The Gentlemen Ranters site is a
brilliant compendium of reminiscences of the great days of Fleet Street. –
Issue # 223
December 2, 2011
We all know the feeling. You’re watching TV or a
movie and see somebody portraying a newspaperman and you think: ‘That’s not how
we do it. We don’t behave like that. We don’t act like that. We don’t talk like
Then you watch live news coverage of a government
inquiry, where a witness appears, purporting to be a ‘real’ reporter. And you
think, ‘They’ve got the wrong guy. That’s not a newspaperman – it’s a bit-player
So it was, at least for Revel Barker, watching The Leveson Inquiry, live but at a 2,000
mile distance, courtesy of that nice Mr Murdoch’s Sky News
John Dale, our man inside the Royal Courts of Justice,
couldn’t believe his ears, either. But then he’s another reporter from the old
school; he worked on investigations for the Daily Mail under Jack Crossley and
alongside Harry Longmuir and George Gordon. No wonder he was
Thence we turn to the sad news of the demise – at the
grotesquely young age of 60 – of an old chum, Ian Markham-Smith, who was a real
reporter, a successful staff man and an even more successful freelance. Liz Hodgson, who shared many of the
honours with him, recalls one of the good guys.
His death also prompted snapper Paul Harris to recall a few memories of
working with some of the good old boys working Tinseltown.
McDowall, prompted by John Rodgers’ account last week about the agencies he
ran in London,
tells how the boys on weeklies with their own linage pool competed against the
agencies who tried to nick their copy.
And, as usual, our cartoonist Rudge props the whole thing up from the
I call myself a
By Revel Barker
Hopefully, while he enjoys a long weekend off, the good
Lord Leveson could spare a couple of minutes so I can bend his ear to attempt a
definition that he sorely needs for his inquiry into ‘the culture, practices and
ethics of the British press’.
Only one definition, m’Lud. But it’s an important
The word is Reporter.
I spent the bulk of the 1970s doing ‘investigations’,
first for the Daily Mirror, then for
the Sunday Mirror, into people like
John Poulson, Reggie Maudling, John Stonehouse, Jeffrey Archer, Anthony Blunt
(the names will be familiar to older readers), into the oddly behaving charity,
civil servant or government contractor, and occasionally into organisations like
the IRA, the PLO (and the ‘loony Left’, the National Front and the Tory
The description on my business card – although it
wasn’t the sort of job where you handed many of them out – was Reporter.
There’s an argument that all reporters are
investigative – that it’s the only sort there is.
If you sit in the office duplicating the agencies or
putting your name on PR handouts, you are not a reporter at all. At absolute
best, you’re a sub in a suit. (Younger readers may need to ask an older
colleague, if they can find one, what ‘a suit’ is or was; basically it refers to
the way that people who went ‘on the road’ – another old-fashioned expression –
used to dress.)
A reporter is somebody who turns up a piece of
information (it may be just a snippet or it may be the whole kit and caboodle)
and enquires into it further. When I was a child we called it ‘digging’. A
reporter doesn’t accept any information at face value unless he is confident
about the source and, even then, about the source’s own motivation in
Fleet Street was littered with the corpses of
reporters who didn’t check their facts and their sources (although El Vino was
also full of the ones who screwed up and managed to overcome their failures).
And when he gets sufficient to make what he considers
is A Story, he tell his boss (maybe the news editor, in some cases the editor
directly, sometimes both) about it and, depending on the substance and the
provenance, may be directed to the office lawyer to explain and justify why the
newspaper thinks it’s important and intends to use it.
A reporter understands the meaning of a story ‘being
in the public interest’. One easy example is the politician who’s been elected
on the basis that he’s a family man (he’s used pictures of the wife and kids in
his campaign) but has been discovered playing away. There are even easier
examples – if they can be unearthed – like the guy who has relationships that
conflict with what he’s paid to do, especially if it’s out of the public
Some journalists have become totally confused by
‘public interest’. The News Of The
World, apparently, thought it was any story that might interest the public.
But it’s not so.
(I realise I am in danger of offering a second
definition, here, when I’d promised only one. But let me digress and tell you a
I stumbled across a case where a top civil servant –
very top, in the Ministry of Defence – had a brief encounter with a male
prostitute. In effect it was an accidental relationship, and when he realised
what he’d done he immediately reported himself to security, to the Special
Branch and to the intelligence services.
When I interviewed him he made a full confession.
And – here’s the kicker – when the editor read the
copy he asked me: ‘What, apart from causing severe shame and embarrassment to a
senior civil servant, is our justification in running this story? The man was
clearly not a security risk because he’d covered his own back. He wasn’t a
potential subject for blackmail… What is the public interest in a man, any man,
paying for sex with a tart, if it doesn’t conflict with his job or even with his
And the copy went into the safe for another day. And
that’s another story, maybe for a quiet week at Ranters.
But back to the plot.
A reporter, with what looks like the basis of a
story, makes enquiries. He knows, for a start, about all the reference books and
about places like Companies House; he probably has access to a reverse telephone
directory. And there are all sorts of little wrinkles he can use to find
somebody’s address that I am not going into, here, because I am not being paid
to teach journalism.
I’d only mention (and, honest, this is not intended
as a boast because everybody could do it) that in all my years as a reporter I
never failed to make contact with anybody whose telephone number was
What a reporter doesn’t do – or didn’t – was employ a
so-called ‘private eye’ to do the job for him.
For god’s sake… how did that habit ever take
What sort of editor or news editor originally told a
hapless hack: ‘What? You can’t find the facts? Why not employ a private
Honestly, it’s beyond belief, isn’t
Somehow we managed. There were brilliant
investigations and exposes when we were going through the mill that were all
handled successfully without recourse to devices through which you could hear
people talking inside a house, and without bugging their telephones or
intercepting their voicemail.
True, in those days we didn’t have the equipment. I’d
like to think that we were so proficient that we didn’t need
Paul McMullan, whose evidence to Lord
Leveson is ably dissected below, said he had ‘a surveillance van’.
And that the News of the World kept a fleet of a
dozen cars for tailing people. Can he be serious? Did the editor and the
managing editor know? Did the bean-counters?
He also said naively that the Screws reflected what the readers
wanted, which was why it sold so many copies every Sunday. He even described it,
without a hint of shame, as a ‘daily mirror’ of what the readers wished to
Oh no it bloody
Let me end with a small but vital home
truth for the benefit of Mr McMullan and his sometime colleagues, and for the
current generation, and perhaps even more importantly for Lord
The papers do not supply what their
readers want, and they never did… chiefly because nobody in charge of putting a
newspaper together has ever met a reader. Reporters sometimes, though obviously
less frequently these days, met actual readers, but reporters don’t have any say
about what goes into the paper.
Editors give the readers what they, the
editors, want to see in it. Readers, on the whole, like what the editors give
them; if they don’t, they stop buying it, but declining circulations clearly
don’t affect the contents of the papers. If they did, they wouldn’t be full of
so much crap.
I hate to say it (that’s lying) but the
forgotten editors of the distant past had a clearer idea of what kept the
readers happily buying their product. Which is possibly how they sold newspapers
by the millions.
As Uncle Theodore said in Scoop: ‘Change and decay in all around I
Gutted by the
By John Dale
A man with the looks and voice of
Roland Rat proudly presented himself as the face of the gutter press this week,
explaining that he was a dedicated seeker after truth and justice, someone who
had tried to hold power to account.
That was his own
An alternative view might be that Paul
McMullan was sleaze made flesh, amorality personified, ethics denied, a foot
soldier in a semi-criminal press underworld.
These are opposing interpretations. You
pays your money and you makes your choice, at any point in
One can only imagine which view Mr
McMullan triggered in the panic-stricken offices of tabloid editors.
It was a defining moment for the
Leveson inquiry and, perhaps, for our industry. Here Lord Leveson saw his
challenge encapsulated in one person. How do you deal with journalists who hold
a different view of right and wrong, of compliance with the law and of the
exercise of compassion?
On Tuesday we saw the best and the
worst of journalism cohabiting at the Royal Courts of Justice.
The inquiry has started to resemble in
part a sort of Truth and Reconciliation Hearing.
In the morning a leather-jacketed Nick
Davies delivered a masterclass in the kind of admirable investigative journalism
that has led to the present proceedings. He followed Richard Peppiatt, one-time
Daily Star reporter, who had switched
sides and now wished to apologise to people he had once written
Then, after lunch, it was the turn of
If Davies were to be cast as the
revolutionary hero, and Peppiatt as the brave hack struggling with his
conscience, then McMullan would be the secret policeman.
The nation has to thank him for his
candour. In his position most of us would have dissembled, ducked and dived. In
fact he leapt ahead of the questions, so eager was he to follow his professional
instinct and give us revelation, sensation and headlines.
As a former deputy features editor of
the News of the World, he offered
insights into the editorial initiatives that had ended with the paper’s demise.
Although it has gone, its culture, ethics and practices may have been embedded
He testified for two hours. Here’s some
extracts from his evidence as he discussed the 300 articles he had written,
without once losing a libel case.
‘I’d written something and created a riot and got a paediatrician beaten up. You
like to do something that has impact.’
‘This is what the people of Britain want. I was simply serving
their needs... the judge and jury are the readership.’
‘Phone hacking is a perfectly acceptable tool given the sacrifice we
(journalists) have to make to get to the truth.’
hacking of Milly Dowler's phone was not a bad thing for a journalist to do...
(it was) a well-meaning journalist on their side looking for Milly, and how
annoying it must be for Pc Plod. Our intentions were honourable.’
‘Most of us would have done what was required to get a story. You don’t just go
to a paedo priest and say, “Are you a priest because you like abusing
choirboys?”... Any means is fine by me if the target is worth it. The end
justifies the means. Kelvin MacKenzie said that if you didn’t get caught you got
the Pulitzer; if you get caught you go to prison.’
interception: ‘Not uncommon. [Judge warned him
against self-incrimination.] I swapped Sylvester Stallone’s mother for David
Beckham’s. Once I rang up David Beckham and he answered (he impersonated
Beckham’s voice). I didn’t hack his phone in that
awareness: ‘Yes. We did these things for Rebekah
Brooks and Andy Coulson...Andy Coulson brought that practice with him when he
was appointed deputy editor.’
Coulson: ‘They should have been the heroes of
journalism but they’re the scum of journalism in that they dropped me and my
colleagues in it. How dare they throw us to the wolves?... The little men - the
reporters - were screwed big time by our bosses.’
been ‘moulded’ by Brooks. ‘We have a future Prime Minister cosying up to the
‘The first thing the editors ask is where you got the story from. Senior editors
listened to messages.’
‘Phone hacking was widespread across Fleet Street.’
Paparazzi: ‘They don’t give a hoot
what you’re saying here [in the Inquiry]. They just want to get pictures and
send them back to Mexico.’
Subterfuge: ‘I used to pose as a drug
taker, drug dealer or a millionaire from Cambridge.’
(referring to a photo taken off a mantelpiece): ‘Rebekah Brooks said, “No, put
it back, we’re not allowed to take stuff,” and Piers (Morgan, then NoW editor) said, “Who cares?” and we
put it in the paper.’
(two girls in a bubble bath,
made a spread about a film actor): ‘One was foolish enough to tell me without
signing a contract. We didn’t pay her. I got a £750 bonus for ripping off the
pool cars, switched around. Before Princess Diana died, it was such good fun.’
He claimed most celebrities ‘enjoyed’ being pursued, that Sienna Miller and
other complainants were the exceptions.
Privacy: ‘Privacy is the space bad people do bad
things. Privacy is for paedos, privacy is evil and brings out
fiddles: ‘We were not well paid. I was on
£60,000. So I claimed £15-20,000pa, of which £3,000 was
Complaints Commission: ‘The glory days of the 90s when it was
so much fun before Diana died... people do take notice and are reigned
actor Denholm Elliott): Tipped off by a police officer, he
found her begging. He also found needles and drug dealer notes in her bin. ‘I
went too far for that story, someone crying out for help, not crying to meet the
News of the World. I asked, “Would
you have sex for £50?” and she went, “All right.” Was she a prostitute [as
described in story]? It gets worse. I took her back to her flat and took a load
of pictures of her topless. She was in the grip of addiction. I wanted to help
her but I was driven to write the best story I could. When I heard she’d killed
herself, I thought there’s one I regret - but there’s not
The first week of evidence to Leveson
was bad enough, especially that from the Dowlers and Kate and Gerry McCann. This
week it got worse.
A dignified Christopher Jefferies
described what it was like being the centre of a newspaper witchhunt after being
wrongly arrested for the Joanna Yeates murder in Bristol.
He said: ‘I was effectively under house
arrest and went from friends to friends - rather as if I were a recusant priest
at the time of the Reformation I suppose, going from safe house to safe
Ann Diamond said she’d been
deliberately targeted by Murdoch newspapers because, she believed, she had dared
to challenge Rupert Murdoch over some of his newspapers’ journalism.
Richard Peppiatt confirmed that the Daily Star could only be described as a
newspaper in the loosest sense in that they invented stories without any real
basis. He said they had also exploited race for commercial purposes... ‘This
will sell us more papers if we keep banging this drum.’
Of his own reporting of Matt Lucas’s
partner’s suicide, he said: ‘I’d like to apologise to his family. I accept no
one held a gun to my head. I feel very ashamed... the tabloids are only
interested in what they can get away with.’
Alastair Campbell, former spin doctor
to Tony Blair, summed up the wider impact of Leveson revelations: ‘Now the
public know the truth, they are horrified and they are demanding Parliament does
something about it.’
The inquiry is compelling in the way an
internet suicide site might be compelling. For journalists and readers of Ranters, there is only despair.
It has a long way to run yet. Perhaps
someone will yet offer hope.
John Dale's website
dedicated to the Inquiry is at johndalejournalist.co.uk
By Liz Hodgson
Ian Markham-Smith, of Sunday Telegraph, Daily Mail and National Enquirer fame has died, aged
60. He had a heart attack at his home in France
on November 23 –
a day after his
birthday party - and never regained consciousness.
I am devastated and numb, and overwhelmed by the
messages I have received from old friends and colleagues all over the world.
Ian joined his local weekly, the Farnham Herald, when he left school and
moved on to the Birmingham Post,
where he was property correspondent in the early 1970s, and did shifts on the News of the World and Daily Mail in Manchester. From there he
went to the Sunday Telegraph and
quickly to the Daily Mail, where he
was a foreign fireman.
Ranters readers may recall his memories of the twin Dutch
sieges a few months ago, and he also spent months in Kenya,
covering Idi Amin, and escaped from a Ugandan jail with a photographer by
stealing a visiting priest’s car and gunning it to the border.
Like so many of Fleet Street’s best in the
1970s he was lured to the National
Enquirer and worked in the London office, first as a reporter and later as
European bureau chief. That was in the glory days, when Enquirer people travelled the world on
Generoso Pope’s credit cards.
We met about that time, though we always disagreed
exactly how: he maintains he was doing a Saturday shift at the Sunday Mirror and I bought him a cup of
tea; I say he was doing Saturday duty on the Daily Mail and came to the White Swan to
have a drink with Richard Moore while I was also on a break.
In 1980 we decided we’d had enough of
England and thought of moving
to Paris, where
he had spent a lot of time for the Daily
It didn’t quite work out like that: we went to
New York to talk to papers there about
supplying copy, and Ian ended up being offered the job of news editor of Globe, which was then based in Montreal and had offices in New York. So off we went to Montreal, but a trip to Los Angeles in the middle of a bitterly cold
winter convinced us that that would be a better place for us, so we severed our
ties with the world of actual paid employment to become freelances.
After a couple of years we were offered jobs on the
South China Morning Post in Hong
Kong, but shortly returned to the UK, where we briefly worked for Laurie
Manifold in investigations on the Sunday
People before heading back to Los Angeles.
Ian made the headlines on his own account at that
time, when the actor Sean Penn beat him up in Nashville, Tennessee, leaving him with post traumatic
stress syndrome and hearing loss in one ear.
But that did not slow him down. Throughout his life
he was plagued with health problems – he was born with disabled legs, got a
heart infection in Kenya, had prostate cancer in his 20s
– but always shrugged them off and got on with life. Then came another stint in
Hong Kong, where he was in PR for a while
before becoming deputy editor of the Sunday South China Morning Post and then editor
He was always a bon vivant, and his time at Tatler saw him become a fixture at
cocktail parties and banquets, when he was not propping up the bar at the
Foreign Correspondents’ Club, and he was a guest presenter on local radio and
regular in gossip columns.
But Hong Kong can be very claustrophobic and we
decided to regroup, and headed back to England to sort out our options. Ian
became assistant news editor of the Sunday Mirror in 1989 but left after a
row with the then editor, Eve Pollard, over coverage of the first Gulf War, and
back we went to Los
Angeles. There he spent a lot of time on the road, mainly
for the Sunday Mirror, doing
backgrounders – or ‘first fucks’, as we called them – on people like Sharon
He also spent a lot of time trying to get Kim
Basinger’s first husband, make-up artist Ron Britton, to talk. That was a
godsend because in the dark days after the death of Diana, when there was no
work, Ron called out of the blue and we ended up writing a book about Kim with
him, for John Blake.
More books followed, on Jerry Springer and Nicolas
Cage. During this time we were seriously thinking about our dream of a house in
France, where we had owned a
flat since the early 1980s, and after exploring Provence decided to stay in the Alps, where we already had many friends.
Thanks to the contacts we had built up over the years
we were able to keep up the Los
Angeles end while spending most of our time in our
mountain chalet with our dogs.
Ian died days after the 10th anniversary of our
moving in, and just like the outpouring of support I have received from
journalist friends, local friends, both French and English, have been a great
He was an incredibly loving and generous man, never
begrudging the many visits to England to take care of my parents in
their last years, and devoting himself to his mother and aunt.
This year we were blessed to see a lot of old
friends, many of whom we had not seen for years – Graham Gadd, Laurie Manifold,
Peter Burden, Tony Frost (a close friend from California whom Ian first met in
Kenya), and many old Sunday Mirror
mates at Tony Bushby’s splendid 70th birthday bash.
He truly was a one of a kind.
Working with giants
By Paul Harris
Angeles, Saturday November 26, 2011, phone call from a
‘blocked’ number, has to be a journalist methinks.
‘Ian Markham-Smith is dead’, the voice said. The
caller was another snapper as it happened. We had both worked with him. We
shared some thoughts about Ian, ex Fleet Street journalist who came to Hollywood
in the early 80s, drunken poolside parties, packed with other hacks, mostly from
Fleet Street but occasionally Australia, typically on evenings like these they
where full of back stabbing conversations and alcohol.
One particular Markham-Smith exclusive stuck in my
mind. It was the mid 80s and Ian Botham's career was winding down and his
manager had spread the story that Ian was coming to Hollywood, where he had ‘an
appointment at Universal Studios’ and he was staying in luxury in Santa Monica.
Markham-Smith fixed an interview with the manager who
confirmed the details. What he did not know was Markham-Smith already had the
truth: the appointment at Universal Studios was buying a ticket and going to the
Studios’ theme park as a visitor, The luxury home was in a back garden of a
friend in Santa Monica… double page spread in the Daily Mail with pictures and an
apoplectic Botham and manager the next day.
When I hung up, I reminisced some more about the
legends and names, some dead, some still hacking away, those masters of the
written word who came to Hollywood, either on assignment or as bureau chiefs or
foreign correspondents, some to stay and others to return to London, or other parts of
the globe, seeking a good story and a living. In Hollywood. They all needed
I was one and I worked with a steady stream of Fleet
street legends that came to
I of course considered myself a ‘photojournalist’, a
bit of a delusion I admit, a valuable member of the team I thought, but I soon
learnt where photographers really were on the totem pole of intellectual and
journalistic order – pretty close to the
It had been an odd path to Hollywood for me, growing up in North Devon, witnessing
Jeremy Thorpe's adventures, at 29 leaving in 1975 and going to Africa and ending
up in Hollywood,
late 1977. In Rhodesia I had met photographer Terry
Fincher; I had just been served a deportation notice and was considering my
options, about to be thrown out the country. Terry was about to loose his ex
west coast photographer, Bob Aylott. He said to me,
‘Bugger this serious shit, you should go to Hollywood, you will never regret it.’ Boy was
that guy ever right, he got me an assignment from the London Sun to
cover Prince Charles and a royal tour of Canada.
After Prince Charles, I went to Los Angeles. One of my
first assignments and lessons came from Brian Vine, Daily Express New York Bureau Chief and
another legend. My mistake after the assignment? Sending an invoice for the
agreed fee and no expenses… Next thing I got was a call from another
photographer who worked for Brian, Akhtar Hussein, based in Dallas Texas. ‘Hey, Brian has asked me to explain
expenses to you; breakfast, lunch, dinner, miles, hospitality, the best hotels,
best cars if you rent one, always load the expenses, they will be paid. Never,
never send an invoice again like the one you just sent, its been ripped up, re
submit.’ That was it, a great lesson.
In the 70s if you were a new ‘snapper’ to Hollywood you would soon work with Ivor Davis, he had
blazed a path of glory as an English journalist working in Hollywood from the late
60s. If legend and my memory are to be believed in 1975 Douglas Thompson, then
on the night desk of the Daily Mail
and John Hiscock working on the night desk of the London Sun, went for a drink after their shift
and somehow 24 hours later found themselves on the beach in Santa Monica,
California, and calling back their desks to explain ‘the situation’. Apparently
they where forgiven, becoming for at least the next 10 years correspondents for
those same papers on the west coast of America.
Paul Dacre arrived in Hollywood about 1978, then working for the Daily Express in their New York bureau. We put
together a speculative feature on a possible Kennedy movie to be made… made a
great spread for Dacre, clearly a guy destined for greater
Ian Brodie who had previously been editor of the
Scottish Daily Express and famously
closed that title in Scotland came to Los Angeles and lived in Topanga Canyon, a
community famous for rock legends and hippies living there, like Supertramp,
Neil Young, Jim Morrison. Ian started a local newspaper, The Topanga Messenger. For years he was the
Daily Telegraph west coast
correspondent. We did assignments for all the Telegraph titles. Once, on a scandal
involving fraud, perpetrated by a South African multi-millionaire who had fled
South Africa and came to live
in La Jolla, California, we went for a straightforward door
knock. No answer, so we broke into the guy’s garden, jumping over the fence , we
went to the back of his house and could see the man through the window. Ian
started hammering on his window, screaming for an interview, it was another
lesson, these Fleet Street guys do not take no for an
The Kings Head was a meeting place for almost every
UK journalist visiting LA, a pub in Santa Monica owned by Phil Elwell from
Birmingham; propping up the bar over the years I rubbed shoulders and shared
pints with Les Hinton, Piers Morgan, Paul Connew, Barry Wigmore, Tony Frost… but
rarely Ross Benson.
There was a man cut from another cloth. ‘Dear boy,’
he would say to me, ‘we need to proceed to Mexico and meet the Shah & Empress of
Iran.’ Ross was a man of great style
and panache. He is the only journalist I have travelled with to whom, on a
flight, female flight crew would surreptitiously hand their phone numbers and
tell him where they where staying. He would downplay the story of being invited
to swim with Princess Margaret when she stayed at the Beverly Hills Hotel… ‘Dear
boy, I observed protocol and swam two feet behind her, I was there to
Amused was not what his Fleet Street colleagues where
after a night with Margaret Thatcher and Denis at the British Consul’s home in
Los Angeles. All
the reporters from the English papers and television had been invited, standard
rules apply, no quotes, no pictures, a pleasant ‘off the record’ night for
everyone… except Ross, who had only just arrived in Los Angeles and later
claimed he was unaware of the rules, after the Daily Express ran the
Phil Finn, George Gordon… then there was Paul Connew,
initially greeted with enthusiasm by his colleagues when he was assigned as west
coast correspondent for the Daily
Mirror, he shook the established way of Californian laid back tabloid
journalism to the core; bloody fellow worked to hard, how did he do it
Before Connew's arrival most foreign correspondents
would wait for their Los Angeles
Times to be delivered to them at dawn, that being about 3 pm in London, plenty of time to
rip of the top stories and file. What the sneaky Mr Connew did was go get a
first edition about 1 am (about 9 am the same day in London) from the downtown
office of the LA Times and file
before going to bed, allowing editors to walk into the 10.30 am morning news
conference with new stories to be developed in the next 7 hours while the
competition napped. This screwed everyone else because by 7 the next morning in
Los Angeles the Mirror already had
people working on stories, photographers, sources, allowing them to file before
closing the edition that day and beating the competition, usually by 24
Connew would not stop, despite the pleas of his
rivals and comrades so everyone else had to compete, evenings ruined. I can only
imagine Connew’s fortitude and energy came from his ability to sleep at the drop
of a hat, anytime of day, even if you were eating with
Peter Mckay was another great guy who came with a
different attitude and plan to being the west coast correspondent of the Daily Mail, based in Los Angeles. He replaced
Peter Sheridan and decided to base himself in Santa Barbara 70 miles outside LA. His plan was
to avoid breaking news, which was always a nuisance and interfered with being a
true foreign correspondent, having fine lunches, writing meaningful stories
about society and business… one of which took us to Benton, Arkansas to
interview Sam Walton, at the time the richest man in America
and founder of Wal Mart.
His people when we turned up at his company
headquarters told us to get lost in no uncertain terms. Mr Walton does not do
interviews, he awakes at 5am every day and comes to the office, he has no time
for you. So it’s back to tried and proven Fleet Street techniques, the doorstep.
After a night of fine dining and wine, it’s 4.35am and I am alone in a car,
slumped behind the wheel outside Sam Walton's home. He comes out in his pick-up
and drives into the centre of town, parks, gets out and goes into a shop, the
lights come on: he is in a barbers chair getting his haircut. I shoot through
the window… world exclusive.
Later when I called Peter McKay who was just waking
up his subsequent interview with the hairdresser revealed that Sam Walton did
this once a week, always paying $5 and leaving no tip, always leaving with the
hairdresser’s newspaper. It’s great to work with the
There were also women Fleet Streets legends. Wow they
could be tough to work for, demanding and unrelenting, they knew they had to be
better than their male competitors and most of them were.
I grimaced at the pharmacy having been dispatched by
Jean Rook to get a box of Tampax; that seemed to me the acid test of a snapper’s
compliance – control exercised early by many female big names. Jean left you in
no doubt of her abilities and reputation as a star and legend of Fleet
She was followed by Hillary Bonner who got me in
terrible trouble for not getting the right pictures of Farrah Fawcett and Ryan
O'Neil during an at home, not to mention almost being thrown out of Michael
Caine's home , having been told before entering to leave her alone with Michael
and to go into his rooms and get some special exclusives, pictures on the walls,
inside his bedroom, etc.
After about five minutes Caine noticed I had
disappeared, he found me and demanded the film.‘Don’t ever do that again when we
work together,’ said Hillary, scolding me in front of Caine. She told me ‘to sit
down and behave’.
Phillipa Kennedy of the Daily Express caused more grief. My wife
was friendly with Jane Seymour and using that contact I got Phillipa an
interview in her multi million dollar Santa Barbara home. But the resulting double
page spread, with banner headline, ‘Me Jane, Me Perfect’, destroyed our
friendship with Ms Seymour.
Other greats… Caroline Graham, Sharon Churcher,
Annette Witheridge all still doing a great job, tormenting photographers with a
work ethic that is hard to compete with.
In 1994 I started a celebrity photo agency that I
sold to Getty Images at the height of the dot-com fever in 1999. I left Getty in
2000 but continued to snap away because of a non-compete agreement. When that
expired in early 2002 I started another celebrity photo agency which is today PacificCoastNews.com with offices in
San Francisco and Los
Angeles, living in California with my wife Petronela and two
It’s been a strange and exciting life, an incredible
journey, but I would not have done it any differently. Let’s hope for
reincarnation and next time I will return as the brightest on the planet, a
reporter for a tabloid.
Or is that dream now over?
By Keith McDowall
John Rodgers told us a lot last week about financial
engineering but not much about the kind of journalism produced by the agencies
A good job he did not depend on the South London News
Agency because my pals and I on the South
London Press left very few crumbs lying around for
In particular I worked closely with Laurie Manifold –
praised rightly by Liz Hodgkinson in the same Ranters last week. He was Manifold of
Southwark and I was McDowall of Bermondsey. By the time the SLNA had rushed out
for the very earliest edition of our twice-weekly paper, our stuff was safely in
the hands of the copy tasters in Fleet Street
With colleagues like Gabriel Stokes, Tommy Hughes and
the late Brian McConnell – who got decorated for going to the aid Princess Anne
in a kidnapping attempt – the SLNA were on thin gruel in their pokey office in
We operated much nearer the action out of an office
over the Elephant & Castle tube station, knew our ‘manors’ thoroughly and
were very seldom beaten to the punch by the SLNA locusts.
If, as John Rodgers tells us, Mike Anderson left his
agency in the hands of his wife when he went off to the Daily Mirror she would
not have had a lot to do. And the fact that we knew he was sitting on the Mirror
news desk explained why that newspaper was always phoned last when we had a very
Manifold, Tommy Hughes and I worked for several years
on Saturday shifts at the People too and we all had our share of being Tom
witness-assistant on some horrible assignments. It was not my cup of tea but
Laurie was identified by Sam Campbell, the editor, as a likely successor to
Murray Sayle, and Webb's permanent sidekick.
So to try him out Laurie was sent to cover the East
Coast floods in 1953 and made a good job of it. Campbell came over and asked me: ‘This pal of
yours – what's his Christian name?
Campbell scoffed. 'Laurence Manifold – sounds like
Melody Maker. What's his second
And that was how for some years Laurie had to labour
along as the upmarket Charles Manifold. It did not stop him becoming a much
praised fact digger – a trait well honed on the excellent 120,000 a week selling
South London Press which trained
Me? I went off to the Daily Mail and quit the People as soon as I was offered a staff
job. Laurie joined the permanent staff of the People so our paths
I dropped £1,500 a year when I walked into
Northcliffe House but it was the paper on which I always wanted to work and it
was time to find out if I could make it. I stayed 13 years, becoming industrial
But I bet the South London News Agency was pleased in
East Dulwich when at last our team broke up and
they could start scavenging again on other people's hard