Issue # 166

This Week

We gave old News Chronicle hands early warning, as long ago as August, that there’s to be a reunion this month to mark the 50th anniversary of the day the paper folded. It’s £25 ahead for lunch, and has been partly subsidised by a raffle of old Chron memorabilia they held at last year’s reunion. Tom Welsh confesses that he couldn’t bring himself to part with any of his personal mementoes. But at least he bought some tickets…

If you want to attend, contact Betty Thomson (Betty Williams, as was) at bettythomson@waitrose.com .

Meanwhile, memory-jogging, as is our won’t, last week’s obit for Murray Sayle stirred John Rodgers to write a piece about meeting him.

Bill Greaves’ piece, two weeks ago, about getting into journalism and getting into pubs at the same time prompted Roy Stockdill to recall how he got started in the Great Game (other readers possibly have similar stories).

Andy Leatham reports that Swervin Mervyn (Edgecombe) is running a marathon in memory of another old colleague, Ian Smith.

And Paul Drury has fond but scary memories of an editor who at one stage in his life had five former acolytes editing papers in the same city.

NEXT WEEK’S Ranters may come out a day early (if at all), on account of the screening of Tony Delano’s great paper-chase, Slip-Up, clashing with edition time.

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Half a century gone…

By Tom Welsh

It would obviously have been thoroughly unfair if I had won a raffle prize at the News Chronicle reunion last year (‘Cash in the attic?’ – Gentlemen Ranters, October 2, 2009), after my conspicuous failure to part with any of my own precious Chron mementos to swell the funds for this year’s 50th-anniversary bash on October 18.

But that is what happened, and I was the happy recipient of a parcel of books, including one that must be rated among journalism’s sacred texts, James Cameron’s Point of Departure, sent from New York by Joyce Eggington, once the Chron correspondent there.

I’d read Cameron’s book before, but it improves with each re-reading. Here he is on a topic close to his heart, the bars frequented by foreign correspondents:

It is a curious fact that in all proper corners of the world there was always a bar that was, as far as the correspondent was concerned, the hub and centre of that place’s activities. It was not necessarily the best bar, nor the most expensive, nor even the most generally renowned; it just happened to be the place to which one had to go. There is no precise explanation of how this came about. It could be the Cosmopolitan in Cairo or the Cockpit in Singapore or the Crillon in Paris or the Ledra Palace in Cyprus – and already as I write I realise that they may be otherwise today – but they were cardinal points on our map, and it was possible that in them alone one really knew where one was.

Cameron declares that everyone supposes foreign correspondents do most of their work in pubs and comments that ‘to a very great degree that is the case’. He continues:

There were other aspects to the job, but without George’s in Rome or Charley O’s in New York they would hardly have got attended to. We were homing pigeons with many a dozen lofts, and they were all called Joe’s or Jack’s or the Joint around the Corner. There was of course always the risk of accepting this as a sentimental syndrome; it may not have been the best approach to the solemn business of political interpretation. I do not know how it could be done otherwise. And out of it somehow occasionally came the truth, or as near to it as would have been achieved by any other method.

Joyce, donor of the books prize, was the Chronicle New York correspondent from July 1958 until the day the paper folded in October 1960, and she was filing a story from the United Nations when the story broke. Before that, from 1951 to 1958, she was on the paper’s London staff as reporter, feature writer, and finally leader writer.

She went to New York on a two-to-four-year assignment, after which she would probably have been given another overseas posting. When she was home on leave in the summer of 1960, Ken Tydeman (who was the secretary of the company) urged her to sign a contract for a second two years in New York, although by then it had been agreed she would spend that time there anyway. The Chron had never offered her a contract before so she asked why it was being suggested now.

‘It’s to protect you,’ Tydeman said. The remark didn’t make sense to Joyce until three months later when the paper was suddenly swallowed up by the Daily Mail. ‘Ken Tydeman must have known that would happen – ahead of the rest of us, including Norman Cursley, the editor, who wasn’t told until two or three days before the day the NC came out for the last time.’

In the end, Joyce’s contract became meaningless, as most of the money that might have gone toward staff pay-offs got swallowed by lengthy litigation initiated by one of the shareholders.

Joyce decided against joining the crowd of job-seeking journalists on Fleet Street (I was one of the crowd (‘A degree of understanding’, Gentlemen Ranters, November 2009). She decided to ‘tough it out’ in New York, spending a miserable year as New York correspondent of the Daily Herald, followed by a happier year running a nightly news program on New York’s first educational TV channel.

Then the job of New York correspondent on the Observer came up, and Joyce settled there for the next twenty years – covering the civil rights movement of the sixties, the Kennedy assassination, the anti-Vietnam campus riots, the women’s movement, among others. In the meantime, she married an American journalist, had two sons, and made a life there. She now lives alone, writes books, and occasionally wonders ‘what my life might have been like if the dear old NC had stayed afloat.’

Don’t we all?

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The fireman and the curfew

By John Rodgers

Murray Sayle was a hero to me. Having just finished reading A Crooked Sixpence, courtesy of Revel Barker Publishing, I’d spent some time trying to identify the characters who seemed remarkably like my colleagues on the People in the 1960s. Thanks for confirming my suspicions. I met up with Sayle in Prague following the Russian invasion of 1968. I was arrested the first day by Czech resistance forces on suspicion of being a Russian spy but persuaded them to return me to my hotel where my passport would show I was British.

With the scare over, a Times reporter staying at the same hotel discussed with me how we were going to file a copy because we were unable to make international calls from our hotel. We were told the Russians now had control of the telephone exchanges. We were advised that our best bet was to get to Prague’s largest hotel which was equipped with a telex.

We figured there was less chance of telex messages being monitored because there was no way of listening to them. The situation was still fluid and there might not have been enough time nor telecommunication personnel for the invading forces to get total control. Getting to Hotel International was the first step but we were faced with immense difficulty. Curfew restrictions were due to come into force any minute. We would not be able to get there in time, not even by car. Driving a car during curfew hours would be an invitation to target practise. We decided to risk walking.

It was dark when we set out, each lugging a suitcase. There was no one else on the streets. We did our best not to appear furtive and walk as normally as possible while keeping to the shadow of the buildings in the hope we might not be noticed. Suddenly, tracer bullets made a fireworks display in the sky. They were coming from the direction in which we were headed but their trajectory was too high to do us any danger and a little to our right. I doubted the bullets were intended for us but they showed the Russians meant business and I was scared. The Times man – it’s Berlin correspondent whose name I forget – suggested we move out of the shadows and walk boldly down the centre of the road. Two men burdened with suitcases offered no danger. The world had yet to experience suicide bombers.

Steeling myself to put one foot in front of the other, I thought for the first time how daft I was to be putting myself in jeopardy. I was married with three children. How would they survive without me? My staff relied on me for their livelihood. What would happen to my business if I died? I had taken no precautionary measures for such eventuality. If I got out of this alive, I promised myself I would give up further foolhardy ventures. Sadly, I didn’t.

The firing ceased but ahead we could see a barrier and Russian soldiers. We approached with increasing trepidation. There was no more than a handful of armed men, all very young but not all Asiatic. I found this reassuring. Since the enemy did not look so alien, I felt sure we could talk our way out of trouble. We would apologise for breaking the curfew, say we were lost and trying to find our hotel. While trying to cross the language divide, the gloom was suddenly lightened by distant song and laughter.

‘You take the high road and I’ll take the low road, and I’ll be in Scotland afore ye…’

Staggering towards us, bottles of vodka in hand, came a renowned Australian journalist, Murray Sayle of the Sunday Times, and a Scots tourist in full Highland regalia. A couple of soldiers took swigs from the proffered bottles but quickly turned their attention to the drunken Scotsman. They were particularly suspicious of the small dirk he carried in his sock.

The Scotsman did his best to explain that the dagger was purely ceremonial and part of his traditional garb. His accent was so thick that even I had difficulty understanding so I have no idea what the Russians made of him. Murray told us not to worry about the soldiers. He claimed he had broken curfew every night since his arrival and his Highland companion was a guarantee of getting away Scot-free. Ha! Ha!

While the Russians were distracted by these more interesting hostages, the Times man and I sidled off to the comfort of the International hotel in Wenceslas Square. Murray and Jock spent the night in a cell before they were set free. If the Russians had been aware that tartan kilts were outlawed in Britain following Bonnie Prince Charles’s uprising, they might not have been so quick to release this symbol of rebellion. I am sure Murray knew the significance of Highland dress and that’s why he toted the Scotsman around with him.

Anyone who could master a telex machine became master of the game. That man was Murray Sayle, the Australian curfew breaker. Before then, I knew him only by reputation as an audacious investigator and the ‘fireman’ dispatched by the Sunday Times to all the world’s hot spots. Murray not only knew how to send a message by telex, he had the ability to repair the hotel’s decrepit machine which frequently broke down.

The rest of us journos waited patiently in line for him to work his magic so we could dispatch our stories. Telex was a mystery to most of us. In Britain it was the sole prerogative of the print unions. In Fleet Street, the task belonged to SOGAT, the Society of Graphic and Allied Trades. In the provinces, only members of NATSOPA, the National Society of Operative Printers and Assistants, were allowed to touch the machines. If a journalist had the temerity to tear off a page of hot copy from a telex machine, the unions would call a halt to that day’s publication.

Unlike foreigners, most British reporters were so ignorant of technology we were even unaware of the telex numbers of our respective newspapers. Those who knew found difficulty in establishing a connection in their allotted time at the machine. That could have been for any number of reasons: insufficient technique, engaged line, or Russian interference. It did not matter. If you spent too long at the keyboard, a queue of waiting scribes began yelling at you to make way. In haste, we resorted to the shipwrecked mariner’s manoeuvre, a message in a bottle cast into a sea of uncertainty. I once sent my story to an unknown telex number left in the booth by a previous user and added a request for it to be passed on to the Evening Standard. Later I discovered that my plea was acted on by a Swedish glass retailer.

The only person who seemed to have no difficulty in filing was that supreme foreign correspondent, Murray Sayle. I wanted to be him but sadly we never met again.

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Well, it’s a start

By Roy Stockdill

I wonder how many old-timers’ memories were stirred by Bill Greaves’ delightful piece on how he got into newspapers via a story about a vanishing vicar and the rampaging Fleet Street hacks descending on his dad’s local pub?

My own admission into the black arts of journalism did not initially involve pubs, though my parents kept one near Halifax.

Being brought up in a pub from 10 to 18, and seeing how my folks worked all hours god sent for seemingly little reward, I determined that my own future in hostelries would be strictly limited to the drinking side of the bar.

But my memory is of a 15-year-old schoolboy, not much above five feet tall and wilting under the weight of a bulging satchel almost as big as himself, waiting for a bus outside the offices of the Halifax Courier, the local evening paper.

For as long as I could remember I had wanted to become a journalist when my schooldays were over. My ambition was one day to end up on the Daily Express, since it was the paper my mum and dad regarded as their bible and my goal – pardon the pun – was to become a sportswriter.

My hero was Express legend Desmond Hackett, whose trademark was his old brown bowler which he was always threatening to eat if Arsenal didn’t win the FA Cup or some such eventuality.

In the spring of 1956 I had taken my O-levels and was praying I would achieve passes in English language and literature, plus one other subject – three O-levels were all most local papers required in those days – knowing my scores in maths and science were unlikely to reach much more than double figures.

The maths teacher at my grammar school, who doubled as the careers master, informed me in a stern interview that a) I was most definitely not university material; b) I had no chance of getting into journalism and it wasn’t a respectable profession in any case.

With a curling lip, he assured me the best I could hope for was a lowly clerical position in a bank, building society, town hall or tax office.

And so back to the bus stop. I’m still not sure what possessed me except burgeoning ambition, but I abandoned the bus, walked into the Courier front reception office, peered over a panelled counter almost taller than me, and demanded to see the editor.

An elderly gentleman decided to humour the young upstart and asked what my business was. ‘I want to be a reporter!’ I asserted loudly, causing several young women sitting at high, sloping desks to collapse into giggles.

Instead of despatching me into the cold air and my bus, he told me to wait and disappeared up a staircase. A few minutes later he reappeared, beckoned me through a gate, led me up the staircase and pushed me through a door into a palatial office were behind a large desk sat another benevolent-looking gentleman.

This was Mr. Charles Ramsden, editor of the Halifax Courier, a distinguished man with gold-rimmed spectacles. He was kindness itself, asking me where I went to school, what I’d done there and why I wanted to be a reporter.

I stammered out a few answers and, convinced I’d blown it, went for my bus contemplating a future in the lower reaches of the Halifax Building Society.

However, my performance must have been better than I’d thought because not long afterward my father received a letter from Mr. Ramsden, informing him that they were prepared to take his son on as an indentured junior reporter.

The letter mentioned that they were impressed by my initiative in walking into the Courier office, demanding to see the editor and asking for a job. Surprisingly, nobody of my age had ever done this before.

Some months after starting work, I was returning to the office from covering the magistrates’ court when I ran into my former career master. He asked me what I was doing and I took some delight in telling him that I had become a junior reporter with the Courier.

If I expected congratulations I was disappointed, for he looked at me, shook his head mournfully and said: ‘Oh dear, I always knew you’d come to no good.’

I won’t bore you with my four years as an indentured junior, for my experiences of learning the ropes on a local newspaper, covering courts, council meetings, funerals, flower shows, road accidents, Saturday night pub punch-ups and all the other minutiae of life in a provincial town would be paralleled here a thousand times.

In any case, some of the juicier anecdotes of a young reporter’s life in Halifax have already been told here – to my own embarrassment a couple of times – and in his hilarious book by my old mate, Colin Dunne*.

I will just mention a few of the characters I encountered and one or two tales that Colin missed out on.

My main mentor was the chief reporter, George Beddoe, a delightful man who kept a fatherly eye on his juniors and taught me pretty well everything I knew before embarking on the upwards journey, ultimately, to Fleet Street – including admonishing me for my occasional clanger.

A task of the youngest recruit to the reporting staff was to ring up the water board and ask how many millions of gallons of water were in the local reservoirs, a figure the Courier published every day in a box on the front page. I couldn’t fathom what the point of this exercise was until one day when I cocked the whole thing up and garbled the numbers. Mr. Beddoe informed me the switchboard was alight with readers’ complaints.

Plucking up courage, I asked what all the fuss was about, to which he replied: ‘You silly little bugger, don’t you realise that in every office and every factory in this town there is a sweepstake going on those numbers?’

It was an early form of newspaper bingo, invented by the readers themselves, and nobody had told me.

Another character hero-worshipped by we juniors was the crime man, Bryan Harwood, who embodied Hollywood’s idea of a reporter because he always wore a big belted overcoat and a battered old trilby at a rakish angle on his balding head.

Harwood was the office lineage king and spent a good deal of his time filing stories to the nationals. He was also an aficionado of newspaper howlers, which he cut out and pasted into a notebook and on wet afternoons when there wasn’t much news about he would regale us with readings from it.

My favourite concerned a report of the AGM of a Young Wives’ Club, which included the memorable sentence: ‘The lady chairman gave a vote of thanks to the vicar for getting so many young wives into the club.’

And then there was the very senior and middle-aged reporter who was a confirmed bachelor and lived with his mother. I will forebear from mentioning his name, but his hobby was taking male juniors into a deserted cuttings library at lunchtime and indulging in wrestling bouts with them.

Colin Dunne was in the Halifax office of the Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post when I was on the Courier. One story about himself he hasn’t told is how he and Max Jessop, of the West Riding News Service freelance agency, used to sit in the press bench at Halifax Borough Magistrates’ Court writing rude notes to one another.

Max was a raving socialist and Colin claimed to be of the Tory persuasion, so their scrawled missives were always of a political nature.

Another Halifax luminary was Bernard Ingham, also of the Yorkshire Post, who subsequently rose to become one of the most powerful men in the land as Margaret Thatcher’s press secretary and was later knighted.

Bernard and I once played in a cricket match for Halifax NUJ branch against a mob of Keighley journalists. We got well beaten and I was bowled for a duck, but Bernard, a big, hefty fellow, made a thumping 50.

Finally, I should confess before Colin reminds me that the offices of the Halifax Courier played a modest role in aiding an inexperienced young man to explore the delights of the opposite sex.

I was on good terms with the genial night watchman, who would admit me to the offices via a side door on the pretext that I’d been covering a meeting or dinner and had a story to write up. Good chap that he was, he affected not to notice that I was sometimes accompanied by a personable young lady.

I never did make it to the Daily Express, but by the time I arrived in Fleet Street it was no longer the power it had been a decade earlier. Instead, the News of the World and Rupert Murdoch were to claim me for the next 30 years.

* Man Bites Talking Dog by Colin Dunne, Revel Barker Publishing.

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Marathon memory

By Andrew Leatham

At the age of 62 ex-Daily Mail reporter Mervyn Edgecombe is in training to run the New York Marathon as a fundraiser in memory of his former colleague Ian Smith.

‘Smithy,’ as he was known to everyone, died in 2009 after a long struggle against Multiple Sclerosis. He had been one of the best — and one of the most popular — reporters in Manchester during more than 20 years in the city.

So, despite a dodgy knee, Mervyn trains four times week and is currently putting in up to 40 miles a week in preparation for the marathon, at which he hopes to raise a big pot of money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

He said: ‘The idea came to me when I was talking to Liz, Ian’s widow, and we were talking about Ian’s phenomenal courage and utter stoicism in the face of all his hardships, pain and tribulations. I just felt I had to do something to mirror that and which would help the cause for which he felt so strongly alleviating the ghastly suffering that MS inflicts on its victims.

‘I reckoned that pounding 26.2 miles through the streets of New York would be my way of remembering my great friend, journalistic inspiration, and one of life’s rare, magnificently special people.

‘It’s worked because I can honestly say that every time and I mean every time I pull on my running shoes I think of him. And I know he runs alongside me because there’s been many, many times when the pain from my dodgy left knee has told me to stop or I’ve just felt the whole bloody thing was too much to undertake and then he’s given me a right good bollocking and reminded me that it’s just too easy to give up and quit.’

To make it easy for old friends and colleagues who want to support the cause by making a donation, Mervyn has set up a slot on the JustGiving website. The URL is www.justgiving.com/smithyrememberedbymerv.

Alternatively, if anybody wants to make a donation by cheque, e-mail him at: merv@easynet.co.uk.

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Last one for the Strasse

By Paul Drury

It was five in the morning by St Patrick’s Cathedral clock. Meanwhile, another clock – that on the dash of my three litre Opel Monza – was about to be tested to its not inconsiderable limit.

Within days of my appointment to the Irish Independent backbench in 1984 the caseroom wits had dubbed that paper’s legendary, if slightly plump, editor Vinnie Doyle and his jejeune new assistant ‘Fatman and Robin’.

What nobody had bothered to tell the Boy Wonder was that his duties would include those of late-night chauffeur – and drinking companion – to Vinnie, who had been editor for the previous three years and was to remain in the post for a record-breaking further 21.

I also happened to be the paper’s motoring correspondent and had been loaned the Monza that week in order to put it through its paces – although I suspect Opel’s idea of what that particular process entailed deviated substantially from mine and Vinnie’s.

For Vinnie, who died last week aged 72, no working night in those early years was complete without at least a brace of pints in that long-gone den of iniquity, the Irish Times Social Club.

This appalling shebeen was situated at the top of a rickety old staircase above Kilmartin’s bookies in Dublin’s Fleet Street.

It was, however, the only place in 1980s Dublin that served pints after midnight, and kept on serving them until long after 3am. Not unsurprisingly, it was beloved of printers, taxi drivers, off-duty policemen… and hacks.

Entry involved a process as complex as a Masonic initiation, and only when a supplicant had passed a careful test would the precious key be placed in a matchbox and flung out of the fifth-floor window to the street below.

Women, in theory, were welcome. But, despite occasional brave forays by Irish Times feminists, their numbers were kept to the minimum by the simple expedient of providing just one toilet – containing one urinal, one sink and nothing else.

Vinnie, who has been hailed – quite rightly – as the outstanding Irish editor of his generation, loved the place. He had a capacity for drink that was as phenomenal as his capacity for hard work.

There was a faithfully observed ritual that would horrify a modern generation but which Vinnie and his coterie regarded as perfectly normal: we would go ‘for one’ which of course meant two or even three.

Then there would be the inevitable ‘one for the road’. Followed, as we became increasingly more convivial (and inventive), by ‘one for the strasse’ – the invention, if memory serves me right, of another Vinnie, our chief sub-editor Vincent Mahon.

And finally, on an exceptionally good night, ‘one for the canal’. At which point I was expected to ferry Vinnie home, across that self-same Grand Canal, to suburban Rathfarnham in my latest test car – a hair-raising experience if ever there was one.

Not only did the editor refuse to wear a seat-belt, he was absolutely fearless and insisted on testing my latest steed’s mettle to the utmost on the way home, a routine that became known to our immediate circle as ‘doing the ton upon Clanbrassil Street’.

On this particular morning, I was revving up at the traffic lights at St Patrick’s corner when we noticed a gang of placard-carrying protestors standing around a burning brazier in a small complex of council houses just across the street.

Professionals that we were, even at that hour, we swung in to have a look… and found ourselves in the middle of one of the earliest of the paramilitary-style anti-drugs protests that were to become such a feature of 1980s Dublin.

It turned out that an especially notorious heroin dealer called ‘Ma’ Baker lived in this estate. And, with even our city edition long gone, there the matter might have ended – apart from a brief overnight memo to the newsdesk.

…If it were not for the unfortunate fact that a very flashy white sportscar, driven by a youngish man and with a prosperous-looking middle-aged man in a Crombie sitting in the front, was a pretty unusual sight in 1980s Dublin at any time of the day or night.

At 5am, in the heart of the inner city, it was, quite frankly, extraordinary. In fact, as we rapidly discovered to our horror, to the protestors we looked suspiciously like the Godfather and his minder riding to ‘Ma’ Baker’s rescue.

Nor, it rapidly emerged, was silver-tongued persuasion going to convince them otherwise.

There was only one thing for it. I floored the accelerator and burned rubber as I swung feverishly out of the estate and on to the main road, closely pursued by a mob of screaming protestors.

Somehow we made it and, what’s more, made it safely home to Vinnie’s home on the banks of the Dodder where, as watery dawn broke, I eventually screeched to a halt.

And then it was all back to normal. There was the ritual double tap on the car roof, the familiar ‘See you in the morning, head’ and off the editor of Ireland’s largest selling national newspaper trotted to bed.

It was a pattern – apart, of course, from the chase down Clanbrassil Street – that he and I were to repeat night after night for the best part of a decade.

They were adventurous years during which I was privileged to serve as assistant editor, night editor and eventually as deputy to that rarest of beasts, a truly inspired and inspirational editor.

Shirtsleeves rolled up, talismanic Rolex placed carefully on the desk before him, Vinnie was a joy to watch as he crafted pages and headlines as if by magic. Hot metal was his true métier; one-line banners were his specialty.

Last week, my successor as his deputy (and Vinnie’s eventual successor as editor in 2005), Gerry O’Regan recalled phoning Vinnie at home at 3.30 one morning with the, then, unbelievable story that Bishop Eamon Casey had a lover and a son.

Gerry was struggling for a headline. Who wouldn’t? Quick as a flash, however, the drowsy voice came back down the phone line: ‘My father the Bishop’.

Vinnie Doyle was also, incidentally, a hugely influential figure in shaping the new Ireland.

He took a brave and betimes lonely stand against the Provisional IRA, then took the even more courageous decision to champion a pluralist society – and divorce in particular – in a paper that had for decades previously been the Catholic hierarchy’s Pravda.

But to those of us lucky enough to get close to him Vinnie Doyle was much more than that. Put simply, we loved him – even when at the receiving end, as we all were sooner or later, of one of his justly renowned ‘bollickings’ .

To us, he remained The Boss, even years after we had left his employ and moved on to edit newspapers of our own.

He had a great talent for spotting nascent talent – at one stage there were no fewer than five national newspaper editors in Dublin, all of whom had started their journalistic careers as one of ‘Vinnie’s boys’.

He and I could not have been more dissimilar – the posh Protestant from Dublin’s Southside who had wanted for little enough in his youth and the gravel-voiced labourer’s son from the northside, who in wartime brought the free turf home in a handcart to his widowed mother.

Quite what potential he saw in me when, at the age of 24, he plucked me from the newsroom floor I do not know. I like to think that maybe he saw at least a hint of his own passion for news… his anarchic sense of mischief… his refusal to kowtow to authority.

What I do know is that what little I now know about journalism, almost 30 years later, I learned from the consummate master of that darkest of dark arts, Vinnie Doyle.

He taught me other things too: that there is no point going out to lunch unless you intend not to return; that it must always be a Cork and Schweppes and not a gin and tonic; and that a gentleman never, ever wears shirts that do not boast French cuffs.

He taught me that the two most important things in this life are the two he himself treasured most of all – a job that you love and a wife and family that you love equally. If the Indo was the great passion of Vinnie’s life, then Gertie and the boys were his lodestars.

But, above all, he taught me the value of true friendship – and of loyalty to one’s friends. When I eventually left the employ of Independent Newspapers – in singularly unhappy circumstances – Vinnie happened to be on holiday in South America.

The call I got within 24 hours from a public phone-box on a Venezuelan island meant more to me in those dark and lonely days – and still means more to me – than anything other than the unquestioning loyalty and support of my own wife and family.

Then a few weeks later, at a Christmas party in my home, he insisted on making an embarrassingly complimentary speech – the contents of which must inevitably have found their way back to my former, and Vinnie’s continued, employers.

But that was Vinnie… always his own man, always ready to go the extra mile for a friend. A great editor; but, more importantly, the best and truest friend a man could ever have.

Goodbye for now, Boss. I know that when my own time comes you will be waiting there for me at God’s bar counter, a brimming pint at hand. And don’t worry, we’ll have one for the road too. And for the strasse. And the canal.

And, yes, I can confirm that an Opel Monza can indeed do a ton up on Clanbrassil Street.

Paul Drury worked with Vinnie Doyle at the Irish Independent until 1991, before moving on to edit the Irish Daily Star, Evening Herald, Ireland on Sunday and Irish Daily Mail. He is now managing editor of Associated Newspapers Ireland.

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