editor@gentlemenranters.com

Edition #33

The Gentlemen Ranters site is a brilliant compendium of reminiscences of the great days of Fleet Street. – The Times, August 2007


February 22, 2008

 

Six of the best

Two weeks ago we invited Ranters to submit a short piece – no more or less than six words – as a biography, reminiscence or rant. This week we publish the pick of the bunch.

A fairly frequent submission, I’m currently out of the office, was not considered as a serious entry.

Taking up rather more than six are some of our regular contributors, plus some new ones.

We start happily with a rant by Brian Hitchen in what was posted as a letter but deserves to be in the body of the kirk. It is Hitch on familiar ground attacking stupidity and hypocrisy and, in the absence of his old columnar space, he’s more than welcome to squatter’s rights in this one.

Geoff Seed, prompted by collected recollections of the Munich air crash, reveals the hypocrisy of the history that surrounds what used to be known as the Busby Babes.

World news prompts Jeff Blyth to file from New York with his memories of Fidel Castro’s rise to fame and to interminable speeches.

Then we have the background to scoops about two famous femmes fatales (slightly different definitions): a photographic memory, a car dash to Wales, sitting under the dryer in a ladies hairdressing salon, a bottle of Glenfiddich and a new-found expertise in horticulture landed Norman Luck a splash to remember about Myra Hindley, while Cyril Maitland and his camera make friends with Margaret Duchess of Argyll.

And finally here’s Colin Dunne, suggesting that we run a Where Are They Now column on this website – but arguably explaining why, since everybody in the business is apparently so easy to find (never knowingly out of touch, us, old boy) – we don’t need one.

Well, we’ve found Hitch, Jeff and Cyril. Who else were we looking for?

But first…

Here it is, in six words:

Flaming shame. The Street now sleeps. – Terry Maher

Here he lies, and always did. – Geoffrey Mather

When in doubt, make it up. – Paul Callan

He looked at Death. And smiled. Leigh Banks

There are still some chits outstanding. – Fred Lofthouse

Heart attack, Kew Gardens: no flowers. – Colin Adamson

Snappers there, scribblers still in pub. – Ian Bradshaw

Manchester, gloom; Florida, sunny, blondes, va-va-voom! – Jack Grimshaw

Old hack... taken in by PA. – Nick Jenkins

Who unscrewed the public phone mouthpiece? – Cathy Couzens (Where is she now? She’s in Houston Texas, living under the name of Hollowell.)

#

Green willies

By Brian Hitchen

The bell has gone for yet another round in Fleet Street's big willie contest as to who uses the most recycled newsprint.

Re-cycling newsprint creates more pollution than it prevents.

All the paper manufacturers, newsprint buyers, and newspaper proprietors are well aware of this.

The reason may not be unconnected to the fact that ink is leeched from old newsprint by a mild solution of cyanide. So the ink disappears from the mulch in the recycling vats, and the porridge-like stuff is then ready to be turned back into new, white, newsprint.

But what happens to all that diluted cyanide water? Good question. And one the paper makers don't want to discuss for fear of upsetting the loony Greens, and the recycling fanatics.

All paper manufacturing experts agree that the best way of disposing of biodegradable newsprint is to bury it. Allow it simply to rot away.

But, unlike recycling, there is no money in burying it. Paper manufacturers claim government grants for recycling, and re-cycled paper attracts tax breaks – a fact that will not have escaped the attention of News International.

The Sunday Times this week carried a piece, GREEN AND CLEAN, across three columns announcing that the paper has gone carbon neutral. Wow!

Proudly it trumpeted that in seeking to be as eco-friendly as possible, 75 per cent of ‘your paper’ was now made of recycled fibre – ahead of the government's target of 70 per cent.

‘All the trees used in the paper manufacturing process are replanted: our suppliers meet certifiable standards of forestry management. All waste from our three main UK printing sites is sent for recycling, as are any unsold copies of The Sunday Times.’

According to the blurb, the offices of News International are now run on green energy, 70 per cent of which is from renewable sources. News International is now carbon neutral.

But what about that watered-down solution of cyanide used to leech out the ink from old newsprint?

Perhaps the carbon-free Sunday Times could send an undercover team to find out. And, while they are at it, perhaps they could also uncover the truth about how recycling turned from being a hobby horse for whacky Greens, into a politically correct cudgel with which to cow a gullible public. And create an industry worth many millions of pounds.

#

The Busby Babes and fake exes

By Geoffrey Seed

Sitting in an ITV canteen some ten years ago, I overheard a football producer planning an interview with Peter Lorimer, the brilliant ex-Scotland and Leeds striker. I leaned across and suggested he ask Lorimer about almost signing schoolboy forms for Manchester United after the club bunged his parents £2,000 cash – a fortune in the early 1960s.

I’d investigated alleged corruption at Old Trafford for World in Action with Granada researchers Mike Short, ex-Liverpool freelance, and Paul Greengrass, now an acclaimed Hollywood director – Bourne Supremacy etc.

Greengrass – blessed with a barrister’s brain and red-top instincts – brought the story in after picking up a whiff of haddock in the financial affairs of United’s then chairman, Louis Edwards.

We later established Louis’s meat supply company paid bribes for contracts and organised ‘Oxfam runs’ of sweeteners – expensive joints to those in positions to do him business favours.

He also made unorthodox cash payments for United shares through intermediaries, firstly after the Munich air disaster to build up his controlling power base, then in a rights issue prior to our investigation and which stood to make the Edwards family millions.

But we kept hearing rumours of parallel bribery and corruption within his football club, too – cash allegedly being paid to parents of promising teenage players.

It was vital we find out how the bung money was raised and accounted for – and whether United’s deified manager, Sir Matt Busby, was aware of such payments.

We homed in on an ex-United employee with the answers.

For three months, we door-stepped him several times a week – at his house, place of business, pub and club. Were it not for our charm and impeccable manners, this might have been seen as harassment.

Finally – and simply to get rid of us – he revealed the secret. And pretty mundane it was, too. Travel and hotel costs for legitimate scouting trips were paid from a ‘Number One Account’.

Money for bribes came from what was called the ‘Number Two Account’. In reality, this was just a box stuffed with bank notes generated by fake expenses.

If it was running low, certain people were told the ‘Number Two Account’ needed topping up. They would then claim for imaginary scouting trips and make-believe hotel bills. Money derived from these fictitious ‘expenses’ would be physically transferred from the legal ‘Number One Account’ to the box in readiness for when the next bribe had to be paid out.

So, back to Peter Lorimer – and whether Sir Matt was in this dubious loop.

Even as a boy, Lorimer was a great prospect. Two United scouts drove to Scotland to schmooze his parents for their signature. The family were not well off. But when the United men left, our information was the Lorimers were a staggering £2,000 richer.

Back at Old Trafford, they thought Busby would be delighted with their night’s work. But far from it.

We were reliably told that an exasperated Busby said he’d ‘promised’ young Lorimer to Don Revie at Leeds and ordered them back to Scotland to sort out the mess.

In due course, Peter Lorimer did indeed sign for Revie – but only after his Mum and Dad were asked to return Manchester United’s cash. Being honest, working class folk, they did just that.

Fast forward to the ITV canteen.

I saw the football producer some weeks after his Lorimer interview and asked if he’d mentioned my United story to him.

He had – but now claimed World in Action was mistaken about the Lorimer affair.

‘No we damn well weren’t,’ said I, bridling a bit. Our original source had been barely a sugar lump from the horse’s mouth so I knew the information was pukka.

‘I’m afraid you were,’ he insisted. ‘According to Lorimer, his parents didn’t get two thousand pounds.’

‘But I know for sure that’s what they were bunged.’

‘No, you’re wrong. Lorimer says it was five thousand, not two.’

So, apologies all round.

Reaction to the programme was fascinating.

A bank manager I knew thought it a disgrace to sully the club’s good name. For this pillar of High Street probity, laws governing false accounting, bribery and corruption could be set aside if United were the culprits…

One Manchester sports writer claimed to me he knew all about the soccer bribes. I suppose he and others didn’t dare report it or they’d risk their cosy berths at Old Trafford…

Tommy Docherty, ex United manager, said if I were on fire, he wouldn’t cross the street to piss on me.

Regrettably, Louis Edwards died exactly a month after transmission so follow-up investigations by police, Inland Revenue and football authorities came to nought.

Fifty years after Munich, United have won cups and fans the world over and become soccer’s most glamorously successful club. The myth founded on the cruel deaths of Busby’s Babes – those fresh-faced innocents, all post war hope and glory – endures and inspires.

But for me, at least, something else died with them – that sense of honour and decency of a lost generation and how they played the game of their lives before the money-men got a grip on the Theatre of Dreams.

#

Playing second, Fidel

By Jeffrey Blyth

The ‘retirement’ of Cuba’s Fidel Castro takes me back – in memory anyway – close to 50 years when Castro’s attempts to overthrow the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista was one of the big stories of the year. In those days I was the Daily Mail ‘fireman’ in New York. Don Iddon was bureau chief but, like Noel Barber in Paris, Ralph Izzard in the Middle East, I was the North American reporter ready to rush off – like a fireman – to the big story of the day.

As a result I spent many weeks in Havana in l959 covering Castro’s attempt to overthrow Batista. In those days – thanks to the coverage of Herb Mathews of the NY Times who managed to interview Castro in his hideouts in Cuba’s Sierra Maestra mountains – the young rebel leader was regarded as something of a hero. A sort of Latin American Robin Hood. In fact such a heroic figure that many Americans contributed to his cause and even in some cases volunteered to fight alongside him.

But back to l959 and New Year’s Eve. That was the moment Batista realised Castro was a real threat and decided to quit the country – taking with him much of his ill-gotten financial fortune. Like many I spent the night celebrating with colleagues. Unlike the scene in the movie Godfather 2 made many years later about the events that night, Batista did not make a formal farewell before he left for the airport in his limo. So few really knew he had left the country.

I got back to my hotel in the early hours. The deskman told me: ‘Your office has been calling for hours.’ I responded: ‘Tell the switchboard I’m back in my room.’ As I rode up in the elevator the liftman said to me: ‘Isn’t it fantastic!’ ‘What’s fantastic?’ I asked.

‘Haven’t you heard? Batista has fled.’ As I walked into my room the phone was ringing. It was London. ‘Isn’t it fantastic!’ a voice said.

‘Yes,’ I replied ‘Batista has fled.’ My thanks still go out to that anonymous liftman. What would London have thought of me – one of their ace correspondents – if I had asked ‘What’s fantastic?’

But back to Castro. By the next morning the news had spread. There was chaos in Havana. The crowds began smashing parking meters for their coins (there was a belief in those days that Batista pocketed all the proceeds from the city parking meters), the casinos were broken into, the tables smashed. Stores were looted. But the big question was: Where is Castro?

No-one knew. What few also knew at the time was that in addition to Castro’s rebels, there were at least two other lesser known rebel groups competing to overthrow Batista. Was that why Castro had not yet put in an appearance? Maybe.

For at least two days the mystery of where Castro was continued. Then in the bar of my hotel I encountered an old friend and colleague, a writer for Agence France Presse, named Buck Canel, whose office in New York was adjacent to mine. He said to me: ‘I think I know where Castro is. I’m told he’s in a little town called Matanzas, about 40 miles outside Havana.’

Then he added ‘I’m going out there. Do you want to come with me?’ I didn’t hesitate. We called for a taxi.

I should, at this point, reveal that Buck Canel was very famous in South America – not as a reporter for AFP, but as the Spanish speaking commentator for almost all the biggest baseball games played in the US. He was a household name throughout Latin America.

Anyway we drove out to Matanzas. A small Spanish Colonial town with a typical town square surrounded by palm trees. We drew up in front of the town hall. Canel asked: ‘Is Castro here?’ His voice was recognized immediately. ‘Si, Senor… Si, Senor Canel,’ someone responded. ‘He’s upstairs in the mayor’s office.’

Accompanied by a growing crowd, all of whom seemed more interested in talking to my colleague from New York, we climbed the stairs. The door to the mayor’s office was open. And there, sitting behind the desk in his khaki fatigues, smoking if I recall a big cigar, was Fidel Castro. There was a clamour in the room. I heard the name of my colleague being shouted out… ‘It’s Buck Canel!… Buck Canel!’ Castro leaped to his feet. He rushed from the desk, embraced Buck Canel – and they began chattering away in Spanish, little of which I understood. I should, at this point, mention that Castro was an avid baseball fan. At one time in his college days he’d even aspired to make a career in baseball.

The Spanish went on. I tugged at my colleague’s sleeve. ‘What’s he saying?’ I asked. ‘Shush’ replied Buck. ‘I’ll tell you later.’ After a further few minutes they stopped, long enough for me to ask again what he was saying, to which Buck replied: ‘He wants to know why the referee in the last World Series gave a certain decision….’ I was incredulous. ‘You are talking about baseball!’

‘Yes’ replied Canel. ‘He is very interested in the game – especially the World Series.’

Then they began conversing again. Buck this time explained: ‘Castro wants to know what’s happening in Havana… who’s in charge…? Who’s in control of the university, for example? And the airport…’ Canel assured him that his supporters seemed to be in charge, but there seemed to be groups running wild, he admitted. Then came the big question: Who’s in charge of the radio and TV stations? Canel knew that…he had filed a report from the radio station that morning. ‘Your people,’ he assured Castro.

‘You are sure?’ Castro demanded. Reassured, he replied: ‘If that’s so – let’s go!’ We descended the staircase. Castro climbed into the back of an old battered jeep. We got back into our taxi – and off we headed for Havana, with a crowd of Cubans waving us away. As we neared Havana word seemed to have spread. The crowds by the roadside grew larger. There were loud cheers. Flags were waved. Once inside Havana our convoy, growing larger by the minute, headed straight for the main Cuban TV studios. Once there, Castro bounded from his jeep and disappeared inside. He went straight to one of the studios. He told the technicians he wanted to be put on the air immediately. And then for a solid seven hours Castro talked to the Cuban people, non-stop, without a break.

And that, I always say, is how Castro took Cuba

#

Hearts and flowers

By Norman Luck

Little did I know that the skill of honing a photographic memory during those formative years of life in a grammar school classroom preparing for the dreaded exams would in later years help me snatch a first-class exclusive.

It was in those heady times when reporting was an adventure, Fleet Street circulations were sky high and young ambitious operators were forced to compete with hardened, respected journos from rival newspapers, many of whom have sadly passed on to that newsroom in the sky.

I was lucky enough to be a member of a crack team of reporters on the Daily Express where we shared the enviable reputation of ‘first in-last out’ on any major story, and was desperate to prove my worth.

The time was the early seventies when it was revealed – amid a storm of protest – that convicted Moors Murderer Myra Hindley, serving life in Holloway Prison, had been taken for a walk in a London park.

This was only the tip of the iceberg, as I was to learn when I was assigned to track down the governess of the prison – Ms Dorothy Wing – who had been forced to resign by order of the Home Office as a result of this gross error of judgment.

Her last known address was in Royston, Herts – my first port of call after a tortuous drive through the early morning London traffic. No reply, house deserted.

Luckily, after a spell of door-knocking, I found a neighbour who remembered Ms Wing had a sister living in the Welsh outback town of Rhayader, Powys, although she had only a partial address.

It was enough for the news desk to order me on what could have been a total long-shot, so by lunchtime I found myself driving west ‘just on the off-chance’.

In late afternoon as I arrived in the small town, I prayed that someone could convert the address clues in my possession into a tangible location.

Being strictly a town boy I was penetrating a close-knit community hoping that my ‘needle in a haystack’ mission would be successful. First stop the local policeman who guided me to an area in the centre of the town.

Then I got lucky. Inquiries at local shops revealed that Ms Wing’s sister lived in a cottage adjacent to the town’s favourite hotel. Within minutes I was standing at the wrought-iron gated arch to this idyllic dwelling, gazing into a cobbled courtyard bedecked with an amazing array of flowers and plants.

A push of the bell brought a well-dressed, bespectacled lady to the gate to answer my inquiry. I expressed my admiration at the floral display of which she was obviously very proud and congenially she allowed me access into the courtyard.

I risked the humiliation of being escorted out as quickly as I gained entry by revealing my identity and purpose of visit. But to my surprise and relief she graciously announced: ‘I will see if my sister will speak to you.’

Fascinated by the surrounding banks of colour I did a quick tour of the displays to read the Latin names that were meticulously labelled on every variety, verbally pronouncing and remembering at least three for possible later use in my own garden.

Kick in the photographic memory. As I mused over the carefully tended pots a booming voice from the top of the stairs greeted me cordially. ‘Thank you for coming. You must appreciate that I am not allowed to talk to you because I have signed the Official Secrets Act.’

I had to play for time. Having tracked her halfway across the country and driven nearly 200 miles to come face to face I wasn’t going to give up without a fight.

She was friendly and sounded a little dejected having had to give up her job, so I changed tack immediately and showered praise on her for the wonderful display of floral splendour – the like of which I had never seen before outside Kew Gardens.

This was a case of flattery getting you everywhere. Ms Wing softened and directed the praise towards her sister who hovered with pride as I complimented her on her Helianthus annus (sunflowers),tagetes patulas (dwarf marigolds) and ipomoea purpurea (morning glory).

For someone like me who wouldn’t know a geranium from a delphinium before that occasion, with only a rudimentary knowledge of buying the last-minute bunch of roses or carnations to mark my wife’s birthday or wedding anniversary, this salvo of botanical knowledge must have sounded as impressive as any expert panellist on Gardener’s Question Time.

Ms Wing’s sister was suddenly on my side. She warmed immediately to my vast knowledge and scolded her sister for not being more co-operative with ‘this nice young man’.

Ms Wing tried to protest saying she was too busy, she had an appointment at the local hairdressing salon, and she couldn’t be seen with me. I immediately agreed to accompany her to the salon with the promise I wouldn’t get in the way.

For the next 90 minutes it was verbal fencing. I tried desperately to coax a few words out of her so I could usefully contribute to the story of the day… while sitting next to her with my head buried in a dome-like dryer so as not to attract too much attention.

On the verge of accepting defeat I made a final play by inviting her to go for a drink at the local pub. She refused but to my surprise suggested we should have a drink back at the cottage where she had a bottle of her favourite whisky. Yes! Bring it on.

Once back at home she produced the Glenfiddich and poured me a generous measure in a large tumbler before availing herself of the same amount.

Suddenly all my fears were dispelled as the amber liquid lubricated her tongue and a second tumbler full was set beside me on the table.

She looked wistful and happy to unburden her thoughts with the words: ‘Walking in the park was nothing. One day we took Myra to the Tutankhamen exhibition in London. It was so busy. We queued up for a while but couldn’t wait so we took her for tea at a store in Oxford Street where she was recognised by a member of the public who thought she had escaped from prison.

‘The police arrived and the incident was hushed up when we explained the outing was a compassionate visit under strict supervision of prison staff designed to start Myra’s rehabilitation programme.’

To my shame I have to confess that I did not drink a fraction of the booze she plied upon me and just managed to ‘spill’ the majority into a copper plant pot close to my armchair. I had to keep a clear head, having got this far.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Using the excuse of booking a bed for the night at the nearby hotel I slipped out between the third and fourth glass of whisky and filed 2,000 words to London in time for the splash.

On my return I placed the cardboard from my cigarette packet into the mechanism of the telephone so the ring would be muffled should rivals track down the Rhayader address and try to make contact to follow our first edition exclusive.

We talked late into the night covering Myra’s intimate relationship with an ex-nun wardress, the frequency of her trips out with plain-clothes prison staff and many other incidents involving the Moors murderess.

I filed twice more from the cottage with Ms Wing’s approval and even accepted her invitation to ghost her memoirs.

It was a night to remember. In the early hours I crept out of the cottage leaving Ms Wing asleep on the sofa, and walked 100 yards to my hotel room. Job done.

#

The Duchess of Argyll, and me

By Cyril Maitland

In 1963 I had a brief, romantic affair with Margaret Sweeney the Duchess of Argyll. Well… really, it was more a ménage-a-trois between her, me and my Pentax camera!

In the lead up to her pending sensational divorce, we would meet in secret at sometimes sophisticated glamorous places and at times less so.

At the time I was a photographer with the Mirror. Her pending divorce to the Scottish Duke had the British and European press agog long before the infamous case would come before the court in Edinburgh. Because of the intimate sexual details, which all knew would be exposed in court, journals were bidding for the rights to her story and as usual at that time the bidding war was won by the Mirror group. They would pay all legal fees and have the publishing rights. Reg Payne was the Sunday Mirror editor at that time and as I was one of his favourites – it was because of Reg that I had landed the coveted Far East Royal trip, months earlier at the end of the previous year – I was assigned to the Duchess.

Whenever she went anywhere privately we always knew and if it was picture worthy, I’d be there.

Margaret knew the value of good press but she also realized that for someone of her rank, appearances were also everything.

So with me she got the best of both worlds. We agreed that I would always just mysteriously show up. That way she’d never be seen to be collaborating with the ‘dreadful tabloids’.

Then came the day when the world wondered if she would actually show up for the court case. She went ‘missing’ just days before it opened.

She was at the Ritz in Paris – incognito of course. I went to Paris and booked into a different hotel.

While the rest of the world wondered, we met secretly in the early afternoon, in a little-used cocktail bar near the rear entrance of the famous hotel. There I learnt that she was simply in Paris to attend an arranged showing at Chanel’s showroom nearby. We planned the best ‘take’ and I agreed NOT to show her with the handsome man friend who was obviously accompanying her in Paris. And to make things even more authentic she suggested that when I got the picture of her eyeing the fashion model, she would complain bitterly to the Chanel people and have me ejected.

Later we all had a drink at Orly airport and I was introduced to the handsome escort as a ‘well-known business man!’

When the divorce finally started in Edinburgh, it lasted so long that she would fly back to London every week-end. Separately I was doing the same. One week-end however to my surprise, we were booked on the same Sunday evening flight. Once in the air, I had the stewardess take her a drink and a little note which acquiesced to her secrecy, but, with her approval, I would shoot without anyone knowing, especially if she would just keep reading her newspaper.

For once she had not thought of the value of this ‘different’ picture beforehand and her note back to me read ‘Sounds great!’

I wired the picture soon after I touched down in Edinburgh and made page one that Monday morning in London.

During the divorce, Margaret wore a different fashion every day and she always let me know which entrance she’d use when she left the Caledonian Hotel where we both stayed. And at the courthouse where there were swarms of photographers, she never once looked my way. It was our little secret –and that’s the way it stayed.

After the divorce case I never saw Margaret Sweeney again. In fact Simon Clyne was glad to see me on the regular roster once more!

#

Great new game:
where am I now?

By Colin Dunne

Doodling was where it all started. Sitting at a desk, faced with the choice of either writing or doodling, I doodle. I once doodled my way on to the front pages of all the dailies, red and black-tops alike, and indeed doodled into a prime minister’s election speech.

doodlecd

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cartoon: Charles Griffin

I mention this simply because it was thinking about doodling that has led me into inventing a new board game. Do you remember the lunatic who always used to come into newspaper offices the week before Christmas with the new game that was going to replace Monopoly and make him a millionaire? Well, I have become that man.

It’s a good game though. I’m thinking of calling it Journolinx. Or maybe HaxTrax. We’ll work that out later.

Back to the doodling. A few years ago, when dinosaurs ruled the earth, I was doing a column on the Newcastle Evening Chronicle. Scott Dobson, artist, writer, gallery owner, and experienced glass-emptier, called in and expressed admiration for my doodling. I suggested he should run an exhibition of doodles at his gallery, which would get him lots of publicity and fill my column. He liked the idea and began ringing round friends to collect doodles. One of these, Ted Short, Newcastle MP and Leader of the Commons, offered to collect doodles from the next Cabinet meeting. A good story.

But on the day of the exhibition, Ted Short rang to say he couldn’t deliver. They’d heard that the Tories were going to send along a psychiatrist who would make harmful deductions about them – maybe allege that George Brown liked a drink, or some such scurrilous nonsense. This was an even better story but, after phone calls from Mr Short, neither the Chronicle nor the morning Journal, strangely, thought it rated a par.

However, everyone from the Mirror to the Guardian thought otherwise. The next morning it was on every front page and made the splash on two or three. The next day Wilson accused the Tories of ‘doodling away’ 14 years of office.

Scott followed this big hit with a spoof ‘Lorn Yersel Geordie’ phrasebook, which made enough money for him to retire to…

Gozo.

Remember that word.

Some years later, in the time of the sabre-toothed tiger, as a newly recruited features creature on the Mirror in Manchester, I wrote a piece about an office messenger called Joshua who supposed himself to be the Duke of Northumberland. The ‘rightful’ duke as he called it, as opposed to the ‘usurper’, as he described Hugh Algernon Percy, of Alnwick Castle, from whom he was trying to wrest the title. Don’t ask me why, but Joshua felt my piece exposed him to mockery and was making ugly noises about solicitors. The features editor, Alan Price, asked the district reporter, a physically imposing chap, to call on him. The district chap went and loomed over the rightful duke and that was that.

The district chap was Revel Barker. Revel is Ranter-in-Chief. He produces this website from his home in…

Gozo.

Do you sense a pattern emerging here? Bear with me.

At a Fleet Street reunion lunch in El Vino, just after Christmas, I was talking to Bill Greaves, the former Mail writer who went on to freelance for just about everybody. Now I first met Bill when we were both sent to cover the Antiques Roadshow visit to Jamaica. He was Radio Times; I was YOU mag. I met him at the hotel check-in just as he had had his case nicked. He was quite undisturbed by this but, as a precaution, we had a beer to fend off any delayed shock. He likes abroad. That’s why he has a place in…

Gozo.

He’s been going there since 1969 but it wasn’t until recently that he met Revel, in a meeting engineered by Dermot Purgavie.

Are you with me? With my game JournoLinx (or HacksTrax) you can see how one hack leads to another. I’m not quite sure what the rules will be yet. Maybe a sort of join-the-dots thing where they all connect in one long string.

It’s addictive. Once you start, you can’t stop. A year or so ago, on a cruise off the west coast of India, we had foodie talks from Frances Bissell, sometime food writer for The Times. The current Mrs Dunne won her food quiz, she invited us for dinner, where she told us she had an interest in a restaurant in…

Oh no, not Gozo? ’Fraid so.

(Gozo is not, as you may well think, the name of one of Geldof’s daughters or of an Irish pop singer. It is a small island near Malta, which famously gave its name to Gozo Journalism. Sadly, this was totally misrepresented by the American writer Hunter S Thomson who carelessly inserted an aberrant ‘n’ into Gozo. Idiot.)

Five years ago at the wedding of a travel PR friend I met a chap called Haydn Turner, a successful businessman and mighty sportsman (he won a prize in a veterans’ triathlon when he was over 70: whatever you do, don’t annoy him). He helps with a wonderful scheme for introducing cricket to state schools, which is run by Bill Greaves. Who, as I said, has a home… oh, don’t let’s start that all again.

Haydn used to live in Huddersfield. Did he ever, I asked him, know a freelance there called Max Jessop. I knew Max when, fresh from Malvern College, he went to work for Alan Cooper’s and Stan Solomons’ news agency. For a public schoolboy – and chorister with the school choir – he swiftly showed a flair for the darker arts of tabloidery. At the end of the day, when a few glasses of Tetley’s patent brain-fuddler had helped him relax, as tears of nostalgia rose to his eyes, he would sometimes sing ‘The Ash Grove’ as he used to with the school choir. It was truly awful. Did Haydn know this man?

‘I bought my first house from Max,’ he said.

Bingo! Another link. It’s amazing. Everyone connects to everyone else, one after another, in a chain…

You will be relieved to know that you don’t have to have a house in Gozo to join in. Knowing as I now do that half the people you meet as you trudge around the provinces will turn up later in life, I think there should be some sort of warning system. You know, a lapel badge saying ‘You’ll See Me Later, Pal.’

And often you re-meet them in the most bizarre circumstances. Standing on a beach in Antigua talking to Ian Botham, I saw coming towards us a stocky figure with a curly moustache and baggy shorts. As he drew nearer he said: ‘Do you ever get in the Hole in the Wall these days, Colin?’ I hadn’t seen Don Mosey, of the Test Match Special Radio team, since he was on the Yorkshire Evening Post. He trained on the Craven Herald in Skipton, whose local was the Hole in the Wall.

Then again, passing through the offices of Harlech Television, it suddenly struck me that another ex-Dales reporter once had a job there. At reception, I inquired after Ron Evans. He wasn’t a reporter there any more. He was managing director. I went up to his office where he sat behind a desk on which you could comfortably land a 707 and, as I stepped through the door, he was reading a copy of the Dalesman.

There’s no stopping me now. Who was my sister’s secretary when she had a textile importing business in Stockport? Ann Roberts. Who was Ann Roberts’ cousin? Glenys Roberts of the Mail. When I lived at Heddon-on-the-Wall on Tyneside, who was my neighbour? Margaret Peacock. Who was Margaret Peacock’s cousin? David Wright, ex Mirror, later National Enquirer.

But the Journolinx (or HaxTrax) I like best are those people who bob up in your life a second time. The only thing that worries me about this is what happened to all the ones you never see again.

Is Roger Draper still on the Leamington Spa Courier? Did Gordon Chester ever leave the Newcastle Chronicle? Where would we find sultry Sue Beveridge, sometime Mail, sometime Mirror (would Geoff know?)? Can anyone tell me the whereabouts of Peter Brooke, Halifax district man for the Yorkshire Post – I did hear rumours of him in Hereford and Cornwall? I’d like to know where he was and so, last time I heard from her, would his wife.

And was there really a reporter in the Mirror Manchester office called Neville Haddock (who once – this is true – shared a by-line with Ellis Plaice)?

You’d think one of those chaps out in Gozo – the one who runs this website – would start a Where-are-they-now column, wouldn’t you? So we can trace all the ones who fell by the wayside.

Incidentally, I’m one of the few people who have never been to Gozo. I heard talk that Bill Marshall once had a place out there. Certainly Jimmy Pettigrew, of the Sunday Mirror, did. Hilary Bonner (ex-Mirror, ex-Sun) has a brother-in--law there, Karl Kershaw (People sport) had a place there. So many journos go there – Tony Miles, Mike Molloy, Alasdair Buchan, Alan Hart, Maggie Hall, Iain Mayhew, Bryan Rimmer, Felicity Green – that these days they won’t let you land unless you have 100wpm Pitman’s and an NUJ card.

Yet I’ve never set foot on the place. But that’s not as bad as John Dodd (ex-Sun feature writer, more recently freelancing for everyone from Saga Mag to the Spectator). At one time in his turbulent life he used to pretend he’d been to Gozo. What happened was that he set off for the ferry but on the way he fell in with convivial company which, as can happen, involved the popping of corks. He never made it. He set off again another day and – would you believe it? – the same happened. He didn’t like to admit this to his wife in case it might suggest a character flaw, so he pretended he’d been.

‘What’s it like?’ she asked.

‘There’s nothing much you can say about Gozo,’ he muttered, scuttling out of the room.

Now John once worked in Manchester for Neville Stack who also employed Max Jessop…

For heaven’s sake, don’t set me going on that again.

But I’d still like to know what happened to Peter Brooke.

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Note

A memorial service has been arranged for Jimmy Lovelock at St Matthew's Church, St Matthew's terrace, Edgeley, Stockport – a five minute walk from the main railway station - at 2.30 pm on Wednesday April 9. The service will be followed by heavy refreshments at The Armoury Hotel, a short stagger from the church.

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