football reports detailing the derring-do of South Manchester park teams arrived on beer-stained, nicotine-tinged hand-written sheets delivered straight from the pub by one of John Hampson’s lads each Sunday afternoon during the season. They were excellent.

Our pubs correspondent, the late and much-lamented John Turrell, was manager of the Red Lion, at the time Marston’s biggest-selling house. John reckoned that about one per cent of best bitter dispensed at the Red passed through his kidneys. Around the Houses, his pubs column, was brilliant. Both Johns obtained an NUJ card.

Our first splash covered an industrial dispute in a local bakery. We carried campaigning leads on landlord housing scams, local hospital closures, and – when the circulation area grew to include Didsbury – how was it that the chairman of Didsbury Civic Society happened also to be chairman of Heald’s Dairy, Didsbury’s major employer? Didsbury’s narrow terraced streets were plagued by huge milk tankers. John Heald went apoplectic.

By then we were the South Manchester Reporter, we were weekly, and we attempted more political commentary – though we never, in my five-year tenure as editor, overtly favoured one party.

We had fun with Fearless Fred, Withington constituency’s 1980s Tory MP, Fred Sylvester, way to the left of his beloved leader, and with what we called the Lord Chair, the hapless councillor who took on a nominal lead role after Labour abolished the post of Lord Mayor. We also asked how Dr David Sandiford, a Liberal city councillor and ardent academic, could represent Withington ward after he moved out to Didsbury.

At one stage we carried a cartoon strip by a disaffected art teacher. ‘Andertonius’ lampooned the headline-grabbing activities of James Anderton, then chief of the Greater Manchester Constabulary, by casting him as a Roman centurion trying not very successfully to keep rebellious Mancunian Celts in order.

The Reporter survived sundry editors from 1984 when I stepped down, including an exemplary stint by one Bill Freeman. It survived a succession of owners (I had sold my interests in 1988) until it was brought into the Guardian Media Group’s Manchester weekly stable, where it remains.

If the early barnstorming years could not last, the campaigns weren’t a complete failure. Withington village found a sort of stability, bolstered by the arrival (not to everybody’s taste) of wealthy Manchester University students from down south. Heald’s Dairy was removed from Didsbury village. Withington Hospital closed.

And Audrey Jones? She became leader of the growing Liberal Democrat group on the city council. A few years ago it was her turn to be Lord Mayor. Yes, the post had been quickly restored.

Despite spats with the city council I had been a solid Labour voter throughout my time with the Reporter. But when Audrey stood as Lib Dem candidate for the Withington parliamentary constituency in the 1990s she got my vote. A vote of thanks, maybe, for all that grassroots activity. It didn’t do her any good.

#

The write stuff

By Alun John

On one of those long days when we were all sitting round doing nothing in particular, but ostensibly planning the launch of what was to become The European (I can’t put my finger on the actual date because most days were like that) somebody mentioned that somebody was writing a book.

Mike Molloy, editing in chief, was forced into a slight smile.

‘Half the journalists on my staff have written the first five chapters of their great novel,’ he said.

‘The other half have written the first chapter of five great novels.’

Mike himself had written six (complete novels), all in elegant longhand, at his various editing desks. All of them were described as best-sellers. So he knew of what he spoke.

I don’t wish to appear churlish here, but it is my experience that editors, anywhere, tend to get better reviews on the opposition’s books pages than their foot-soldiers. Although the fact that Robert Maxwell owned Mike’s publishers had nothing to do with it, because he had made his mark before that man had entered our lives.

What Mike was saying, however, appeared largely true.

When all that you know how to do is write, it seems a natural act to have a crack at a book. Journalists never need to look very far, after all, for plots or inspiration.

And when words are your trade it has to be particularly galling to walk into a branch of Waterstones and realise that you are surrounded by… the printed word.

Not a single one of them written by you. And yet you are the professional.

I read somewhere that 87,000 books are published every year in the UK alone. That’s about 1,600 a week (or nearly 350 a day, because publishers don’t work weekends). What does that mean? – That the market is already too swamped to get into? Or that, if publishers are churning out books at such a rate it must be easy for you, the professional, to get in there somewhere, and most probably at the top of the list?

Answers on a postcard, please.

Despite their unargued professionalism and expertise, however, very few of them seem to make it on to the bookshelves.

It doesn’t stop them trying, though.

When I was on the picture desk of The Independent I quite enjoyed working Sunday; it was usually quiet in the office and meant I could get a lot of the boring, but necessary paperwork work done in peace. I also regularly used to have lunch in the canteen with one of the home news sub editors. He would come over to the desk and argue with me about my demands for space for our pictures, but would always depart with a smile and a joke, treating our pictures well.

Bryson-and-JohnHe was a gentle, bearded, bear of a man, with a soft American accent, a keen sense of observation and a wry sense of humour. He was also trying to become a writer. He’d already had some travel pieces published in Granta magazine and expressed some surprise that I had read them.

One day he told me he was quitting the paper.

He went on to explain he was fed up with the daily commute from his home near Virginia Water and picking his way through what he called the ‘toilet’ of the underground stations.

He had somehow got a contract from a publisher for a year’s work producing – of all things – a dictionary, and would be selling his house in the home counties, taking the profit and buying a house in Yorkshire. He thought he could support his family at least for that first year and then might be able to get odd writing assignments to keep him going.

Bold, I thought. Ambitious. Adventurous. But I wished him well with his dreams and he subsequently left the paper.

Bill Bryson was his name. I wonder what happened to him.

#

From our Lobby correspondent

By Stuart White

Let’s begin at the end. I was running down Margate seafront, briefcase in hand, tie flapping, sweat staining my shirt and three-piece pin-striped suit, pursued by seven women, two old blokes, six kids and an excited fox terrier.

They wanted my money. Rather, the money they thought I owed them. I didn’t have it and they didn’t deserve it.

Let’s now go right back – believe me it’s apropos. In 1958 at the age of eleven, I walked up to a complete stranger on Hastings seafront and said, calmly and accurately: ‘You are Lobby Lud and I claim today’s News Chronicle and Daily Dispatch prize.’ He said, rather churlishly I thought, ‘Not today I’m not mate.’

Up until her untimely death in her mid-Sixties my mother swore that he WAS Lobby Lud and we should have got the fiver.

Which brings me back – stay with me on this – to Margate. It was the much-maligned, but for me heavenly seventies. I was a staff reporter on the News of the World and was sent to the seaside town to beard some villain in his Evil Den of Sin.

Having done so, I filed the quotes, which had been literally – ‘Fuck off you fucking bastard before I smash your face in.’ But came out by some process of alchemy as: ‘I don’t wish to talk about this. It’s all very upsetting. Look, I haven’t done anything wrong. I know people will point fingers at me – but they’re just being malicious.’

It was now 3.30 pm and the office told me to grab a bite, check in later and if all was clear head back home since there was little chance of me getting back to Fleet Street during office hours. I decided to have a stroll down the seafront.

In the days before reporters dressed like Che Guevara, I was wearing the standard Fleet Street rig: pin-striped suit, including waistcoat, white shirt, tie, highly-polished shoes. I also carried a briefcase.

I looked like a solicitor and the solicitor look was so effective people often thought we were.

(My colleague Ivan Waterman, who later sensibly moved into showbiz reporting, used to turn up on scandal-ridden doorsteps in his pin-striped suit carrying the regulation briefcase and announce: ‘I’ve come from London to sort it all out.’ He was frequently invited in. After about half an hour the demented wife-swapping, threesome-indulging individuals or whomever would tentatively ask: ‘Sorry…who ARE you exactly?’ By then all sides of the love tangle would have told him everything. Ivan would then reluctantly reveal he was from the News of the World and be ejected into the street.)

Meanwhile back in Margate; I sat down on a bench and inhaled the bracing sea air. Then I saw these two rather attractive young women staring at me and grinning. I grinned back. Hey, come on; I was young, single, the possessor of my hair then, and it was the seaside. Who knew what heady passion could evolve from a seaside glance?

To my delight one detached herself and came across, still smiling – if hesitant. She came closer. I said, ‘Hello.’ She said: ‘You’re him.’ I said him who? She said: ‘Him?’ I again said him who – and she said, ‘You’re Chalky White.’ I said there was only one person in the world who called me Chalky – Ivan Waterman as it happens – but how on earth did she know my name?

Her smile was now more of a rictus that would need maybe a surgical jaw dislocation to fix. She looked down at a torn piece of newspaper and said as if reciting a laundry list: ‘You are Chalky White and I demand my Daily Mirror prize.’

I remember thinking: God Almighty, she’s a nutcase.

She sat down next to me and laid a hand on my leg and said again: ‘You are Chalky White and I demand my Daily Mirror prize.’ I looked around for the hidden cameras, and as I did, behind her some yards away I spotted a Daily Mirror bill. ‘Chalky White is in town today. Challenge him and win £100.’ The penny dropped with a clang like it was landing in the chamber of an old gents convenience toilet door.

I got up, ‘Look. There’s some mistake. I’m not – er, Chalky White.’ The smile turned to hurt, turned to a snarl of thwarted venom. ‘You’re him!’

I protested that honestly I wasn’t and I walked briskly away. Her look followed me. That of a malicious spoiled child who wakes up on Christmas morning to the shock that Santa has failed to visit.

I went for a cup of tea and had a little chuckle to myself. Mistaken for Chalky White. Got to tell the lads about this one in the top bar of the Tipperary tomorrow night. I then went to a phone box to make a last check call to the office.

I was chatting to the news desk when I realised there was a sea of faces pressed up against the glass like I was a monkey in a zoo.

Children, women, old men – one of the latter without teeth – and all with the same rictus grin of embarrassed challenge on their faces. A dog was barking excitedly. I heard a chant, ‘Chalky White. Chalky White.’ I bade farewell to the desk and pushed open the creaky old red glass-paned door.

‘No…you’ve all made a terrible mistake.’

A harridan of about sixty pinned me to the phone box. ‘You’re Chalky White, inncha?’ I protested once again that I was not.

Then I suddenly got the giftie to see myself as others saw me. A summer’s day on Margate seafront? The de rigeur dress code was shorts, swim suits, t-shirts, open necked shirts, sandals, summer dresses. And here was this preposterous creature in a pin-striped suit and buckled, highly-polished shoes.

‘No I’m not him. You see…what’s happened is – ’

‘Prove it.’ The woman interjected. ‘Prove you’re not ’im.’ I should have run then and there. Had I not read of The Mob, seen it even at riots and demos? It thinks not with its head but its guts – and inflamed guts at that. The Mob didn’t see the truthful, charming, bearded rather raffish and harmless me. It saw a man in a suit. It saw Chalky White. It saw MONEY.

I thought I’d appeal to their logic. I’d prove to them who I was. I got out my Press card (NUJ, not Met in those heady days). Look, I pointed at my picture…I’m with the News of the World, not the Daily Mirror. And my name is Stuart W-w-w-w….the words teetered on the precipice of my tongue, I tried to pull them back but they toppled kicking and screaming into the abyss.. ‘W-w..white…’

It was enough. Newspapers are newspapers. Mirror? News of the World? Just early editions of fish and chip paper to come. The Mob had all the evidence it needed.

‘Chalky White! Chalky White!’ They began to pull at me, grabbing my suit, demanding the hundred pounds. ‘I saw ’im first,’ shouted First Harridan.’ ‘No you didn’t I saw ’im go in the bleedin’ box,’ screamed a younger but budding Harridan Two. ‘No you never. I saw ’im in the café and followed ’im,’ croaked Old Toothless.

There was only one thing for it. I made a run for it. I broke free. A swing of the briefcase caught an unguarded rib to a squeal of anguish; a hand-off learnt playing rugby sent a fat lady tottering. I accidentally stood on a tiny sandaled foot and its owner cried out in childish soprano. But pity was an emotion I couldn’t afford. I was off. I was 27. I was fit, and had I not been for three seasons left-wing for Windleshaw Parish Church Amateur Rugby League team in my teens? I ran like this was the Challenge Cup Final at Wembley, the try line lay ahead, and I was a candidate for the Lance Todd trophy.

They gave chase. Cheated. Thwarted. Angry. Murderous. But I made my open topped MGB, roared it into life and screeched out of town like I was gettin’ the Hell outta Dodge.

Now let me make it perfectly clear: I was not Chalky White and never have been. I have never worked for the Daily Mirror. I owe nobody one hundred pounds. It was a stitch-up, see. I was framed, see. Someone set me up, see. I suspect the real ‘Chalky’, keen to protect his newspaper’s precious hundred smackers, was no doubt watching from his hiding place and cackling.

But I rather believe for decades afterwards, her trust in newspapers for ever ruptured, a slowly greying mother would say to her growing daughter: ‘We got cheated that day in Margate. It was Chalky White all right. The bastard!’

  • Stuart White worked on his local newspaper the St Helens Reporter, and various provincial evenings before going to Fleet Street to the London Evening News. Between spells on the News of the World he worked in Hong Kong on the China Mail. His final assignment was as the NoW’s American correspondent based in Los Angeles. He writes a column for Business Destinations magazine.

#

Last day in the office

By Revel Barker

There was a second phone on my desk. It didn’t go through the secretary or the Mirror switchboard. It was an external number that only Maxwell, the editor in chief (who’d been fired) and the three editors knew. It was ‘the hotline’ – part of Bob’s paranoia about security.

Sixteen people had these phones; in the event that the shit hit the fan and the company folded, 13 of us (ie, not the editors) would be the ones kept behind to close it down, and hopefully to resurrect it. It never rang. But now it was ringing.

When I answered it, a familiar deep brown voice asked: ‘Who’s that?’

Between jabbing the button on a console with his fat finger, and the time it took me to reach over and pick up the handset, he had forgotten who he was calling.

‘Aw, for fuck’s sake…’

‘Ah… Revel… please pop up and see me. Now.’

He told me to get myself a drink, and there was a delay because there was no bottle opener, so I asked for his driver to be called, because I knew that he had one on his key ring.

While we waited he said that he had received my memo. It had amounted to a character reading, reminding him that in July 1984 he had said that he never told a lie, but would sometimes allow his mind to be changed, and that on that basis he had reneged on every promise he had made to me or in my presence in the seven-year interim, from ‘journalists will be on top, management on tap’ by way of ‘would you like to edit The Sporting Life?’ to ‘I am going to let Stott and you buy the Sunday People’.

When he’d looked at the first memo I’d written him, what seemed like a lifetime ago, he’d said: ‘Get one of those yellow markers from the secretary and just highlight the important bits, the bits that I need to read.’ And I’d said no, because I wrote only the important bits; if I sent him a note I expected him to read it all.

This one, he had obviously read word for word. It wasn’t on his desk, but he was able to quote from it. It listed the broken promises, the last one being his failure to inject any money into the People which was as near as it had ever been to being in the black. My last line was ‘Enough is e-fucking-NUFF.’

It came from the heart. I had written and sent it before lunch. Mike Molloy, to whom I had shown a copy after sending, described it as a potential suicide note. ‘But he’ll probably just ignore it,’ said Mike.

But when the driver had been and gone Bob asked how many times I had told him I wanted to leave, and I said there were five occasions that I could remember, and probably more, when I’d been pissed.

And on each of those occasions, whether pissed or merely pissed off, said Bob, he had persuaded me to stay. Now he said: ‘Don’t misunderstand what I am saying. I am not asking you to leave. But if you are adamant that you want to leave, what I am saying is that I will no longer stand in your way.’

‘Great,’ I said. ‘That’s easy. I want to leave.’

He shrugged. ‘If that’s what you wish. Now I want you to go back to your office and write out your terms for leaving this company, and bring them back for me to sign.’

‘On the other hand,’ I suggested, ‘you could just sign this.’ And I produced a folded piece of A4 from my inside pocket and laid it flat on his desk.

Bob stared at the dog-eared, slightly crumpled, sheet of typing. ‘How long have you been carrying this in your pocket?’

‘Since Friday, July 13, 1984. Only I have retyped it, revising the figures, from time to time.’

‘Honestly, I had no idea that you were so unhappy all those years. I thought it was just you being awkward and obstinate.’

That as well, I told him. But I didn’t see how I could possibly have made my feelings more clear to him.

He worked his way down my bullet points, quibbling briefly about the deal on the office car because it was new, and asking why I wanted to take what I described with intentional vagueness as my ‘computer equipment’. I explained that it was because all my personal stuff was on it, and anyway the PC was old. I didn’t say that there was also a laptop, and a new £1,500 printer. But I bought the car and the technology for a quid each, and handed him two pound coins, which he pocketed.

When he got to the bit about a pay-rise, backdated to January, he said: ‘I will increase your salary, as you suggest, but from April.’

No, I insisted: from January.

‘There’s a problem in doing that, because it will affect your pension.’

I told him that thought had also occurred to me.

‘When you’re dealing with pensions,’ he said, ‘you are taking money from widows and orphans.’

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘But we are talking about my widow and my orphans.’

[Now I know… with benefit of hindsight, this was a weird conversation. But only with hindsight. At the time it meant absolutely nothing, to me – although, possibly, it meant quite a bit to him.]

‘OK,’ he agreed. ‘We’ll leave it as January.’

The deal was that I would leave on December 31 (this was October 31). He initialled the paragraphs of the document with his strange pen stroke which, years earlier, I had pointed out to him was actually the Pitman’s shorthand outline for ‘charge’.

It was unusually, eerily, quiet in the office. Nobody came in; the phone didn’t ring. He told me to get another drink. His driver had left the bottle opener with me.

He looked down in the dumps. I asked him if he was ok. ‘Don’t tell me you’re suddenly depressed at the thought of my leaving.’

‘It’s not that,’ he said. ‘I think maybe I am going down with flu. But I mustn’t get flu. The doctors told me that one day flu would kill me, because of the lung thing. [Diagnosed with TB, he’d had a lung removed, but the surgeons removed the wrong lung and then discovered that the diagnosis had been mistaken in the first place.] So I’m going off shortly to the boat, to get some fresh air. I’ll be ok after that. Look… come back next week and we’ll go over your paper again. Maybe we’ll round up the figures a bit. Don’t make an appointment. Don’t tell the secretaries, just come straight in on Wednesday morning and we’ll do it.’

Business completed, we chatted about other matters, and other people. I helped myself to another drink while he called Ian and reminded him that he was standing in for a couple of his appointments while he’d be on the boat, and told him what to say, and to whom, on his behalf.

Finally he stood up. ‘Come on, I’ll walk you to the lift.’ Bob never walked anybody to the lift. He pressed the button and as we waited he put his hand on my shoulder and said: ‘You know, you’ve been a good friend to me, and you’ve never given me anything but good advice, even if I haven’t always taken it. But anyway… come and see me next week and we’ll take another look at those figures. And have a good weekend.’

He had no other appointments that evening. He left very shortly afterwards to fly off to his yacht, Lady Ghislaine.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Read what you like into it. But that's how it was.

When it was announced that he was lost at sea, the Stock Exchange had his office sealed. When it was eventually unsealed, so the records show, the only piece of paper on his desk was my departure deal.

  • Between 1984 and 1991 Revel Barker was editorial advisor to the publisher, group editorial manager, managing editor, foreign manager, assistant managing director, general manager of the People, and managing director-designate of People Publishing – all jobs that ran concurrently. 

#

Alisdair Macdonald, 1940-2007

By Paddy Byrne

There will be a memorial service for Alisdair Macdonald – one of Fleet Street’s best and most dedicated photographers – at St Bride’s church on November 1.

As a change from words, let’s remember him with perhaps his most memorable photograph:

charlesdikissThe Kiss was the one picture that the world wanted to see and that every photographer wanted to take on that unforgettable date in July 1981.

And Alisdair was the one who got it as the Daily Mirror splash.

An estimated 600,000 people filled the streets of London that day. The Street’s finest photographers had been arguing for weeks about who would go where on the rota.

Was it better to get inside the Cathedral with 3,500 people, where TV cameras would broadcast the ceremony to 750million viewers – a world record – and be among the first to see The Dress? Or stand outside in possible rain (it was, after all, an English summer) being jostled by the crowds and take your chances trying to capture whatever happened on the Buck House balcony?

Alisdair drew the balcony spot.

He stood waiting for hours in his prime position, virtually immobile, his camera never leaving his eye, scanning the crowds for activity and then focussing in on the balcony when the main players eventually arrived, his long lens weighing heavily in his hand, and him terrified of running out of film and missing the one great shot that might happen only at the moment when he needed to change a roll.

It was worth the wait.

The shot went round the world.

Was it the best photograph he ever took? Probably not. There was packet after packet of his aircraft photography in the Mirror picture library – the Farnborough Air Show was always one of his favourite assignments. There were also plenty of on-the-road jobs for news and a folio of brilliant portraits: Michael Cain and Paul McCartney spring easily to mind.

But as a photo that captured the mood of a nation and the spirit of two young people, apparently so much in love, it seized the moment. Brilliantly.

#

The big one!

By Ian Bradshaw

I first met Tommy Braithwaite on a night shift for the Sunday Mirror in the late 60s. He was semi-retired even then and was in his usual place at one end of the Stab’s front bar. I had just left The Times staff to go freelance and this was my first encounter with the tabloid end of Fleet Street.

Stories of Tommy’s escapades were widespread even then… How other photographers would load his glass plates for him, put him in a taxi to some assignment, unload his plates when he returned and process them as he returned to his slot in the Stab.

They were always pin sharp and beautifully exposed although Tommy often could not remember where he’d been and who he’d photographed.

Unlike many of his colleagues who’d warned me off Fleet Street, Tommy was always encouraging to a young photographer. He gave me the best piece of advice I ever received, and still remember to this day.

I had to go to photograph the Queen and was understandably nervous about the etiquette involved. ‘Don’t you worry lad; you and the Queen have a lot in common,’ Tommy told me. Wondering whatever I could have in common with Her Majesty I asked the old sage what that might be.

‘You both shit in the mornings!’ said Tommy seriously. I never forgot it in my dealings with pompous company chairmen and self-centred celebrities and once reminded a particularly difficult CEO of the fact to his face. He thought about it and then cooperated.

Tommy was also famous for having handled The Big One for Mirror pictures. One evening he was hanging round the desk when the phone rang. Picture editor Simon Cline answered it, tensed and then turned to Tommy. ‘This is it Tommy the big one, go, go, go!’

‘OK, where to Simon?’

‘Don’t hang about Tommy go-go-go! Now!’

‘But where to?’

‘If you’re still there in a minute, you’re fired. It’s the big one! Go!’

Tommy, knowing better than to hang around, shot out the door and went to the Stab, taking up his usual position at the bar.

An hour later Tommy phoned the picture desk.

‘Where are you Tommy?’

‘I’m on my way Simon but could you tell me...’

‘Keep going lad, it’s really big.’

And with that the phone went dead.

This continued until closing time when Tommy made one last despairing call.

‘I’m just about there Simon, what’s the addr...’

‘Don’t worry old man, its over. Come back!’

Tommy never did find out where the job was. But plenty of mileage was duly recorded on his expenses: ‘Secret assignment for picture editor…’

#

Life with monkeys

By Colin Dunne

Pairs, combinations, double acts… you know how we hacks love them. Why? Well, because we have the off-the-peg words to describe them. Flicking through the pages of our Handy Book of Nifty Phrases, we say – again and again – that this is the best marriage since fish and chips, or beer and skittles, or bacon and eggs. We’ve all done it.

So, when the commissioning editor of YOU magazine – the MoS colour supp, when it was the best of the lot – told me over lunch about the editorial twosome he had put together to go to Australia for a piece, I was temporarily lost for a comparison.

John Sandilands was certainly one of the most original and stylish freelance writers. He was also possessed of a dangerous wit. This was the man who once complained to a slow waiter: ‘Are you bringing those snails or are they making their own way to the table?’ As a piss-taker, he was mostly unhindered by a sense of mercy.

The photographer who was to accompany him, a talented chap, had one minor character failing. Thin-skinned doesn’t quite cover it. He was so touchy that he had been known to hit people for saying ‘Good morning.’ The red mist was never far away. A snapper who easily snapped.

A great combination. Wicked piss-taker and two-fisted paranoid. Suddenly the phrase came to me. ‘This,’ I said, ‘is the best combination since gunpowder met flint.’

My prediction was that they’d never last the two weeks in Australia. I was wrong. They came to blows on the train to Gatwick. Before they’d even sat down.

The placing together of man and monkey – or, more formally, writer and photographer – is more complicated than any matchmaker has ever faced. For one thing, I don’t agree with the widely held belief that most snappers are mad, although many of them, it is true, would benefit from regular doses of the liquid cosh and jackets with tie-down sleeves. They’re a little unpredictable, shall we say? Probably been unhinged by all those flashlights going off.

When I was far too young to understand these matters, I found myself in Warrington one morning with a freelance photographer called Ron. In the nearest pub, he looked round at the empty bar with some scorn. It was, he thought, pretty lifeless considering it was nearly noon. When the two pints came, Ron sneakily slipped off his wrist watch and dropped it in the glass. Pinter couldn’t have bettered the dialogue that followed…

Ron said he thought there was something in his beer. The landlord, bending down, said with some puzzlement that it looked like a watch to him. Ron said he thought the same. Crouching down to get a clearer look, the landlord said it was definitely a wrist-watch and expressed a high degree of curiosity about how it got in there. Ron, slightly indignant, echoed his curiosity at the same time as emphasising that he was not in the habit of putting watches into pints. Of course not, the landlord reassured him – the idea was too preposterous for words.

They looked at each other. There was only one possible explanation. The watch must have come through the tap. At this point, the landlord put his head beneath the tap and looked upwards for any further supplies of time-measuring devices that might be in transit.

‘But you lost your watch,’ I said, as we came out.

‘It was crap,’ said Ron. ‘I always carry one in case I want a laugh.’

I think the most creative photographer I ever worked with was Dennis Hussey in the Mirror’s Manchester office. When the visual artistes in London got stuck, they usually passed the problem on to Dennis. A cover pic for a shock issue about the re-building of the north? The next day Dennis came in with a picture of his son, aged about four, in a cowboy outfit, rifle at the port, against a background of houses rising on a derelict landscape. ‘New Frontier,’ he said.

Pollution, said London. Off went Dennis and returned with a picture of dead fish rolling in the foaming waters of the Tyne in the foreground, misty cooling towers in the background. I think he got prizes for that. A week later, the features editor, Alan Price, asked him to suggest a reply to a reader’s letter saying that the fish were clearly mackerel, and what were they doing ten miles upstream? ‘There’s always one clever bugger,’ was his reply, and he was right.

(What Dennis had done, being a very smart snapper indeed, was to buy a cran or something of mackerel, and hire two men with a motor boat.  He sat up in the prow with his camera and gave the signal for them to tip the fish over the stern and start the outboard engine.  Result: shoals of dead fish rolling around in turbulent waters.)

He and I worked a lot together, and it was always a pleasure. If anyone made difficulties, Dennis’s answer was to become brisk. When a fearfully snooty lady horse-breeder in Ireland said she didn’t wish to have her photograph taken, Dennis said: ‘You don’t want it taken, I don’t want to take it, so let’s get it over with, luv.’ He plonked her in front of a horse and before her astonished mouth could close, he’d got it.

In Portmeirion, going to interview the widow of the architect who designed the place – Williams Clough Ellis, Ellis Clough Williams, Clough Williams Ellis, or some similar permutation – I’d just passed through the reception of the rather superior hotel when Dennis arrived. The languid young man behind the counter was just saying to a colleague: ‘Apparently he’s from the Daily Mirror, but he didn’t seem such a bed chep.’ Dennis slapped his palm on the desk. ‘Aye, I’m not a bed chep either – which way did he go?’

There were two things you noticed very soon about Dennis. First, he was a dashingly handsome chap – or chep – with black hair and brown eyes, a sort of Lancashire Gregory Peck. The second was that he was fiercely patriotic. I got the impression that he thought foreigners were a very poor second to our rough island race.

It wasn’t until we saw a shop called Hussey and Son in Tralee that he told me something of his background. His family had originally come from Tralee, and there was the shop with the family name over the top. We had some time to spare, so Dennis went inside and introduced himself. They sent him on to a farmhouse outside the town to see a woman who was his auntie. When she opened the door, she cried: ‘Tis a Hussey come home!’

He told me all this later when he came back to the car. She had recognised him instantly because of this appearance. ‘Look!’ she said. He turned to see several Hussey cousins, with black hair and brown eyes. They’d told him the explanation. Hussey was a corruption of the name Jose. He was descended from survivors of the Spanish Armada who had been shipwrecked on those shores.

Naturally enough, Dennis was very moved by this romantic personal history, although I thought it did have other implications. ‘You know what this means, don’t you?’ I said, as we drove away. ‘I’m sorry to say it Dennis, but you’re a dago.’

He kept out of the sun all that summer, I can tell you.

For about three years, John Dempsie and I were the London-based features team for the Daily Record, and it was probably the most enjoyable three years I ever had. For one thing, the two of us had a free hand to go anywhere and do anything. Secondly, Glasgow knows very little about English geography. ‘Kensington, Colin? Will that be an overnight?’ It was.

Dempsie, ex-Mail and Mirror, was born in Motherwell and openly admitted to being Scottish. As we drove around together over the months, Dempsie persistently attempted to assert Scotland’s superiority over my native Yorkshire. (Ridiculous, I know, but that’s the Scots for you.) It came to a head as we were approaching the Yorkshire border from the south and I said I was longing to hear some of the lovely old Yorkshire songs again. Dempsie snorted with contempt: the only Yorkshire song was that bloody awful thing about Ilkley Moor.

Oh no, there were lots more, I told him. And I began to sing them in the car. The Northern Lights of Old Huddersfield. Over the Sea to Buckden. I Love a Lassie, a Bonnie Keighley Lassie. And that wonderful old closing-time song, When I’ve Had a Couple of Drinks on a Saturday, Bradford Belongs to Me.

As the final note died, I heard a Motherwell voice beside me say: ‘Ye’re nothing but a wee song burglar, Dunne.’

I’d thought he wouldn’t notice. After all, he is Scottish.

We had a lot of fun together, and so I did with Ian Bradshaw, when we were freelancing for YOU mag. Ian worked for everyone from The Times to the National Enquirer. He set high standards and could become a tad impatient if others couldn’t meet them. Bradshaw – for some unaccountable reason – was noted for having assistants so glamorous that they made most models look plain.

On one occasion he had a new assistant who could have made a camel look pretty. She was six and six: that is, about six stone in weight, about six-foot high. I’ve seen more robust bootlaces. In her early twenties, she was a health freak, a vegetarian, and vegan, and quite possibly a Martian. So fastidious was she that there was almost nothing she could eat other than a lightly grilled oak leaf in season. Certainly the only thing she could find on the hotel menu in Bremen were a few French beans, and she left most of those.

The next day we had to be up for a 5am flight. As she went to bed at nine, leaving Bradshaw and me demolishing plates of dead animals and pints of beer, she pointed out that we had no respect for our bodies to be filling them with such filth, and if we continued to poison ourselves like this, we were not long for this world. And off she went.

The next morning, very early hours, the Vegan was nowhere to be seen. Bradshaw rang her room several times. Eventually she came staggering down, sat down in the foyer, and fell asleep. The two 50-year-olds, crippled from years of bad diet and hedonism, did her job as she snored. We were quite prepared to carry her to the car as well, but she managed to make it unaided. In the measured tones of a man who is one inch short of murder, Bradshaw made a suggestion to her. When you get back tonight, he said, lips tightening, I suggest you have a bloody big steak-and-kidney pie, a bread and butter pudding and five pints of bitter. ‘Then perhaps you’ll be able to do a day’s work.’ Yawning, she said she hoped to become an aroma-therapist. Bradshaw advised her to avoid strong smells: ‘they’d knock you over.’

Technically, everyone said that Bradshaw was the best. He was also the most competitive. Sometimes the two coincided…

We were doing a piece on gypsy fortune tellers… oh dear, you’re not allowed to say that, are you? How about professional liars of Romany descent? Anyway, he’d photographed about eight of them and he was disappointed. They simply didn’t have the right sort of faces. But he knew someone who did – my wife, whose ancestors were Sicilian. We went back with a headscarf, crystal ball, hoop earrings, and prints of the earlier pix. She seemed a little disappointed we hadn’t brought some pegs for her to sell.

Now this is technical so let’s hope I’ve got it right. Bradshaw pinned the gypsy pictures on Anita’s front and stuck a lens against the back of the crystal ball. Snap. It was a brilliant pic: scarved and ear-ringed gypsy gazing into a crystal ball wherein she could see the faces of all the others. At the magazine office, he chucked it casually on the desk. ‘Very clever,’ said one art bench exec. ‘That’s what I would have done.’

There was a pause. Bradshaw’s eyes narrowed. ‘And how exactly would you have done that?’

Answer came there… what’s that word again? Ah yes: none.

He’s in America now, bounding from success to success as usual. I don’t know who his latest assistant is. My guess is a non-vegan with a prominent bust-line

Say what you like about smudgers, they were never boring. In fact, quite often I found myself praying for a boring photographer, just for a rest. There was one snapper on the Sun who had an office car that would be replaced after two years or 100,000 miles. After six months, he put it in for a new one. The clock showed 100,000 miles. He’d got a girl-friend in Sweden and every weekend he’d drive like a fury to Humberside, cross on the ferry and drive right across Sweden. Then back.

The picture editor offered to provide him a choice of girl-friends, all with bigger tits, if he’d try to stay closer to home. I tell you, they looked after the staff in our day.

###

 

Back to the top button

 

  Site Map