‘If they’d invented computers first, we’d be on hot metal by now and it would work better.’ – NGA FoC, c1980.
Gentlemen, that reminds me..
This, in an ideal world, is how Gentlemen Ranters is supposed to work.
Somebody – pick a name out of the air, say Liz Hodgkinson who used to work for the Sunday People – writes a piece that might be as unlikely as a report of a competition about a reader’s best experience of drinking a cup of tea.
This prompts one of the Ranters – oh… think remote… somebody like Phil Finn (who used to work for the Daily Express), to remember when a cup of tea got him a scoop in, just bear with me, I am letting the imagination run riot, here… but let’s say in… somewhere totally daft, like Brazil.
That happened last week.
And the next thing that happens is that Phil’s piece prompts Andy Rosthorne (Daily Mail) off his bum and onto the keyboard because he remembers the other end of the story that Phil had gone to Rio to chase.
And, prompted by Ian Skidmore’s recollections of Mike Gabbert and Ken Graham, Andy Leatham remembers a long-forgotten phone call to the office.
Meanwhile David Baird (Yorkshire Evening News and old Sun) remembers a tale about when Phil Finn was doing sport in Doncaster and discovered that you could write a cricket report just as easily from the scorer’s book as you could by sitting there and watching it.
It could never happen, of course.
Not, at least, in real life.
…Unless you remember, as I do, a piece on Geoffrey Mather’s website (http://www.northtrek.plus.com/) about Neville Cardus writing a match report from the scorebook and somebody reading it and saying that he couldn’t possibly have been there, and Cardus saying no, but he felt like he had.
You couldn’t make it up. But then, we rarely had to.
Princess Anne’s daughter Zara was standing on the perimeter of a polo field in Gloucestershire, fixedly staring through a pair of binoculars. What had caught her attention was a group of snappers lurking in some trees on the other side of the field. It was clear that she was by no means enthusiastic about their presence.
She was watching them and they were watching her. They had a better view. They had longer lenses.
‘What is she looking at?’ asked one of the cameramen.
‘Us. She doesn’t look happy.’
‘I wonder why.’
‘She’s probably still pissed off that somebody tried to photograph her changing in her horse box.’
‘Yeah, but that was slightly exaggerated. And the story that we were trying to get her in a thong was not true.’
‘A thong! Zara in a thong! Wow! Can you imagine what that will be worth...’ A pause… ‘It would pay for all this gear in one hit.’
It is every snapper’s dream. One super shot and then rolling in the syndicated loot. That has already happened to some of the snappers outside William and Harry’s nightspots.
But it is not an every day - or rather, every night - occurrence. The paparazzi - some prefer to be called freelance photographers or candid cameramen - need frequent hits to remain going concerns. Having to pay for all the equipment does concentrate the mind.
The initial cost for paps starting out today is between £15,000 and £25,000 – plus transport. He or she needs at least two digital cameras, flash guns, tripods, long lenses, super long lenses and lap tops. A pap also needs more patience than an angler along the banks of The Thames and what he or she needs most of all is a thick skin. All agree that though £15,000 to £25,000 sounds a lot it is cheaper than going to university and, if successful, can recoup the outlay much more quickly.
The word Paparazzo is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as a ‘freelance photographer who pursues celebrities to take their picture’.
The word was first used in director Federico Fellini’s great 1960 movie, La Dolce Vita, which starred Anita Ekberg. Author and film buff William Hall says: ‘The film provided a sensational view of the decadent, sweet life of Rome society as seen through the eyes of media man Marcello Mastroianni. In the movie Marcello loathes the degradation around him but seems incapable of extricating himself from the glitter of the Via Veneto and the allure of uninhibited orgies.’
(In the case of Anita Ekberg, making the movie was somewhat ironical. She had some real-life run-ins with the paps of Rome. She finally flipped over the flash-guns and one day rushed back into her hotel and came out with a bow and arrow. Yelling ‘My ancestors were Vikings’ she let rip, scoring treble bulls eyes - on a flash gun, a camera, and then a photographer. The police had to sort out the mess.)
London’s first proper paparazzo was undoubtedly Mr Ray Bellisario. He is said to have disliked the Queen’s family. This may or may not be true. What is certain is that they disliked him with a vengeance, particularly so Prince Philip. Deeply frustrated, Philip pleaded with the Queen, ‘Can’t we make an exception? Can’t we send him to the Tower?’
She shook her head, ‘Not any longer, dear.’
Ray used to go for long walks down the Mall, pushing a pram, and keeping his eyes peeled for any royal who may have strayed out of the palace or a royal nanny wheeling a push chair. Like a boy scout, he was always prepared. For inside the pram he was pushing was not a wee baby but a wee old fashioned 35mm camera with a long lens.
One of Bellisario’s big early scoops was at WindsorGreatPark. He got a tip off that Prince Charles and Princess Margaret used to go water-skiing at Virginia Water on summer weekends. So one night Ray climbed up a tree and sat and waited. His patience paid off. He got a sensational series of shots of Charles clowning around on the water, one hand gripping the ski rope and the other holding a chair behind him, giving the impression he was skiing sitting down.
And then there was Princess Margaret, skiing in a wet suit, the sort of pictures never before seen of the royal family. They were sensational and were splashed across the pages of Paris Match and other foreign magazines. Bellisario is also said to have taken a picture of a topless princess frolicking on honeymoon on the lawns of BalmoralCastle.
He drove Prince Philip potty. In fact the Duke of Edinburgh became really paranoid about Bellisario and started checking out all the suits of armour in the various palaces. He wouldn’t pass a suit of armour without flipping open the visor to see if Bellisario was lurking inside. At the time Philip went around growling, ‘I’ve got a reputation for being nasty to photographers – bloody nasty if they poke a long lens through a keyhole into my private life. I don’t mind photographers doing their job as long as they stick to their designated place.’
Steve Wood, who never ever sticks to any designated spot, says: ‘If you stay exactly where you’re put and take the shots that please the establishment – you won’t make any money. Pictures that please the establishment don’t please picture editors.’
About the time Bellisario was winding up Prince Philip over here, a Russian called Ivan Kroscenko was making ripples in Rome. He was one of the first paparazzi to patrol the eternal city’s hot spots in a souped up scooter. Ivan practised photography much as the gunslingers of the west practised their quick draws. As he put it: ‘I keep my shutter finger in trim by drawing my camera and photographing coins, which my friends throw in the air, dead centre before they hit the ground.’ What Ivan also practised was ducking out of the way of kicks, bottles, upper cuts and Anita’s flying arrows.
Probably the most famous set of pap pictures in recent times apart from Princes William and Harry was the Duchess of York on holiday with Johnny Bryant. They were taken by a very smart snapper – (no, that is not a contradiction in terms) - a French guy called Danielle Angeli.
Angeli used to keep a close watch on a lonely little airport on the Cote d’Azur between Nice and Monaco, much favoured by big wigs who really did want privacy. He had a good contact in the hangars, too, who one day tipped him off that Fergie had arrived with some bloke who didn’t look like Prince Andrew. Angeli drove to the airport and sauntered over to the Hertz desk, where Fergie had hired a car. He told the receptionist he was with the Duchess of York’s party and was supposed to join them but he had lost the address of the villa. She went away to check and told him. He found the villa and spent the rest of the day checking out the surroundings. He found a dirt road leading up to a forest that overlooked the villa. In the next few days Angeli shot 90 rolls of film. He would camp out in the forest, wander down the road for a long French lunch and then in the afternoon go back to improve on the shots. No one saw him. And Fergie never knew she had been photographed – until the pictures appeared everywhere.
Angeli also got wonderful photos of the Pope going for a swim – wearing red socks. Every morning Vatican security would arrive at the pool, check it out and then go away so the Pope could swim in private. Angeli watched this and then one evening fitted some CCTV cameras inside the complex. He hired a villa next door and sat there watching his closed circuit screen. When the security guards had left and the Pope came wandering down (in his red socks) Angeli climbed up a ladder and started shooting away.
Alas, the deaths of Princess Diana, Dodi Fayed and the chauffeur Henri Paul in Paris have taken a toll on the paparazzi. There are far fewer at work in France because of that tragedy and the country’s tough privacy laws.
Finally some good news for all the paps out there. Some time ago a Philadelphia scientist, one Joseph Resnick, announced he had invented an electronic Paparazzi Stopper. The device, he said, could be clipped to a cap, necklace or jacket lapel and is triggered by a photographic flash, sending back a flash of its own and ruining any unwanted film. He arranged a demonstration but it didn’t work, of course. As Einstein could have told him: one light beam can never overtake another light beam.
I was hired as a hack on the Daily Mail in Manchester by Ken ‘nasty cop’ Donlan in 1969 and later that year, assigned by news editor, Bill ‘nice cop’ Dickson, to be Vincent Mulchrone’s runner at the investiture of Prince Charles at Caernarfon Castle.
‘Mr’ Mulchrone was to write the Mail’s big scene-setting colour piece and my role was to do his bidding, whatever that might be.
For a menial tyro like me, condensation running behind my ears, it was going to be an honour simply to be at the Great Man’s side.
At exactly as ordered, I knocked on his hotel room door. A stentorian voice bid me enter the presence. He sat at a dressing table-cum-desk, immaculate in a tailored grey suit, silvery hair swept back, more bank manager than priest but reassuringly ready to sup with dukes or dustmen or whoever the day might bring.
‘Mr Mulchrone, I’m Geoffrey Seed and I’ve been told to assist you in any way I can.’
An affectionate and generous smile spread across a face that had been everywhere, seen everything.
‘My dear boy! How kind of you but I have everything I might want right here.’
He waved his magician’s hand over the props before him - three packs of Passing Cloud cigarettes, a bottle of Scotch and a two shilling guide to the town of Caernarfon.
‘Now you run along and enjoy yourself. I shall be perfectly all right.’
And so it came to pass that a brilliant piece duly appeared, conjured out of the air in that little hotel room. I hadn’t been needed after all.
Some days later, myself and Gordon Priestley - a nervy, perfectionist Mail photographer - got inside CaernarfonCastle by dint of our innate boyish charms and rat-like cunning.
Taking pictures within the Castle before the investiture was embargoed if not absolutely forbidden. But Gordon and I found ourselves schmoozing the Queen’s brother-in-law, Anthony Armstrong Jones, who’d designed the set.
Gordon clicked away covertly in barely suppressed excitement then we scooted back to the Mail mobile dark room with our exclusive. The big decision would be whether the Mail was prepared to risk official displeasure by breaking the embargo for the sake of Gordon’s terrific pictures.
He left his negs with the printers and, if memory serves, went for a deserved long-ish lunch to celebrate while I awaited further instructions about words.
But alas and alack, never underestimate the gods of hubris and their malignant trickery.
Gordon returned only to find his negs had been accidentally left in developer all afternoon. Each of his pictures was ruined save one showing Armstrong Jones and me with the great ceremonial dais still being worked on under the castle turrets. Unfortunately, the chemicals had given me a panda-like black eye so even that shot was barely unusable.
Nevertheless, Gordon wired it. It didn’t make, of course. I think I’ve got the only copy - a memento of the scoop that never was.
Geoffrey Seed (Daily Mail 1969-74) was an investigations producer with World in Action, Channel 4, Panorama and ITV, specialising in crime and politics from Belfast to the Balkans and beyond.
‘If they’d invented computers first, Don,’ Tom Harrison, the comp’s FoC, once said to me as we wrestled with New Technology, ‘we’d be on hot metal by now and it would work better.’ Fanciful logic, maybe. But, the laws of physics aside, who says technological advances have to come in any particular order?
The greatest single advance in newspaper technology, publishing and subsequently global literacy came in the 19th century when Mergenthaler invented the Linotype.
But there was a far better machine before it. The Paige Compositor could set type as fast as four men working at once; unlike the Linotype, it could produce entire words in one go, not just letters. This wonder of the age, this Holy Grail of publishing was the work of an American machinist called James Paige.
His machine so wowed experts of the time that fortunes were poured into its development - notably by author Mark Twain. Twain was no lightweight investor; he owned newspapers and had set his own first articles by hand from a fount case. He knew the business.
Unfortunately, the Paige Compositor was just too complicated. The perfectionist inventor was always promising a completion that never came. Huge investment went down the drain and Twain himself was bankrupted and brought to the very edge of ruin by it. He alone lost the modern equivalent of four million dollars.
There is one Paige Compositor still in existence. It consists of 18,000 moving parts and no-one has ever dared to take it apart for fear of being unable to put it back together. Ironically, it was purchased by Mergenthaler’s company and sits in the basement of one of Twain’s former homes…
But back to my compositor friend’s amusing observation.
Running through his bon mot like an iron thread was a sadder undertone, a plea for mercy. Both of us knew that his day, that of the printer in national newspapers, was finished barely three-quarters of the way through the Twentieth Century.
By the time of New Tech on the Mirror in the 1980s, I had worked with comps and hot metal for more than 30 years. True, I had adapted to photo-setting and bromide paste-up on the feverishly up-to-date Reading Evening Post in the 1960s. But hot metal ran in my blood and didn’t really believe in anything else. It got the job done.
I could read a page in relief fluently, I knew what kerning, a beard, a dab and a turned comma were and was at ease with the printer’s mark for delete, upside down and close up. I knew what Off Its Feet meant and that type height was the same as a shilling.
By my mid-twenties I also thought I had got used to comps’ rough manners and their contempt for ‘bloody editorial’ and could ‘handle’ any horny-handed inky and get the best out of him.
Then I came to the Mirror.
I had never met comps like this. Halfway through a vital page a union official would come round and tell the comp: ‘You’re on break.’ The man would not be allowed to touch another line; I would be left staring at a menacing deadline while an overseer looked at me miserably. There was nothing either of us could do.
Comps would stop work after uttering phrases like:
‘Are you having a pop? Right that’s it, this page is blacked.’
‘I’ve been told to go and move my car.’ (Even if the comp had come to work by train.)
‘The committee man [union official] has told me to slow down - I’m working too fast.’
Often the final correction for a page was waiting on the random (the area where all set type was assembled) but there was no comp available to walk this tiny piece of metal two yards to the page. There it would sit and sit and sit.
If a journalist even thought about picking it up and handing it to the comp there would be no Daily Mirror the next day.
As we staggered daringly towards New Technology the rules became fiercer. One day I was standing with my hands behind my back (I knew where my hands belonged) reading a paper proof. A comp came up with a malevolent look on his face and turned over the page that was under my nose so it was blank side up. It was a printer’s proof - not for Bloody Editorial to look at.
In Orbit House, journalists were actually banned from standing on certain parts of the carpet that had replaced the old composing room’s cement floor. These were comp’s areas...
There was, of course, much rough fun to be had. Many compositors were highly intelligent and gifted men; their artwork and scatological poems adorned the walls and were often better than the stuff Bloody Editorial turned out.
I first saw that joke about the editorial policies of the various nationals on a poster in the composing room. You know the one:
The Times is read by the people who run the country. The Daily Mirror is read by the people who think they run the country. The Guardian is read by the people who think they ought to run the country. The Morning Star is read by the people who think the country ought to be run by another country. Sun readers don’t care who runs the country as long as she’s got big tits.
Coarse humour prevailed mainly because it was a men-only society. The random was often run by a comp whose name I think was Wally. He had the most pronounced limp of any man I have ever seen: he actually disappeared behind the random when he went down on his shorter leg, only to reappear as he came up on his good leg.
He always wore a pristine white apron and his sole conversational gambit was:
‘You can suck my stump!’
‘Wally, has that legal mark turned up yet?’ - ‘You can suck my stump!’
‘Wally, where’s the page five lead?’ - ‘You can suck my stump!’
‘Wally...’ Well, you get the idea.
The first time I saw a woman on the composing floor (it was Judy Moran in the 1970s, just for the record) I was actually shocked. It was like seeing a polar bear sitting on the Front Bench of the House of Commons.
And among all this madness were the geniuses. George Apps, God bless him, ignored all the utterances of the union men and did his thing. He was so skilled that they gave him two or three pages at a time. He often did the front alongside the back.
To see him chamfering rules and pouring sticks of type into a page brought tears to the eyes of even hardened stone subs. It was like watching Yehudi Menuhin playing the Bach Chaconne. Not a quaver dropped, not a vibrato missed whatever the pace.
I had been a writer on the Mirror for nearly ten years when I went back to subbing. I joined the Close-Up page with Callan, Bradbury and Bonnett. They presented the new boy with floods of copy then went to the pub.
I hadn’t the faintest idea what the fuck I was doing.
I turned up on the stone like a dishevelled asylum seeker after ten hours on the underside of a transcontinental lorry hoping for somewhere warm, a nice cup of tea and mercy.
I wasn’t getting any.
I met Charlie Fountain for the first time that evening. It was like Saladin meeting up with Richard Lionheart. It wasn’t going to end with Pina Coladas and making love at .
‘What the fuck is all this?’ said Charlie, indicating the vast number of galley trays on the stone beside the empty forme for Close-Up. I had sent the paper storm down to be set exactly as it had arrived on my desk. Don’t ask me why I hadn’t trimmed it. Sheer panic on the first day of the job, I suppose. There was a lake of it the size of the Serpentine waiting to go into a half page.
Charlie was a little terrier of a man, a comp of the old school. He feared no-one despite his size and would bollock comps, journos, overseers and union officials alike if he thought them incompetent or time-wasting.
I’m no giant myself, but Charlie had under-estimated me that day. I was punching my weight and boy was I smokin’.
‘DON’T fucking start!’ I roared. ‘I’ve had a shithole of a day and all I need is some prick like you giving me a hard time!’
The whole composing room fell silent. They had never heard anything like it. If Judy Moran had walked in naked at that moment no-one would have noticed. Someone had shouted at Charlie!
Charlie stood looking at me for a full 30 seconds. Then with a sour expression of disbelief mixed with disgust at the rubbish he had to work with, fell silently to work putting right my incompetence.
The floor went back to a busy hum.
Turned out it was the right approach at that time, though I have always regretted it. Ever after that we got on very well and Charlie would address me as ‘Mister Walker’ with a styptic hint of sarcasm.
Thank goodness, because Charlie was a genius at his job and could turn you out a tight page with everything fitted as you wanted in record time with no excuses. And any committee man who told him to stop work and go on break or move his car could... well, they could stuck his stump.
‘Tonight, I saw the end of a legend…’ that was the intro to my report on the European Cup match between Ajax and Liverpool in December 1966. I still have the now fading clipping from the Sketch,
The intro has stuck with me, though the ending to this masterpiece of sports reporting never saw the light of day.
My introduction to sports writing started as a part-time Saturday afternoon job, phoning copy for staff men via the Tom Reynolds freelance agency in St Helens. I’d be handed their copy and would spend the afternoon phoning, dictating, half-watching. But it led me to a full-time job with Tom’s agency, Reynolds St Helens, and launched a career in the business.
You got to know the people at the other end of the phone, the blessed copytakers, hunched in little cabins around newspaper offices spending endless Saturday afternoons typing reports. Their little idiosyncrasies became familiar. You chatted about the weather, music, girls, families…anything to stave off the boredom they felt and you shared. And you worked as a team, at a mutually comfortable pace, with pauses when the copytaker needed a new sheet of paper. ‘Just changing paper…’
Some of these behind the scenes typists were real characters. Long before mobile phones and laptops made delivery of reporting a doddle, we knew how to coax a copytaker into taking just one more gem of an item. Some held a fascination.
A reporter who shall be nameless fell in love with the voice at one end of the phone and arranged to meet, only to discover the dulcet tones belonged to a spinster of some 64 years.
I think it was Colin Wood, the youthful faced sports writer with the Mail who told the tale of the clever clogs he had when he was reporting a European match from Everton. The phoning technique was to give clues and hints to the poor soul at the other end of the line, particularly in the spelling of a name. For example, Smith usual spelling, Smyth spelled out. Colin, if it was he, got through the Everton team, then began the Polish team with a twisty name, only for the copytaker to sigh ‘Usual spelling?’
One used keep interrupting me with ‘Are you making this up as you go along?’ Another would make sarcastic comments about the Manchester weather, northern players, northern ale and northern woman, not necessarily in that order.
But to the night in Amsterdam, when Liverpool lost 5-1 and a new star was born – Johann Cruyff.
It was Liverpool’s record European defeat on this night in 1966, losing 5-1 to Cruyff-inspired Ajax in the European Cup Second Round first leg tie at the fog-bound Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam, with Chris Lawler grabbing a last-minute consolation. The pitch was so foggy that manager Shankly was even able to wander on to give instructions to half-back Willie Stevenson without the officials noticing him!
The Dutch telecoms people had miscalculated the number of phones needed in the Press box and four or five us ended up with beer crates as tables on the terrace. What a viewpoint. The fans nearest the pitch relayed what was happing in it and we writers saw occasional flashes of coloured shirts.
After I’d struggled through 100-word bursts every 15 minutes, the copytaker, Andy, a West Ham fan, couldn't hide his mirth. Every goal was received with, ‘Having a good night are we?... Liverpool playing well?... Are you sure you’re at the match?’
I must point out at this stage that this was shortly after three West Ham players – Moore, Hurst and Peters – had won the World Cup, beating Germany in the final.
Andy was eager to keep reminding everybody of this. I walked back to the Hilton Hotel with Norman Wynne of the People – we later went out on the town and were arrested, but that’s another story. Relaxing in the warmth of my 12th floor bedroom, I then wrote the final comment piece and got back to Andy, who was now tired, fed-up, longing to get home and not a Liverpool fan.
I started, ‘Tonight I saw the end...’ It rambled on from there, with only a few sighs and smirks from Andy, until he grunted, 'Just changing paper…’ This was followed by ‘How much more of this crap is there?’
I bottled it. ‘You can end it there,’ I sighed. Copytaker one, sports writer nil. West Ham triumph.
Phil Finn’s recollections about his misadventures in Brazil stirred memories of an incident in a somewhat less exotic location, when he worked for the South YorksEvening News in Doncaster. Phil usually covered Doncaster Rovers but in summer he was expected to file reports from one of the local cricket grounds. It was not a task he much appreciated as on Saturday afternoons he preferred to take the earliest train possible to the bright lights of London. So he made arrangements with the club secretaries to phone in the scores for him.
All went well until one Saturday when, at about , Stanley Houghton, the feared editor, called reporters and instructed: ‘Finn’s covering Grimethorpe’s needle match with Denaby Main, isn’t he? Well, the next time he calls in, put him through to me.’
Stanley was not a man to mess with - and he had obviously caught on to the Finn strategy.
This was a crisis. How to get hold of Phil? I was despatched to Doncaster railway station and sure enough there he was calmly waiting for the London train.
‘This is an emergency!’ I told him. ‘Call Stanley at once!’
Phil’s cherubic countenance blanched. But he kept his head. He squeezed into a phone box and called the office. When he was put through to the editor, Stanley asked him some inconsequential question, then inquired about the game.
‘Interesting match, Mr Houghton. The pitch is in perfect condition, Grimethorpe won the toss and are batting first,’ reported Phil, with remarkable sang froid - at precisely the moment when the station announcer boomed out: ‘The 2.45 for Kings Cross is now arriving at Platform 3. The 2.45 for London Kings Cross…’
Desperately, Phil covered the receiver with his hand. Did Stanley hear the announcer? Possibly, but he gave no indication, and minutes later Phil was on the train to London.
Later he went off to Manchester and New York, covering events of somewhat greater magnitude. No doubt that, after working on the News under a demanding editor like Houghton, it was a piece of cake. When you’ve toiled amid the miners’ clubs and coal tips of South Yorkshire, you can handle googlies and anything else that’s thrown at you.
Ken Graham may have presented a gruff, tough face to the world but underneath he was a kind and thoughtful individual. The stories about him are legion but this is one of my favourites...
It was my very first morning on the Sunday People, back in 1970-blank and I answered the telephone in the newsroom.
‘Is Ken Graham in yet?’ a man asked.
Not knowing to whom the voice belonged, nor what Ken’s whereabouts where, I played safe.
‘Not yet. Can I help?’
The voice went on: ‘It’s Arthur at the Royal Oak. Will you tell him I’ve got his teeth?’
Now, we’ve all taken odd calls but this one was shaping up to be the most odd ever.
‘Sorry. Can you say that again?’
‘I’ve got his teeth. He was in here last night and he took ’em out and put ’em on the end of the bar. Said they were interfering with his drinking. Well, he was a bit pissed when he left and he forgot ’em. So if you can just tell him that they’re here with me...’
And so it was that my introduction to a toothless Ken ‘Knocker’ Graham was to pass on from Arthur what still remains one of the strangest and funniest messages I have ever taken.
‘Thanks,’ muttered Knocker. ‘I thought that’s where they must be.’
Scooped by Phil Finn in Sao Paulo and Madrid, the Mail hit back in Lancashire.
They sent me to join that supremely well-connected crime reporter James Stansfield on the doorstep of the stricken mother in Walton-le- Dale, near Preston.
The house was easy to find.
In those days you kept a weather eye open for a dark blue E-type Jaguar. It was owned, driven, and parked near the big jobs, by the Mirror’s Ted Macauley.
We were not alone. The huge Manchester pack of those days was beginning to swarm around an Accrington brick semi.
I remember thinking that unless our formidable news desk, organised by Ken Donlan, had a better plan, there would be, as they say in Liverpool, nothing down for us.
But in those days, aboard our tight ship, we sailors left the navigation to the men on the news desk: Bill Dickson, Tony Hoare and Malcolm Long.
Sitting on Accrington bricks on the garden wall, Jim and I composed the traditional grovelling letter, promising the family a hassle-free end to their media ordeal.
I don’t think we had an envelope, so I carefully lifted the letter box flap to avoid our scruffy offer being further mangled on delivery.
It gave me a free peep into the lobby of the besieged semi.
The first thing I saw was a man’s hand.
Behind the green door someone was waiting for our letter.
He held it for a moment, as I held open the letter box flap. Then he pushed it back in my face, returned to sender with a new message scrawled below my signature.
‘Go away. I am inside - Harold Pendlebury.’
The penny dropped fast.
So Jim and I had been part of a deception plan, hatched by an invincible news desk.
Naturally we followed our orders and went away to consider our position - over halves of Thwaites bitter, I think.
Notes and Letters
Express stalwart Gordon Ducker, who began his national career as a Sunday Express reporter in Manchester and ended as production editor of the Daily Express in London has died from cancer at 61.
Gordon, who had three children, remarried his first wife a year ago.His funeral is at Cambridge Crematorium today (Fri, Jan 18).
Before joining the Express group in 1973 he had worked on local papers in Sheffield.
Like several journalists in the Express Manchester office, he enrolled in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, rising to the rank of Wing Commander and was called up to serve as a PR officer during the Gulf War.
Here’s something certain to be of interest to everybody who worked around Temple and who maybe cut through the grounds every day on their way from the tube station to The Street.
The place is opening up this weekend at the start of what will be a year-long celebration of its 400-year charter.
Lots more info on-line in The Times (Law bulletin).
A bit late, but there was a good and affectionate obit of Shelley Rohde, written by Angela Neustatter, in the Guardian on Tuesday.
From Peter Reece:
It’s pretty clear now that a good Ranters’ tale should contain at least an element of deception or divided loyalties and, quite essentially, copious quantities of strong drink.
But can anyone shed more light on a hazy memory I have when all newspaper loyalties held firm, deception used as a sword for the good - leaving only beer in generous volumes.
It all came about during the bitter weeks of the miner’s strike, when flying pickets were constantly chased by van loads of baton wielding coppers. Great stories of victories and defeats on both sides made headlines, but one impending battle had to be avoided at all costs.
Big Bod, the brewery with its towering brick chimney and giant boilers, fed on coal in copious quantities – and, if the fire went out, Manchester was threatened with a very serious thirst.
Had the miners ever got wind that bootleg coal was being secretly shipped in by the lorry load, the Cream of Manchester might curdle, and Boddington’s brewery would be forced into closure.
This was serious! Very serious indeed…
A whisper went around the press pubs of Manchester, and an unlikely agreement was struck without written word or murmur of dissent.
No newspaper or newspaperman would mention Big Bod, or is huge appetite for illicit coal, in print. It was binding by consent - a remarkable bond, and never broken.
I think today’s owners of the Boddingtons brand – or perhaps even the Humane Society - might strike a medal for the press-man who first alerted us all to the danger. Can anyone claim recognition for this courageous and historic act?
Peter Sharples of the Manchester Evening News springs to mind, but I may be wrong…
From Stanley Blenkinsop:
Local weeklies aren't what they were...
A fortnight ago one of them in my area (paid-for and not a giveaway) carried a letter from a woman in Herefordshire apologising to our townspeople for her bad behaviour.
She had fallen down drunk after attending a Macclesfield wedding, injured and knocked herself out. Had to be taken by hospital by ambulance.
Now she was full of contrition.
No follow up interview or picture, although her full address appeared.
I tipped off one of the red-top tabloids - and they asked for it exclusively.
Good page lead with a picture of the woman, attractive and in her early 30s, followed two days later
The tabloid news desk rang today to tell me they had had a call from the weekly paper asking for her address SO THAT THEY COULD DO A STORY!
Wonder how many ‘media studies’ graduates they have on the staff?