The Stab..

Layout tryout

As an experiment, diary stories have been moved into the Home Page and inserted among the articles there. They can be sourced from the introduction, or identified by the rubric: Back from The Stab.



October 5, 2007

Justin time

Before the gravy train hit the buffers, when all was right with the world, when Paddy O’Gara did the layouts for the Mirror staff magazine in his spare time and Sue Bullivant did the words for it, full-time, they sometimes found it ‘wholly necessary’, in the language of the period, to have a business lunch.

This was in the days before Maxwell had arrived and announced that he was unhappy about being ‘the uninvited host of all these staff lunches.’

Sue would pick the venue and Paddy, whose exes arrangement was better, would pick up the tab.

Thus they found themselves one day at Langan’s Brasserie. Sue was tucking into the bread rolls and butter and washing them down with gin before getting going with her starter of smoked haddock and eggs Benedict, when, across the very crowded room, she spotted Felicity Green lunching with Justin de Villeneuve.

Felicity had been fashion editor, assistant editor and eventually a main board director of the Mirror. Justin had been Nigel Jonathan Davies, before becoming a Mayfair crimper and discovering a skinny (for those days) model from Neasden called Lesley Hornby, whose name he changed to Twiggy, and whose boyfriend and manager he became.

Felicity, by the time of the lunch of which I write, had moved on to do something or other for Vidal Sassoon. She was pally with Justin from her days doing fashion when she famously taught Twiggy the quickstep – No: we can’t remember why.

Anyway, they all exchanged friendly waves and got on with the serious business of business lunching. Getting stuck into her roast duck with apple sauce, mashed potato, spinach and gravy, Sue noticed that Justin had not taken his eyes off her. Every time she looked up, he was gazing at her.

Now even Sue thought this a bit odd. There were a few who doubtless considered her to be a bit of a looker, but nobody ever described her as thin, and thin was well known to be Mr de Villeneuve’s type. Nevertheless there was no doubt that he was staring at her as though mesmerised. By the time she started putting herself around the crème brûlée, he was still staring and she – there’s no denying it – was beginning to preen.

When Justin departed, Felicity made her way over to her old colleagues. By now Sue was quite excited, and fully expecting her to say ‘my friend fancies you’… Perhaps she’d been discovered…

What Mrs Green actually said was ‘Sue, Justin kept saying: doesn’t your friend eat a lot?’

Collapse of, er, stout party.



House agreement

Nobody likes a rejection slip, but some of those media types at Soho House, a sort of upmarket Groucho Club (we think) have come up with a suitable way of dealing with it that’s commended in the current issue of their house magazine – called House. Well, as Bass the brewers said when they named a new bistro in Hatton GardenCafe Quelquechose, ‘we had to call it something’.

Anyway, the inspirational idea is simply that, when you get a rejection slip… you REJECT it. Send it straight back, with a nice note.

Here’s a recommended form of words:

Thank you for your rejection letter dated …. which I have discussed at our internal strategy and development meeting. After careful consideration, I regret to inform you that I am unable to accept your refusal to offer us a six-part series commission.
This year we have been inundated with an unusually large number of rejection letters. Though your rejection is, in particular, interestingly worded and I can see a lot of effort has gone into compiling it, owing to the significant volume of rejections I receive, it is impossible for us to accept all refusals.
Despite your outstanding qualifications and previous experience in rejecting programme proposals, I find that your rejection does not meet my needs at this time. Therefore I look forward to receiving your cheque for £600,000 to make the series which we will deliver in six months time.
Best of luck in rejecting future programme submissions. Best wishes –



What’s news

On the day that most copy-tasters thought the lead foreign story was Burmese generals crushing demonstrations with monks beaten, shot, arrested and locked in their monasteries, one of that enlightened country’s top nationals was leading with: Drivers ignore seatbelts at their peril, say experts.



Prickly prose

One of the few journalists to become a successful author is Val McDermid, who has even won the Crime Writers’ Association coveted Golden Dagger Award for her blood-curdling thriller writing.

Andy Leatham reminds me that, in the 1980s when Val joined the Manchester staff of the Sunday People from the Daily Record in Glasgow, it was immediately obvious that here was a woman who could hold her own in any company and stand toe-to-toe with any man in the toughest of drinking schools. It’s rumoured she once even out-drank the legendary toper Neil Marr.

One Friday she confided in news editor Terry Lovell that her partner had been away all week and that she had booked a cosy diner-a-deux at their favourite restaurant for a welcome home celebration that night. About six o’clock, just as thoughts were turning to after-work pints, Lovell despatched Val to Grimsby, on a so-called urgent job.

So it was an apoplectic Val who gathered her belongings, muttering Gaelic oaths as she stormed off into the night. The news room door shuddered on its hinges as she slammed it behind her, followed by the sound of angry footsteps retreating along the corridor. Then there was a pause – and the sound of even angrier footsteps returning.

The newsroom door flew open and Val’s curly-topped head appeared around it.

‘See you, Lovell,’ she barked, ‘I hope your next shite’s a hedgehog.’

An award-winning way with words, had our Val.



A prince is born

Contrary to popular belief, crime reporter James Nicholson was not born with the nickname Prince of Darkness. We promised last week (see below) to tell you about it. Here goes:

During the Spaghetti House Siege in Knightsbridge (Sept 1975), Daily Mirror reporter John Penrose – and there’s a name we don’t see often in print, these days – took a suite at the Hyde Park hotel at enormous expense because it had an overview, kind of, onto the restaurant’s front door.

Always generous as hell with company money, he invited everybody into his rooms to order what they liked. Crime reporter Tom Tullet brought handfuls of people – who were otherwise keeping vigil from the pavement or the end of the street – in for steak suppers.

On the Sunday night – Day Two – there was a wild piss-up on Penrose. Deep into the early morning Jimmy (‘I’ve covered every siege since Troy’) Nich stood on the balcony railing silhouetted against what was left of the Knightsbridge neon. He held open the hem of the cape he always affected to wear instead of an overcoat, as if about to fly.

No one approached him in case he reacted and fell.

TV reporter Keith Graves, drinking then, looked up from his glass and said ‘Fuck me – the Prince of Darkness.’

And the name stuck.

Nicholson thought it was John Edwards of the Daily Mail who had thus named him, and gave him the credit, even in a couple of books. It was too good a story for Mr Edwards to deny, but it was, in fact, Mr Graves.

On the other hand, it was reporters Reg White and Gordon Hughes who invented the name for the Black Panther (also inlast week’s diary, below) in a pub in Baxenden, Lancs, where he had killed his second victim, the local postmaster.

They were inspired by the clothes he was described as wearing, and the silent way he was said by police to move about. And also inspired, doubtless, by a few pints of Boddington’s.

As to the Saints and Sinners – also mentioned here last week as giving The Prince an award for his journalism – we learn that although founded by Percy Hoskins, when chief crime reporter of the Daily Express, its membership, limited to 100, is by no means restricted to Fleet Street.

Ian Wooldridge, Sir Jocelyn Stevens, Michael Parkinson, cartoonists Giles and Jak, Beverley Baxter (pre-war editor-in-chief of the Daily Express), Frank Owen (editor of the Daily Mail in the 1940s), and Arthur Christiansen were, or are, members.

But so are (or were) Douglas Bader, Arthur Dickson Wright, Billy Butlin, Denis Compton, Joe Davis, Jack Hylton, Arthur Askey, Bernard Delfont, Kenneth More, Stanley Rous, Sir Malcolm Sergeant, Lord Brabazon, Lord Tonypandy, Sir Tim Rice, Ned Sherrin, Terry Wogan, Jimmy Tarbuck and Lord Boothby.

Boothby had suggested that ‘to be raffish’ should be the guiding qualification for membership. And so it became.

Although not formally a charity, they have raised more than a million pounds for good causes, I’m told.

Phew. How’s that for a bit of diaristic name-dropping? I need to go and lie down, now.


September 28

Black Prince – Exclusive

Good to see Jimmy Nicholson getting his name in print again, even if (or, if you like, especially because) it isn’t on a story but about his winning an apparently prestigious award.

The Saints and Sinners, a Fleet Street dining club founded by former Daily Express chief crime reporter Percy Hoskins, has presented him with the, er, Percy Hoskins Memorial Award for, um, crime reporting. Can’t say fairer than that.

Stories about Nicholson – many, in fairness, told by himself – are legion but what none of the S&S diners probably knows is that he has a unique claim to fame in being the only reporter to have had his photograph on the Front of every daily and evening newspaper in the land.

It happened at the end of the Black Panther trial at Oxford Crown Court in 1976. Police produced some of the exhibits – masks, clothing, cartridges and a sawn-off shotgun. But they looked nothing lying on a table, so the cops were asked whether somebody could model them.

A copper identified Nicholson as being roughly the same height and build as murderer Donald Neilson. He was pressed into donning the kit and Eddy Rawlinson (Daily Mirror) did the photo for which our hero posed only on conditions of strict anonymity. For some reason he was terrified that his bosses at the Express would find out, perhaps fearing that they might suspect he wasn’t taking the job all that seriously…

Shows how well they knew him, then.

[NEXT WEEK: Why is Nicholson known as The Prince of Darkness?]



Good news, bad news (for authors)…

Good news for all those aspiring authors out there (Main Page this week and Ranters, passim): it appears that there is after all an eager and highly lucrative market for books written by our fraternity.

stott Dogs And Lampposts, the autobiography of editor Richard Stott (Mirror twice, People twice, Today only once) is being offered by a bookseller via Amazon at ₤239, plus postage – which is amazing because you can buy it through our Books About Us page on this very website for only ₤15. 

And the asking price for The Aggravations of Minnie Ashe by Cyril Kersh, sometime editor of Reveille, is nowadays a snip at the knock-down price of ₤195. Cyril’s book is fiction, although his eponymous heroine inhabited a block of flats called Montague Court, described as having seen better days and suffering from bad plumbing, which some friends of a former editor of The Sporting Life say has more than a ring of truth to it.

Cyril’s entry in Who’s Who used to record that his employment included ‘the Daily Express (one day)’, something about which we’d like to hear more.

He no longer figures in that work of reference because, like Stott – and here’s perhaps the clue to those amazing prices – he is sadly no longer with us. Obviously like paintings, these artistic oeuvres become so highly sought-after and over-valued only after you’ve gone to the great Publishing House in the Sky.

I don’t suppose that will deter any of our would-be Ranting authors from persisting, though.



First past the post

Joan Rimmer, who has just had a book, Aintree’s Queen Bee (about Mirabel Topham of Grand National fame) published, worked in Australia, New York and Liverpool before she joined the Daily Express in Manchester, where she will be remembered by many as Joan Lyons.

She’s written several others, originally inspired by a bet, years ago, with Bob Blake and Walter Partington to see who could write a book and get it published first.

Aintree Bob Blake (pictured here, with Joan) won. It took him only three weeks to churn out a slim 30,000 word novelette that he sold, with all rights, for 30 quid.

The day it went on sale in paper-back for 1s 6p a copy at Woolworth’s in Manchester the building caught fire and all copies were destroyed.

So he wrote another 30,000-worder but the day he sent it to his publisher the man went bankrupt.

Small wonder, then, that while Joan went at it more slowly, and persisted with book writing, Blake decided that the fates were against him, and stuck to news editing.

Partington, meanwhile, went to London and became an acclaimed foreign correspondent, travelled the world and revealed so much bribery and corruption in the emerging African states that he was banned from them on pain of death should he return.

Back home he became a famed House of Commons reporter, ending his days on dog watch in the Black Lubyanka… and no doubt passing the long and lonely hours reading other people’s books.

Photograph: John Knill

F in flattered

Your diarist was amused and perhaps even slightly flattered (there’s a saying about it, on the tip of my computer) when former Observer editor Donald Trelford wrote about the language of newspapers or, at least, of the offices in which they are put together.

This is what it said here, on September 7:

At one time editors, who used the F word as loud repetitive punctuation across the newsroom, saw no irony in their horror of ever seeing the same language in print.

And this is what The Don wrote in his column on Media in The Independent, ten days later:

There are some ironies here, and maybe a touch of hypocrisy, too. In my experience, journalists on what used to be called tabloids have more of a culture of swearing in the office than those on what used to be called broadsheets. In fact, one of our most distinguished editors uses the c-word so regularly that his editorial conferences are known to his staff as the Vagina Monologues. Yet his paper has a policy of zero tolerance on expletives.

Do emeritus professors of journalism, presidents of press clubs and media pundits suffer like the rest of us from a Silly Season during which they have to scratch around on the Internet in search of inspiration? Of course not, most likely it was just a case of great minds thinking alike, and with no more than purely coincidental timing.

What did bewilder us just a little, though, was reference to his ‘experience’ on ‘what used to be called tabloids’, or what most people nowadays call red-tops, to distinguish the mass-selling tabloids from the small-circulation copies.

Trelford has a wealth of experience, without doubt.

According to his biog at the London Press Club he started on the Coventry Standard and Sheffield Telegraph and became editor of the Thomson-owned Times of Malawi at the age of 25. While in Africa he was a correspondent for The Times, The Observer and the BBC. He joined The Observer in 1966 and edited it from 1975-93, becoming professor of journalism studies at Sheffield University in 1994.

So, where did he gain his office experience on ‘what used to be called tabloids’?



Naked truth

A reminiscence by photographer Ian Bradshaw on the Main Page this week provides a welcome excuse to reproduce what was undoubtedly his most famous picture and, in fact, probably one of the most famous sports/news photos of all time.


Sunday Mirror editor Bob Edwards had the inspiration to run it as a caption competition for readers and the winning entry was ‘It’ll never stand up in court’ – although the one we liked was ‘I’m coming quietly’.

Ian now lives in Pennsylvania, has become an American citizen and is specialising in photographing education. His Streaker photograph has just been bought by the Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne for a permanent exhibition opening next year.

This is the first signed edition of the photograph in any collection. The British Museum of Photography has it, but hasn’t yet asked for it to be autographed.



Penitent stool

While we think it admirable that the Guardian, once famous (infamous?) for its typos, is so readily willing to ’fess up to its errors, somebody surely should be asking whether it wouldn’t be a good idea to check pages, pictures, and proofs before they actually go to press. This is just Tuesday’s list of cock-ups, corrections and clarifications:

The main photograph illustrating the article Made for 25p, sold for £15, the fake Viagra that netted pill gang millions, September 18, page 3, was wrongly described as being of Mr Ashish Halai. We are informed that the subject of the photograph is not Mr Halai and is not related to the case reported in the article. We apologise for our error.
Due to a technical error, a page of advertising was repeated in place of page 4 of the Media section yesterday. The articles that should have appeared on this page – Emily Bell’s column, Media Monkey’s Diary and Media letters – are all available online at
In a spread of photographs from
London fashion week (London calling, page 18, G2, September 21), a dress from Duro Olowu’s catwalk show was wrongly credited to Luella Bartley and vice versa.
A short news item headed Council sells Lowry painting for £1.25m, page 18, yesterday, was nearly a year old and had already appeared in the paper in November 2006. A slip of the finger led to the wrong story being filed.
We were wrong to say that 90,000 boys leave school every year with not a GCSE to their name (Yes, we have failed Rhys Jones, but we have also failed his killer, page 25, August 27). Last year the number of boys who failed to get a single GCSE was about 9,600.

And this was Wednesday’s list:

Brasilia, rather than Rio de Janeiro, is the capital of Brazil – the error was introduced during the editing process (Film shows burned bodies and executions as real Rio, page 26, September 24).
Our obituary of Lord Gilmour of Craigmillar, page 37, September 24, said his wife survived him. In fact Lady Gilmour died in 2004.
We mispelled Cameron Mackintosh’s name, as Macintosh, in a letter to the editor published under the heading Chinese chorus of support for music, page 33, September 17.
Brian Statham did not belong in a list of English test cricketers who batted right but bowled left (Sinister obsession, page 32, September 20). He bowled with his right arm and was a left-handed batsman.
In an article with the headline O2 wins Apple iPhone deal – at a hefty price (page 25, September 17), we said that the iPod Touch device does everything that the iPhone does except make phone calls; it doesn’t take photographs either.
An article about the Forbes 400 rich list said that the casino mogul Kirk Kerkorian increased his wealth by $9m over the past year. In fact the figure reported by Forbes was $9bn, not $9m (Only $1bn? It’s not enough for the US rich list, page 25, September 21).
We mispelled the name of the Lyttelton theatre, as Lyttleton, in Arts comment, page 29, G2, September 17.

According to my dictionary, they have also misspelt misspelled, throughout.



And finely…

Murphy’s Law says it’s always inadvisable to mention mistakes in copy…



September 21

Don’t I know you? A three-part anecdote

It can happen to the best of us, and it happens more frequently these days. You see a face you recognise and can’t… quite… put a name to it.

1.It happened once to John Penrose when he was the Mirror’s man in Rome.

He’d been enjoying a pre-prandial cocktail or two on the famous panoramic terrazza atop the eternal city’s Eden Hotel. When he entered the lift to the street he was joined by a man of smart appearance. They nodded and exchanged a wish for a good evening, as polite people do in lifts. Then they looked each other up and down as recognition started to dawn on at least one of them.

‘We’ve met before, I think,’ ventured Penrose.

‘I think that’s correct,’ said the gent.

‘Don’t tell me,’ said Penrose. ‘It will come to me in a moment.’

When they emerged at the ground floor, Penrose said: ‘I interviewed you once. You’d had a top job somewhere and you quit in a bit of a hurry. I’m sorry, but you’ll have to remind me…’

The man said: ‘King of Greece…?’

2.Lee Majors, who played the Six-Million-Dollar Man, may have pulled Farrah Fawcett but he was notoriously one reel short of a main feature without a script. At a dinner one night in London he was seated next to a stranger. ‘What do you do?’ he asked. ‘I used to be the King in Greece,’ said Constantine (yes, him again).

Lee pondered this for quite a few moments, then said: ‘That’s funny, I don’t remember a part for a king in Grease.

3.Dame Anne Leslie once plonked herself down in a hotel bar next to your diarist, who was in mid conversation with an older women friend. Listening to the conversation for a few minutes, she suddenly interrupted and said to the woman: ‘I know you, don’t I?’

Not really, replied, the woman, taken aback. ‘Yes I do,’ persisted Dame Anne, irritably snapping her fingers across the table ‘I just can’t place you. But I really do know you. It’ll come to me in a minute.’ And so on.

But it never did. Which was surprising because the woman was Jill Craigie, aka Mrs. Michael Foot, it was the bar of the Grand Hotel, Brighton, it was the middle of Labour Party conference and a few hours earlier Anne had watched Mr. and Mrs. Foot accept the applause on stage after his speech as Leader.



Lucky dog

Don’t say this site is obsessed with the past. It also sees into the future.

In the very first edition of our weekly rant, Alasdair Buchan told the story of Lucky, the Daily Star dog.

To reprise, because it was a long time ago and we know what the memory’s like: ‘Many years ago the editor decided we had to have a mascot. I was told to go and get a dog which I was to take to events such as the National Boat Show (which we sponsored ) and have it photographed with celebrities. For a whole year!

‘First I had to get the dog. So we went to the Battersea Dogs Home where, on their advice, I got a beautiful mongrel puppy and I was photographed holding it as it licked my face. We ran it big all over the front page (Save this Dog at Christmas, etc.) and asked readers to suggest a name for the Daily Star mascot.

‘My instruction was that the entry nominating Lucky as a name was to be the winner’

Naturally, Lucky died from distemper two weeks later, taking the photographer’s dog with it and no mention of (un) Lucky ever appeared again.

So nobody should be surprised at this week’s news that Blue Peter editors have shamed the nation by ignoring the winning entry from the tots in a ‘Name the Blue Peter Cat’ competition. They decreed the name should be announced as Socks, the name of Bill Clinton’s moggy.

So the curse of Lucky strikes again, The editor is spending more time with his family, the children of Britain are never going to trust an adult again, the BBC-stalking Daily Mail is purring like a Cheshire thing.

And if the cat’s still alive, watch this space.



Authors on the Street(s)

You will have noticed a graphic intruding on the diary’s page. It is not the actual Stab since, for some unknown reason, every one of the two million photographers who drank in it forgot to take a photograph (unless you know better).

But as a fairly classy Regency avatar of all Fleet Street pubs it will do.

Over to the good Dr. Johnson: ‘It is my practice,’ says Johnson, ‘when I am in want of amusement, to place myself for an hour at Temple Bar, or any other narrow pass much frequented, and examine one by one the looks of the passengers, and I have commonly found that between the hours of eleven and four every sixth man is an author.

‘They are seldom to be seen very early in the morning or late in the evening, but about dinner-time they are all in motion, and have one uniform eagerness in their faces, which gives little opportunity of discerning their hopes or fears, their pleasures or their pains.

‘But in the afternoon, when they have all dined, or composed themselves to pass the day without a dinner, their passions have full play, and I can perceive one man wondering at the stupidity of the public, by which his new book has been totally neglected; another cursing the French, who fright away literary curiosity by their threat of an invasion; another swearing at his bookseller, who will advance no money without copy; another perusing as he walks his publisher’s bill; another murmuring at an unanswerable criticism; another determining to write no more to a generation of barbarians; and another wishing to try once again whether he cannot awaken the drowsy world to a sense of his merit.’

From: Fleet Street: General Introduction, Old and New London: Volume 1 (1878), pp. 32-53. See for more.



And finally…

… True or fake? – You decide.


September 14

Drunk as a judge

Tom Campbell, remembered in the main page this week by former snapper Eddy Rawlinson, was a character and raconteur of the old school – even up to the point when he died as a result of a fall when going IN to a pub.

As a young reporter in Edinburgh he once broke the news to a judge that a man he had sentenced to hard labour for living off immoral earnings had died on his first day at the quarry face. The judge pointed Tom to the Order of the Garter that hung on the wall in his chambers: ‘Mark those words well, laddie,’ he said – ‘Honest sweat kills many a ponce.’

It also once fell to him to interview a judge who was a renowned toper and on his appointment to Lord Advocate, the Edinburgh evening paper just got the news into a Page One box, but it contained this typo: SOTTISH JUDGE APPOINTED.

Punch reprinted the error, adding the comment that they trusted ‘he would now spend less time at the bar.’

Tom asked whether his Lordship was contemplating any action against such defamation. ‘No,’ he said. ‘For the time being I think I’ll just sit tight.’



Hack uses shoe-leather shock

In China they may be shutting down all the interesting sites on Google but they’re not totally anti-journalist. The main TV station (1,000 million viewers!) is about to broadcast a four-hour documentary on the life of revered Australian journalist George Morrison. From 1897 to 1912 Morrison was the China correspondent for The Times. Now largely forgotten, Morrison was once the most recognised Australian in the world. Despite being a trained doctor he believed that that journalism was ‘the noblest of all the professions.’

The documentary says: ‘He used shoe leather to get a story, unlike too many current journalists who only use the telephone and email.’

I’ll say. For one article he once walked almost 1,000 kilometres from Victoria to Adelaide. Later he walked 3,254 kilometres in 123 days from north Queensland to Melbourne. Travelling alone and living off the land, Morrison averaged 26.5 kilometres a day. In London, The Times described the journey as ‘one of the most remarkable of pedestrian achievements’.

A positive saint you might think, the Chinese certainly do. So there’s no mention of other hacks’ views of him.

A contemporary on The Times, Lionel James, once said he was a man of ‘many-sided greatness’ who also displayed ‘peculiar vanity’. James covered the 1904 war between Japan and Russia with Morrison. He noted that people who believed they were close to Morrison ‘would suddenly discover a Morrison altogether incomprehensible to them.’

And a 21st century biographer of Morrison says that as well as being brave, diligent and well informed, Morrison was vain, gossipy and two-faced: ‘He regularly wrote the most awful things in his diary about people he socialised with.’

Surprising he didn’t make editor.



Monkeys in management

Never mind Gloria, it’s sic transit Patience at the Sunday Telegraph. The removal of Patience Wheatcroft from the editor’s chair makes that the fourth change of bums in just over two years.

So one of the former editors, Dominic Lawson, decided to complain to that the paper’s management team were monkeys.

Your diarist, naturally, suffered an H M Bateman moment, thinking he meant photographers had taken over the asylum. But the over-educated Mr Lawson was merely working up to a v. complicated metaphor.

‘Since I left, the management of the Telegraph remind me of a chimpanzee that has captured a Swiss watch. In its clumsy attempts to try and understand what makes it tick the brute completely destroys it. In this case there are human consequences unfortunately and I feel very sad for the wonderful journalists who deserve much better leadership.’

The ‘human consequences’ Ms Wheatcroft suffered, we understand, were not quite on a level with the miserly payouts lower-ranked journalists have received in recent years.In fact, the size of her golden goodbye put the lie to Mr Lawson’s simian accusations for she certainly wasn’t paid peanuts.



Maxwell marine mystery

It takes some skill to make a journalist feel sorry for Robert Maxwell’s demise, but a press release from a flack (the wonderful US word for practitioners of public relations) almost manages it.

Starting with the exciting headline ‘Was Robert Maxwell Poisoned Then Drowned? – UK Crime Writer Investigates’ the release quickly descends into banality by revealing that the writer is actually a novelist writing ‘a Marine Mystery’.

Or is it a PR man writing a novel, since the release then goes on for another 2,500 words? The effect is akin to drowning… albeit in a sea of words.

If you want to share that sinking feeling go to . Or else you could put your head in a bucket of water, and dream up your own wet ideas, of course.



So this reporter walks into a bar…

Finally, print journalists can cheer themselves up with a look at . Is it genuine? You decide.


September 7

There’s only one F in proof-reader

(and he has 10,000 words on one page)

They’re every-fucking-where these days, swear words in newspapers. But it wasn’t always so. At one time editors, who used the F word as loud repetitive punctuation across the newsroom, saw no irony in their horror of ever seeing the same language in print.

But when did the F word first get into a newspaper?

Most people believe it was in the Guardian, reporting the Lady Chatterley obscenity trial. The paper felt it could excuse using quotes from the book on the grounds that it was quoting literature and its readers would not expect them to shy away from it.

They didn’t think it would offend their readers. They had been the only newspaper that reported an exchange in another court: ‘And did fellatio take place?’ – ‘No. It never entered my head’… obviously assuming that only Guardian readers would get the unintended joke.

But an F word appeared many, many decades earlier. In The Times on January 23, 1882, in fact. Page 7, column 4, if you want to look it up.

In those days there was not much competition for the printed word, and many people would endure to the column-end – as, in the early 1880s, one printer, obviously bored by the input, possibly learned to his cost. Towards the end of a 10,000-word oration by Home Secretary Sir William Harcourt, reported otherwise verbatim, were inserted the following words: ‘The speaker then said he felt inclined for a bit of fucking.’

On January 27 The Times printed an apology, in larger type than the original, apologising, and saying that they were looking for the ‘perpetrator of the outrage’.

Times2 Whether they found him is unknown.

But on June 12 that year he, or one of his workmates, struck again.

In an advertisement for a book called Everyday Life in Our Public Schools, a comp had inserted a subtitle: A Disquisition Upon Fucking. The newspaper never referred to this instance, at least in public.

Nevertheless, from the summer of 1882, it became standard practice that any compositor whose employment by a newspaper was terminated, whether voluntary or not, was required to leave the premises on the same day. The new ruling appeared to put an end to similar acts of sabotage.

A rule that might have saved the Sunday Mirror’s blushes nearly a century later when a departing comp added an extra line to a classified ad to say ‘This is a chicken-shit paper.’ Perhaps he put it on the ad pages because that view wasn’t exactly news.



From soak to souk

Naturally a website called has little interests for a man named Vino but there is an interesting section relating a recent pub crawl round Fleet Street. Naturally, thanks to the alarming conversion rate there of pubs to Starbucks clones, it’s not a very long piece.

punch2 But the section on the Punch at Ludgate Circus is bizarre to say the least. Old Ranters will remember it mainly as a fairly ordinary Victorian bar (apart from the old prints from Punch magazine on the wall) where people went to drink and not much else.

No more, it seems! In fact these days you’d be dammed lucky to get to the bar to order a drink at all. The photo showing a large bunch of flowers and stand full of golf umbrellas is a warning of what’s to come. The wonderfully name Silk Tork (a pseudonym surely) describes its current charms.

‘The Punch has a grand entrance, glittering marble and mirrors and sparkling lighting. But it is all rather faded and gone to seed. Like the Titanic on the seabed or an Istanbul souk. In fact the souk image is more fitting because there are tables laden with fruits along the entrance, and then, as you enter the pub itself, you are greeted with more foods, including pans of goats head soup bubbling away on tables to your right. The pub is filled with savoury and spicy aromas. It is difficult to see what beer is on the pump (Timothy Taylor Landlord) because the bar counter is covered with plates of cakes. ‘

See full crawl at



Bag lady

Paddy O’Gara’s article (Last week) on Joyce Hopkirk reminded Alasdair Buchan that it was not always sweetness and light when La Hopkirk got the bit between her teeth. He had just handed in a major two-part feature on Cliff Richard’s 20 years in showbiz. The interview was conducted at Cliff’s home in St George’s Hill, Weybridge, on a very hot summer’s day. So hot, in fact, that the two had taken a break to have a swim in his pool.

But Hopkirk wasn’t interested in all that. ‘Did you ask him about his colostomy?’ she demanded. ‘Cliff has to wear a colostomy bag and he’s never talked about it.’

‘But I’ve just been swimming with him and there was no bag, I assure you.’

‘Rubbish, go back and ask him,’ she insisted. ‘I absolutely know he has had a colostomy.’

Curiously Cliff’s manager declined to pass the question on to his artiste and didn’t speak to Buchan again.

A few years later Cliff did indeed talk about the colostomy, revealing that it was a recurrent urban myth that had plagued him for years and was absolutely untrue.


August 31, 2007 

Lessons from history

Why do newsroom mistakes attract so much ordure when the broad church of a newspaper has so many other nooks and crannies where even more magnificent cock ups can be hatched?

Promotions departments, in particular, can always be relied on to provide great fun. This week alone the Guardian and the Mail have pissed off Ranters and readers.

bnuce2 The front page of Tuesday’s Guardian prominently offered a free download of a track from Bruce Springsteen’s corey new album (as pictured, left, showing singer’s bum). Though the home page of the website didn’t mention the offer at all, the search facility threw up a magnificent page allowing you to download the track with ‘a simple click’. And download it did, though what all the middle-aged Guardianistas made of Calvin Harris singing I Created Disco (bum singer, pictured right) is anybody’s guess.

Then, through most of summer, the Daily Mail has been promoting a special CD collection: the 36-disk set of the famous and highly rated World at War TV series.

Of course, you couldn’t claim the disks until you had bought the paper interminably, collected the coupons and sent them in.

Problem for Promotions was that they hadn’t realised their system gave them no forewarning of how many readers out there were cutting out the coupons daily, and hoarding them until the last one. As a result, they have been inundated.

‘Expect a delay’, they are telling frustrated readers who have now resorted to phoning in, ‘of several weeks.’

This a good example of not learning from history. For it was also Daily Mail promotions who masterminded the Famous Casino Disaster. The Casino Game Card was the paper’s response to the red-top bingo wars of the 1980s. It went well until one Saturday morning when the paper printed the wrong ‘winning number’. Instead of the unique one that was on only one card, they published a number that appeared on nearly every card.

Again readers phoned in to claim their £100,000, but this being pre-Mail on Sunday days, the offices were empty and the switchboard manned by only one person. Frustrated with continued engaged tones, hundreds then thousands headed for Carmelite Street.

The queue went so far round the block it finally reached the door of the News of the World in Bouverie Street. Editor Derek Jameson, full of glee, grabbed a notebook and told the news desk he would cover the story himself. As he arrived at the Mail a black cab drew up and a couple leaped out with faces full of expectation. BANG, their jaws dropped. They had been at Luton airport about to get on a flight for their honeymoon when they checked their cards, couldn’t get through on the phone and jumped in the cab. Jameson gave it a generous show.

It took weeks to sort out and eventually the paper announced that every winner would get 85p each and printed a claim form. But Sod’s Law was now firmly in place and the wording didn’t require enclosing a card. Your diarist greatly enjoyed claiming and receiving the 85p without having bought a Daily Mail in the first place.





Is Kelvin MacKenzie all right? First, says Press Gazette, he failed to deliver his weekly Sun column because he took a nap after an early morning stint on talk radio. Then, in the Independent, he admits he regrets something he did, or rather didn’t do, when he was editor of the Sun. Finally, he announces he wants to be part of a reality TV show.

Kelvin? Saying sorry? Sleeping in? Talking to the Independent? Joining Big Brother? World mad gone? But don’t panic. This is Mrs MacKenzie’s wee boy, so all is not as it seems.

The regret he confessed to the Indy is that he ‘didn’t chin Max Hastings, a piss-poor editor of the Daily Telegraph, when he turned his back on me at an establishment lunch to which I had been invited with Rupert Murdoch.’

MacKenzie says: ‘Apparently Hastings had no time for a tabloid tosspot like me, So when I offered a handshake to the self-regarding turd, it gave him the opportunity to “snub” me in front of his grand friends including, if memory serves, the Archbishop of somewhere and a smattering of politicians. My instinct was to give him a whack, but my body language must have given me away as I felt a restraining hand on my arm. It was Rupert. I still wish to this day I had shaken [sic] him aside and planted the big one on the Hastings chin. That is my sole regret during my time as editor.’

Unbelievably, no TV channel has shown enthusiasm for Kelvin’s brilliant idea for a reality TV show. The idea is simplicity itself. ‘I would take over a local paper and be vile to all the staff.’ Come on, Kelvin, you know that’s a ‘dog bites man, no news’ situation. Tweak it to being ‘nice and cuddly to all the staff’ and the ratings will go through the roof.



Hitting the fan

Correcting corrections can often greatly improve the original story. The Dallas Observer sports page contained this:

shits Naturally, the corrections department went straight to hand-wringing mode and apologised for this appalling typo. But they had to return to the subject because then the sports writer complained they had totally misunderstood his deliberate play on the phrase about ships that pass in the night.

Crap joke you would think and the readers’ editor clearly agreed by getting this last – and best – word on the subject.

‘We’ve received more than 75 letters from would-be proofreaders “correcting” Richie Whitt’s lead on his sports column this week. For the record, “two shits passing in the night” was not a typo. It was a joke or – as one letter writer corrected me when I explained – an attempted joke.

‘So far, the best response I’ve got when I’ve replied to the letters writers, telling them we really did mean to say “shits”, came from a Louis Cruse: “Where in the hell did you learn filthy fucking language like that shit?”, he asked.’

Longer ago but closer to home, a colleague claims to remember a PA rush story – obviously written in a hurry – that was headed: SHIT CRASH, 300 FEARED LOST AT SEA. While the back bench was still smiling, in came a PA snap correction: FOR SHIT CRASH PLEASE READ SHIP CRAP.

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