As Revel Barker recorded last year on his superb gentlemenranters blog, “the Queen called it Maundy Thursday and distributed money to the public; the lads called it Wayzgoose and distributed money to the publicans.” – Roy Greenslade, Media Guardian

Issue #90

April 10, 2009


This week: Good Friday agreement

One of the good things about working on Good Friday – which reminds me, did everybody celebrate Wayzgoose* yesterday as we did here on the island of San Serif where I have declared it a national holiday? – was that you could drive easily to work (8 miles in 8 minutes, in my case) and then park anywhere.

It was like a Sunday, which Allan Glenwright remembers today. But even more than a Sunday, there were no stories to do because everything was shut and nobody, unless they were going on holiday and had opted to be stranded at Heathrow, was going anywhere. All that was necessary was for the subs to decide whether it was a Dank Holiday or a Blank Holiday; the rest of the paper had been filled days in advance, mainly with holiday weekend TV schedules and sport.

All changed now of course, like everything else. Glenwright was working in a district (on the banks of the coaly Tyne, queen of all the rivers) but Harold Heys says that not even districts, as we know them, exist any more.

Come to that, nor does subbing – not, at least, as we knew it. But if other people’s experience was anything like that of Philip Harrison, it may be something for which we should be thankful. At least his night in the chief sub’s chair was safely far away in Bloemfontein.

And where are the stars of yesteryear? Does the current lot match up to the memories of our old heroes? Jeff Connor thinks not.

On the other hand, we’ll always have Ireland. Nothing much changes there, as Colin Dunne reminds us. Twinkly-eyed leprechaun hunters and mad bastards with armalites.

As Col would say (and often did): Begorrah.

And if you are feeling generous of spirit, cast your eye on the Letters column on the right where two people are looking for help with research.

* Wayzgoose, my babies, was Maundy Thursday. Because there were no papers on Good Friday it was traditionally a day off for workers in the print (or at least for all of them who were involved with the creation of daily newspapers). It continued until the mid-80s when Murdoch and Maxwell abolished Easter. Apparently K Waterhouse ran a piece about it in the Daily Mail yesterday; certainly Roy Greenslade covered it in his blog. We have touched on it here, in the past, as Professor Roy kindly mentions. Where the name came from is anybody’s guess (and feel free) but it apparently has nothing to do with geese. As a festival, though, it should be preserved – if only because it is such a fabulous word. Indeed, if you are reading this on Friday it means the chara got us home safely, last night.


Bloody Sunday

Not always to be appreciated having already done six days before it, but one had no choice. Then again photographers always moan, as many a reporter has noted including an ex-Daily Mirror bloke who is quite tall.

Fortunately Newcastle upon Tyne from the mid-sixties (at least for me) was a pleasant place in which to work and doing a Sunday was really no exception. Quite often I actually looked forward to it. At times a bit of light relief.

While employed by an agency, the early years were usually spent at the Daily Express with Stanley J Blenkinsop who may be known to some.

On quiet Sundays it was the custom to drive round the Swan House roundabout in my employer’s Ford Anglia (when it would start) with tyres screaming. Stanley enjoyed that. Or throw condoms filled with water out of the window of the third floor office in Dean Street. It’s amazing how much water you can get into a condom.

I escaped paid employment (if you can call it that.... my starting salary in 1962 was £7.15s in old money and fourteen years later not much better) in 1976 to become my own reluctant boss when the Sunday shift involved working with Douglas Watson of The Sun.

One of the masters of the great intro and perfect pun. Rape in a taxi? No problem… ‘squeals on wheels’. Splendid chap, as was Mike Gay and Bob Cass on sport who was the acknowledged champion of the dominoes challenge. Somehow I never won when Bob was there.

The shift usually started about half-past nine followed by a round of calls then a bacon sandwich from Peter’s Snackbar across the road from the office in Marlborough Crescent.

Then the check call to Manchester with Ken Tucker on the desk. A rewarding experience. ‘Ring in, on the hour, every hour’ was the instruction.

Just as well it was impossible to trace the reverse-charge calls made from the coin-box during the lock-in at Balmbra’s Music Hall in the Cloth Market. Julie the barmaid was usually accommodating (subject to approval by Keith, her partner and the landlord) in dispensing Glenmorangie well after time had been called. The unwritten rule to preserve this privilege was that no advances of a sexual nature were made towards Julie (although one could always fantasize from a distance) since Keith was very well-built and keen to chuck people into the street if required.

Before the arrival of all-day opening some of the ordinary customers must have been puzzled by our lot leaving in late afternoon just as they were queuing to get in.

At the time national newspapers still had district offices in Newcastle. If you were doing a Sunday and something nasty happened an element of co-operation was essential otherwise it was impossible to cope. A bit of sharing was required but it was always best to let the office know that this was happening.

Air-sea rescue at Tynemouth? No problem. An agreed split. I did the helicopter lift with a long lens. John Learwood did the collects. Jimmy Hunter did the hospital watch. All stitched together in the end.

Everyone happy. Well, almost. Ken Tucker wasn’t.

In an effort to get the first edition away The Sun’s picture desk in London asked me to work directly to them on pictures. Ken was not pleased. In fact he went berserk. He was northern news editor, everything went through him. Had there been a naughty corner I would have been in it.

Anyway, job done. Shift over. Splash on Monday.


All change on the district line

By Harold Heys

It’s not the game it was, is it? The life of the District Man, for instance, is becoming lost in the mists of time. Have any evenings or weeklies got any district men these days? Most papers I’ve come across are entrenching back to head office behind an encircling wagon train of computers while the bean counters hover menacingly, ready to strike.

The pulsating roar of the machine room as those giant presses thundered into life around three o’clock in the afternoon is seldom heard these days. The whole building shook and a foray down into the bowls of the earth for half-a-dozen copies was to encounter a nightmare vision of inky and oily blackness in which beefy boiler-suited blokes roamed over heavy machinery the size of houses. The noise was almost unbearable.

Print centres now are often miles away in the middle of green fields. Modern machinery – run by computers, a few buttons, and fewer staff – barely hums. How many of today’s young reporters have ever seen a giant printing press? How many give a toss? My local evening paper, the ‘Blackburn-based’ Lancashire Telegraph, is printed in Wales, for God’s sake.

But, back to the days of the district men – women in those days weren’t allowed out of the main office; who knows what fate might have befallen them if they’d been allowed to tramp the mean streets. Although once, just once, I remember a bit of Southern totty being sent to do a colour piece from the middle of the crowd behind the Darwen-end goal at Blackburn Rovers’ Ewood Park. ‘How did it go?’ one of the news lads asked her on the Monday morning. ‘She doesn’t want to commit herself till she’s had a smear test,’ cut in laid-back soccer man Alf Thornton. The news editor hadn’t been daft enough to send her to Burnley. She’d never have made it out alive.

I enjoyed about five years in the districts. I soon learnt that every area had a small pool of local characters who could always be relied on for some daft tale on a quiet week. We had ‘Nelson’s Swimming Granny’ and ‘Darwen’s Mighty Atom’ and Burnley Clog Dancer Henry Whittaker whose card pronounced him also to be a Whistler and Versatile Artiste (BBC and ITV fame).

Every few weeks Ray Horsfield, over in Burnley, would file a piece with exactly the same intro: ‘Burnley clog dancer Henry Whittaker is hopping mad.’ And subs’ chief Denis Cosgrove would let it go through to amused chuckles from the rest of the desk. It became a standing joke. The head was always the same: Clog dancer hopping mad.

The local loon I remember best was ‘The Brierfield Houdini’ aka ‘The Great Roberto’. Among the hacks working that patch of East Lancashire in the early 60s, he was also known as: ‘That Barmy Twat.’

He was a bloody nuisance: always coming up with some daft scheme or other. He breezed in one day and announced that he had perfected the art of escapism. ‘What about Harry Houdini?’ I ventured. ‘Bollocks,’ said Bob. I took up the challenge. A length of tow-rope, the lock off the cellar door, a ball of twine used for wrapping up newspapers, assorted rags and bits of wire. A polite enquiry to the local cop shop for the loan of a pair of handcuffs was met, surprisingly, with a curt: ‘Fuck off.’

I did Roberto up good and proper. It was a labour of love. And I carted him off and locked him in the small upstairs toilet to let him stew for a bit. Meanwhile, it was off to the Lord Nelson pub across the road. And then down to the Alexandra snooker hall for a frame or three; and then a few more jars around town and eventually back to my digs at the Wagon and Horses for a few nightcaps.

Yes. I’d forgotten all about ‘The Great Roberto’ who was eventually found whimpering and freezing the following morning by the circulation manager who wasn’t best pleased. He’d sent Roberto home in a taxi with a fiver to calm him down by the time I rolled up.

It became a legendary tale around Nelson, although Bob never complained, fearing for his reputation, I suppose. Andy Rosthorn was telling me the other day that when he pitched up in Nelson a couple of years later, every time he went to interview somebody, they always asked him: ‘You aren’t going to tie me up are you?’ He though he’d landed in the middle of some strange cult of sexual deviants till someone explained how the appearance of a Telegraph reporter tended to excite some caution among the locals.

It wasn’t bad being a district man, I suppose. You certainly got closer to real life than today’s kids who seem to be stuck in head office on the phone for most of the time. We had some great days. Most reporters of a certain age have done the Pub Opening. Great stuff! Ok, it might not have compared to the national boys’ landing a few days at the George V in Paris or a cruise on the Med but it was a few free pints and a handful of sausage rolls. Nelson colleague Tony Watson and I went one better. We went to the opening of a new brewery! Beat that for a full-day freebie. Not that I lasted the full day.

Just about the only thing I can remember of it was Tony getting me back to the Wagon and Horses that evening and propping me up against the pub wall. I’d be slumped there yet but for a couple of the locals finding me and talking me inside for a few reviving brandies.

Most district men I knew were in the same mould; laconic, laid-back and hard-bitten – and they liked a pint. They also knew just about everyone in town. Darwen veteran Norman Bentley perfected the art of ‘making the calls.’ Ring. Ring. ‘Darwen police.’ ‘Owt?’ Pause. ‘Nowt.’ Click. How cool is that?

I once got an invitation to some product launch at one of the big local factories. As a PR operation it was something of a disaster as the booze ran out inside the hour. I must have had a lump of it as I remember announcing: ‘Right everyone! Back to our place!’ And a convoy of cars with assorted hacks, PR types and company execs was soon threading its way through town. Christine was just finishing the packing – we were off to Rhodesia that night – as I arrived to tell her: ‘Just brought a few pals back for a jar, love.’ Oh, and she’d just washed her hair and had a towel round her head.

The mob cleaned us out inside a couple of hours. Christine made a few sandwiches, poured coffee down everyone, finished the packing, tidied up, sorted out the kids and helped me into the taxi for the airport. I think we left the firm’s sales manager sleeping it off on the rug. He’d gone by the time we got back a month later.

Christine didn’t bat as much as an eyelid at the mayhem. That was the way local newspapers worked in those days.

No, it’s not the game it was.


The second-last-chance saloon

By Philip Harrison

In the early 1960s, The Friend, Bloemfontein’s English-language morning daily, was the second last chance for many of the Argus group’s problem journalists. That means the drunks. Bloemfontein, in the heart of the Afrikaner Orange Free State, was not the sort of place that English-speaking South Africans wanted to live. They preferred Cape Town, Durban or Johannesburg. Mind you, one of its distinguished editors had been Rudyard Kipling.

But serious misbehaviour at any of the Argus group’s newspapers in the bigger cities meant banishment to Bloemfontein. If this did not work, the final solution was at hand — exile to the Diamond Fields Advertiser in Kimberley, then home of the biggest man-made hole in the world (the De Beers diamond mine, not the newspaper). Bloemfontein was therefore not the most attractive place for an ambitious journalist to work. That is why the Argus group recruited journalists in Britain to work there. Including me, in 1962.

The chief sub of The Friend, Garth Gibbs (does that name seem familiar?), believed in giving his subs a chance to see what it was like to be in charge now and then. So he drew up a roster for three days a week under which each sub would have a chance to lay out the paper and supervise the subbing. By coincidence, Garth also had a girlfriend who, office scuttlebutt had it, he would visit during the evening for several hours.

My turn to be chief subeditor came one Tuesday in 1963. I was full of enthusiasm, if not expertise. My idea then of page layout was to use as many typefaces and typographical tricks as possible — stories set in panels with milled borders (remember the simplex border?), pointing fingers from a caption to the photograph, reversed headings, lots of fancy stars and arrows… everything. Of course, this put enormous extra pressure on the composing room, already working to tight deadlines as Wednesday’s paper was big to accommodate extra classified advertising.

After the first edition went to press — it was called The Goldfields Friend because it circulated mainly in a town called Welkom, capital of the Free State gold-producing area — I set to work rearranging all my fancy layouts and sent them down to the composing room.

I had no idea what problems my layouts were causing until I received a telephone call from the print room foreman:

'We have just received your layouts for pages 2 and 3. I think you have forgotten something.'

'Oh? What is that?'

'You’ve forgotten the ****ing holly borders!'

That was my last chance at chief-subbing for The Friend.


When gorillas roamed the earth

By Jeff Connor

Walter Cronkite called them the 800lb gorillas, the heavyweight, heavy duty columnists who appeared on the grandest of sporting occasions to add their wit and wisdom to proceedings.

Between 1950 and 1980 they were, justifiably, megastars in their own right. Their names would appear on billboards outside Wimbledon, Wembley or Twickenham (PETER WILSON IS HERE TODAY) and they would be recognised and stopped in the street. In the case of the tabloids they were one of the main reasons for the massive circulation figures of those days.

Their armoury in every case was a deep knowledge of sport and an awareness that the essence of the business was simple: young people performing to the best of their ability at something they loved. Nothing else. They were also JOURNALISTS who believed that hard fact was far more important than opinion.

Nowadays, the columnists come armed with nothing save a Roget’s Thesaurus, a dictionary of quotations and a belief that the most important part of any event is themselves. That is why they employ the perpendicular pronoun (work it out) a lot and, when the ink dries up, ramble on about ‘What the late, great Bill Shankly/Matt Busby/Jock Stein once said to me’. These so-called columnists must rank as the laziest in any branch of journalism.

Those really were the days. Wilson joined the Daily Mirror in 1935 – on the same day as Hugh Cudlipp and Bill (Cassandra) Connor. Wilson became ‘The Man They Can’t Gag’ and one of four reasons the Mirror got close to a daily circulation of 5m in the 1950s and passed it in the 1960s. (The other reasons were Connor, agony aunt Marjorie Proops and showbiz writer Donald Zec backed by priceless furniture like Jane and, later, the Andy Capp cartoon strip and the Old Codgers ‘Live Letters’ page.)

The truth is, no-one would have wanted to gag Wilson; most of us just wanted to be Wilson. His column always ran beneath a banner headline identifying him as the ‘World’s Greatest Sportswriter.’ It should have been accompanied by a subhead: ‘And World’s Greatest Scotch Drinker.’

An Old Harrovian, burly, rumpled, and unfailingly courteous, Wilson had a walrus moustache, an upper-class accent and a brief from Cudlipp to wander the planet, documenting every big sporting event of interest. On the way, he set his own records for speedy writing and consumption of whisky. According to one awed American rival: ‘When it comes to Scotch, Peter has flattened more contenders than Joe Louis.’

A young Daily Mirror junior (and much later British Sportswriter of the Year) called Ken Jones recalls shadowing Wilson at a British title fight at Earl’s Court in the ’50s and looking on wide-eyed with amazement as the great man rattled page after page, two fingered off his typewriter… without taking his eyes off the ring for a second.

He was partial to boxing (Archie Moore and Rocky Marciano were among personal friends) and Olympic track events, insisting: ‘They are the only pure sports. Man either fights or runs away. The rest are contrived.’

For all the supposed bombast, Wilson never denigrated a single sportsman, preferring to let facts speak for themselves. His description of Welshman Dai Dower’s preparations for his one round world featherweight title defeat against the unbeaten Argentine Pascual Perez in 1958 – Dower doing the rounds of welcome parties and British Embassy soirees in Buenos Aires while Perez sweated and snarled in the gym – remains a masterpiece in the art of disguised damnation.

Unlike his counterparts of today (Barnes, Samuel etc) he eschewed adjectives and concentrated on facts and observation. If alive today he would write, and drink, his successors under the table.


Bombed out of my mind

By Colin Dunne

Okay, let’s get this straight before we start: I’ve got no experience of reporting wars or terrorism or any of that military mayhem. But I can tell you this – I know a petrol bomb when I see one. And I was looking at scores of them.

I could see the bottles of sinister pale yellow liquid packed into the half-open cardboard box behind me in the Ford estate. The box must have held a couple of dozen bottles. Since there were 20 or more boxes that mean there must be…

Enough petrol bombs to damage my eyelashes, and quite possibly my fringe, which was always a worry for we dainty features folk.

Since this was Northern Ireland when the fashion for blowing people up was at its height, and since my driver was almost certainly fully-qualified in such matters, it wasn’t looking good. For a start, he was driving at high speed and the bottles kept jiggling against each other as we slid round corners. I mean, how much jiggling can a petrol bomb take before it starts to simmer, or whatever it is petrol bombs do?

What made it worse was that each bottle was labelled, with black irony, Crisp ‘n’ Dry Cooking Oil.  Crisp ‘n’ Dry, presumably, because that was how the onlookers were left after the big bang.

‘No,’ said my driver with a sharp laugh, ‘they really are bottles of cooking oil. We took the rep’s car and we haven’t had time to unload it.’

So – Edwards and McQueen and the rest of you war boys can laugh – it seems I don’t know a petrol bomb when I see one. In fact what on earth I was doing in Londonderry behind enemy lines, I’m not sure to this day. It wasn’t supposed to be like that.

London,’ said Alan Price, with the weary sigh that accompanied his every mention of that city, ‘have a good idea for you.’ At that time, the IRA had set up no-go areas where they held supreme authority: no soldier, no policeman, dare set foot in the place.  Alan, my features boss on the Daily Mirror in Manchester, explained that the London office wanted me to go into the no-go areas.  His briefing was slightly different.  ‘The whole idea’s too silly for words. Stay for a couple of days, have a drink or whatever it is you reporters do, then come back.’

That sounded more within my range. Even so, I thought a gesture towards doing the story would help.

I booked into the City Hotel in Londonderry, just down the road from the Bogside and Creggan,  ‘Free Derry’ as they called it, where the uninvited would have the life expectancy of a belch.  Announce what you had in mind in the bar of the hotel, I was told, and word would reach the IRA. So, I mused aloud about how I would like a conducted tour of the area.  That was that. Job done. Unless the IRA were setting up in the travel business, that’s the last I would hear. I settled down to my pint and the paper.

Twenty minutes later I was called to the phone. Explain what you want, a voice said. I did. ‘Be on the corner of Williams Street at 11am tomorrow,’ the voice said.

Oh my god. I was in serious danger of getting a real story, which in my case was pretty much unprecedented.

That was how the next day I came to be taken on Terrorists’ Tours in a rep’s car loaded with cooking oil by my guide, Harry McCourt, a Sinn Fein politician.

Look, he said he was called Harry McCourt. He said he was a politician. If he’d said he was the Wizard of Oz I wouldn’t have argued. He was a chatty chap with a downturned Mexican moustache about 10 years after the fashion had gone. What he was like as a terrorist I don’t know, but he was a first-rate PR man.

By way of superficial bonding, once he knew I was from Manchester he said he used to like the city when he worked there.  As a Mister Softee ice-cream man.

The only reason I’d got in was that my phone call had coincided with a decision by the political branch of the IRA – the ones with the brains, however small – to show the world how well they were running their empire. He pointed out how they’d replaced the shattered street lamps and organised taxis to replace the buses. By way of law and order, they were obliged to do a little tarring here and feathering there – he even introduced me to one young man who’d had the double treatment for joy-riding. ‘I deserved it all right,’ he said, just as if he’d practised saying it all day.  Then he went off-script: ‘Actually they’d run out of feathers so they had to do me with straw.’ I wasn’t at all sure that an organisation that ran out of feathers was equipped to run a country, but what would I know? For more serious offences, there was a bullet: in either the knee-cap or the head, depending. Apparently running out of bullets wasn’t a problem.

‘A snack?’ Harry suggested. He took me into a council house where we had tea and buttered scones (delicious, by the way) while two young men watched Laurel and Hardy on television. Apart from the carbines across their knees, it was all quite decorous.

By the time I got back to the hotel, it was early evening and there was a slight panic in the air. No-one ever thought I’d get in; then they thought I’d never get out. They’d been giving Catholic taxi-drivers large wodges of cash to drive round looking for my remains.

After I filed the piece Tony Miles, the editor, came on, all the way from London. It was fine, he said, but my descriptions of the daffodils in the neat gardens and the litterless streets made the Creggan sound like a desirable residential area. I had to point out that it was. Although the rest of Londonderry was shot to hell, the terrorists didn’t burn down their own buildings or blow up their own houses.

To an outsider it was inexplicable that ‘the enemy’ were right here.  Everyone knew the Provos’ HQ was halfway down the Falls Road opposite Casement Park.  This seemed to me a bit like the German SS having a press office in Kensington High Street in 1942. A reporter who was there when the British Army surrounded it said they all paled when they heard a hideous screeching noise outside.  Blood on the pavements?  Not quite.  One of the armoured cars had parked on a set of bagpipes.

For a visiting hack, this was all very confusing. Until then, as far as the British press were concerned, there was only one Ireland: it was a land populated by loveable, whimsical, twinkly-eyed rascals who believed in the little people and liked a drop o’ poteen.  All their sentences began with the words: ‘Would you ever…’

Mostly my trips to Ireland were pure joy: a day or two at the Gresham, a pint or two with the excellent Liam Kelly, and a trip down the country for a comical story about mouse-racing or pig-smuggling or moonshine-making. I used an awful lot of begorrahs in quotes, I remember. The Irish, a shrewd lot who knew the comical mick image was good for tourism, were always happy to go along with it. Hence all the tea-towels wittily inscribed ‘May you be in heaven half an hour before the divil knows you’re dead.’

I remember once saying this to a professional chap – a solicitor, I think – who was sitting at a table at a race meeting in Kerry, reading his paper, as American tourists swarmed around. He knew immediately what I meant.

‘Ah, it’s a bit of the ould paddy-whackery you’re wanting, is it?’ he said. He may even have said begorrah. He sprang up, tilted his hat over his eyes, tucked his rolled-up paper under his arm, and began to jig to and fro as he sang :’With a shillelagh under me arm, and a twinkle in me eye, I’ll be in Tipperary in the morning.’

They could turn it on like a tap, and very enjoyable it was too. So naturally when I was doing a piece on the introduction of the breathalyser, it wasn’t about drink, it wasn’t about road safety, it was about paddy-whackery. The joke in this case was that the conviction rate was low.  ‘Jasus,’ said one well-briefed official, ‘you’d have to be sick in the bag to fail.’ For feature writers, Ireland was the land of smiles.

Yet here was this other Ireland, where the residents had abandoned whimsy in favour of mutual destruction.  So it was a bit of a leap to find myself getting out of a taxi at ‘a mean abode down the Shankill Road’, as one of their lovelier poems says.  So proud to be British were they that they’d painted the kerbs red, white and blue, which encouraged me to think that they’d welcome a fellow monarchist from over the water.  Not a bit of it.  They were even more unpleasant than the other lot. So much for a shared heritage.

I was there to see a man called Tommy Herron, who was a top man in one of the Protestant ‘defence’ groups. Three young men were blocking the doorway. I said who I was, and attempted to slide discreetly through, when one of them produced something from his pocket.

I’m not saying it was gun. It looked like a gun, it clicked like a gun, and I had a nasty feeling it would make a hole like a gun. But for all I know it could have been a water-pistol, which would, in any case, have been quite enough to frighten me. It didn’t matter because a voice from inside said I was expected, which meant that I wasn’t obliged to take the young man’s advice. To feck off.

As far as I remember, Tommy Herron didn’t say anything to push back the frontiers of international understanding or to threaten Oscar Wilde’s reputation as a drawing-room wit. The only thing I do remember is that one of his bodyguards was reading a copy of The Beano.

As you will perhaps have gathered, personally I was quite at home with the mouse-racers and moonshine-brewers. When The Troubles revived, at first, the natural instinct of the journos, as perpetual outsiders, was to sympathise with anyone who claimed the title of rebels. If we were confused, imagine what effect this had on the Irish. I shall never forget the look on Liam Kelly’s face one night in the Stab when a packed room of English hacks demanded a rebel song, and cheered uproariously as he sang about a couple o’ sticks of gelig-a-nite and me ould alarum clock. Even Liam was a touch surprised to find himself feted for singing about IRA bombers in a London pub.

He was about as baffled then as I was when a reporter in McGlade’s told me that Coleraine was ‘a naice wee Proddestan tine.’ I wasn’t accustomed to hearing any version of Christian faith used to describe a municipality.  I mean, was Skipton a nice wee Methodist town?

After a visit to Belfast, I was glad to get down to see an old friend in Cork.  He wanted to know how I found it in the North.  Didn’t I think that the Prods were disgustingly bigoted?  Nervously, I said they seemed much the same as anyone else.

That, he protested, was rubbish.  ‘Why,’ he said, ‘I can even recognise a prod in the street. With their nasty little pale feckin’ faces and mean little feckin’ mouths, won’t put a hand in the pocket for fear of spendin’ a feckin’ penny, jasus their feckin’ teeth’d fall out if they gave you a smile…’

And did he find them bigoted, I asked. Yes, he said. Without a doubt.

For all that ‘me da was a culchie’ (ask Google for a translation), this was all beyond me.  I wasn’t even all that surprised when I got two threatening phone calls after the pieces on Free Derry and Tommy Herron appeared. Was it because I had called them murderous, heartless bastards who loved to gun down women and children?

No. They quite liked that.

The IRA were enraged because I’d reported that Harry was a former Mister Softee, which had apparently led to a certain amount of teasing – good-humoured, no doubt – from his bloodstained chums.

And what had upset the Loyalists was not that I’d mentioned the thug reading The Beano. But surely I didn’t have to say that his lips moved, did I? I removed myself before my knee-caps became a matter for discussion.

I should’ve known better. You can’t be too careful when dealing with such sensitive souls.


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From Paul Willetts:

I’m a writer of non-fiction books, currently working on a biography of the club owner, porn baron, theatre impresario and property magnate Paul Raymond, commissioned soon after his death in March 2008.

 At the last minute, a contact suggested that your website might be able to put me in touch with journalists who had dealings with Paul Raymond.

I’d be especially interested in hearing from anyone who met him during the 1950s when he ran a series of touring nude shows and also set up the celebrated Raymond Revuebar.

Of course the nude shows, run by him and other promoters, involved semi-naked models striking poses that often mimicked famous sculptures or paintings.

On the insistence of the Lord Chamberlain, who had the role of theatrical censor, the models had to remain motionless.

An acquaintance told me a nice, probably apocryphal, story about how Raymond used to distribute pea-shooters to members of the audience who would then fire at the models, forcing them into yelping, breast-jiggling movement.

If any of your readers can help me, I’d be really grateful if they’d give me a ring on 01603 766862 or e-mail me at <>.


From Harriet Tolputt:

I am trying to trace journalists who worked in the Manchester area in the 1970s and I wondered if any of your contributors may be able to help.

I am researching a serial killer called Trevor Hardy for my Masters in criminology. I am interested in the fact that despite killing three young women there was not much written about him.

I would be very interest in talking to anyone who worked at that time to shed some light on news judgements.

If you could help I would be very grateful if you could email:



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