He’s no journalist… he’s a poet
Roy Greenslade Media Guardian. April 25:
There is a superb reminiscence on the gentlemenranters.com website today by Colin Dunne. His contributions are always a joy to read, but I especially commend Which of you ****ing poets subbed this? It reveals how the acclaimed modernist poet, Basil Bunting, was discovered working as a down-table sub at the Newcastle Evening Chronicle. Don’t miss it
The Good Old Days
Grey Cardigan, Press Gazette, August 31:I KNOW that to many younger journalists I’m a bit of a dinosaur, forever banging on about the good old days when, in their probably correct opinion, the newspapers we produce today are head and shoulders above their predecessors in every way – apart, perhaps, from breaking news (what some would argue is our primary purpose).
But they were Good Old Days. There was a joyous spirit about the job. We felt honoured to be a part of a lovely, lunatic trade. And if that routinely meant fiddled expenses, excessive drinking and occasionally made-up quotes, then at least we acquitted ourselves properly when the chips were down and it really mattered.
Today’s newsrooms are too often grim, characterless affairs. The repeated cuts have gone deep enough to sever the artery of anarchy; there’s no time, or money, to have fun, a fact that is reflected in the technically excellent but monumentally soulless pages we produce.
I mention this because a group of old bores have got together to contribute to a website celebrating those Good Old Days and there – at www.gentlemenranters.com – you can find a marvellous piece conveying the outrageous profligacy of certain sections of Fleet Street – much of it, I suspect, apocryphal. Go there and seek out an article titles I Knew Eric Wainwright, by former Mirror hack Colin Dunne. Then you might understand.
I see that Professor Greenslade has also mentioned this article in his own blog. I also see that a modern-day miserablist has already had a pop in the Comments section.
“Why is the falsification of expenses claims deemed to be funny? Surely it is simple fraud. The plundering of the Mirror’s funds by its staff – journalists as well as printers – contributed to the weakening of the company to such an extent that it eventually fell into the hands of the crook Maxwell. But as a member of the generation that followed them into national newspapers and had to work considerably harder than many of them it all leaves rather a bad taste. None of my contemporaries went six years without filing copy.”
What a wretched, humourless response. I bet it’s from a woman.
Hack in time
Rhys Blakely, The Times, August 25:The Gentleman Ranters site is a brilliant compendium of reminiscences of the great days of Fleet Street. They include the story of Eric Wainwright, the Daily Mirror hack who didn’t file a story for six years. “Sadly, Eric isn’t around any more,” writes Colin Dunne. “Any more? What am I saying?”
Fleet St pub rants blog
A group of veterans from Fleet Street, the UK journalism of olde, get together in a virtual pub to trade recollections, stories, and oral history.
‘There’s still stuff in tea-chests here waiting to be unpacked.’
Roy Greenslade, Media Guardian, August 24:Barely six weeks ago I reported the birth of the GentlemenRanters blog, a sort of virtual Fleet Street pub acting as a forum for the reminiscences of veteran hacks. It has proved to be such a success that it has transformed from a blog to what it describes as a ‘more user-friendly’ website, www.gentlemenranters.com.
I urge everybody to read one of its first offerings, a laugh-out-loud piece by Colin Dunne, entitled I knew Eric Wainwright. It’s a brilliant snapshot of the anarchy – and overmanning – that made Fleet Street in general, and the Daily Mirror in particular, amazing places in which to work. Here are a couple of taster paragraphs…
‘Goodness knows, those 30-odd years in Fleet Street produced very little for me by way of achievement, fame or trophies. All I’ve got to show for it are a few divorce court appearances, arteries as congested as Shoe Lane, and a collection of anecdotes that can never be told. Why not? Because normal people would never believe them…
‘In the mid-seventies, the Mirror features department had reached its zenith with a splendid one-way employment policy: new writers were shipped in, but no old writers went out. One idle day (there were about 342 a year) I counted the number of feature writers and gave up when I passed 40.
‘They were a mixed bunch. Former girl-friends of long-gone editors, executives who’d forgotten what they were executing, columnists who’d misplaced their columns, foreign correspondents returned home, and some people who I think just came in for the warmth. There were even one or two who wrote features. This wasn’t encouraged…’
But it’s Colin’s tale of the mystery figure of Wainwright that really counts. Don’t miss it.
Obituary: Richard Stott
Media Guardian, July 30:Former Mirror reporter Revel Barker, who was editorial adviser to former Mirror owner Robert Maxwell from 1984 to 1991, said Stott was the only man he knew who ‘stood up to the bullying tactics of Robert Maxwell’.
In his blog on the Gentleman Ranters website, Mr Barker added: ‘It was perhaps fortunate, for both of them, that much of Stott’s ready wit and acerbic humour passed over the publisher’s head.
‘But Maxwell immediately identified him as a ‘cheeky chappy’ and appeared to enjoy his company and, sometimes, even to take his advice on newspapers.
‘Indeed, arguments between them often ended with a resigned concession from the publisher. ‘OK,’ he would say. ‘You are the editor.’
Drop in for a quick one at the old hacks’ pub
Roy Greenslade, Media Guardian, July 20:Calling all ex-Fleet Street journalists! A blog, GentlemenRanters, has been launched today to enable old hacks to reminisce about their days of wines, headlines and deadlines. It’s a cyber replacement for the pubs of the past – such as the Mucky Duck, Stab, Poppins, Barneys, Auntie’s, Harrow, Wine Press, Tipperary, the Cheese and El Vino – so that the veterans can rant, recount and recant.
The ‘editorial board’ includes Paddy Byrne (freelance photographer), Ian Skidmore (freelance), Paul Bannister (Daily Mail), Geoffrey Mather (Daily Express), and Revel Barker and Alasdair Buchan (Mirror group). Barker’s opening words to his first posting give a whiff of what to expect: ‘I am old enough to remember the days when…’
Professor Greenslade somehow confused the first group of contributors with our Editorial Board, but no matter: a minor error – unless (or until) those journalists end up becoming members of the said board.
Axegrinder, Press Gazette, July 20:A group of ancient Fleet Street hacks has started a group blog. They are calling themselves the Gentlemen Ranters and they include ex-Mirror executive Revel Barker (who had to cope with Robert Maxwell at his most deranged), ex-Daily Express features editor Geoffrey Mather, author Ian Skidmore and sometime Daily Mail reporter Paul Bannister. ‘Our contributors may not all rank very highly, but they certainly rant,’ says the blog.
Barker, who now lives on the Mediterranean island of Gozo, says from his sun-kissed balcony that the blog was started because washed-up old hacks no longer have Fleet Street bars like El Vino, the Wine Press or the Cheshire Cheese to gather in and tell ‘tales of glory’.
He adds: ‘The blog was created in about three days. Yes, I know… you’ll say it looks like it was. In that case it can only get better.’
Good on you, guys, keep trying, I say.