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Our own books
The first books in this section represent what is anticipated to be a growing list of titles written, requested or recommended by readers of the gentlemenranters.com website.
They are published by Revel Barker Publishing (firstname.lastname@example.org) and are available at a reduced price and postage-free in the UK by ordering direct.
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by William Neil Connor
For thirty-two years – with time off to go to war – William Neil Connor wrote his famous
column in the Daily Mirror under the pseudonym of Cassandra.
Its crisp and trenchant sentences set a new
the standard for columnists copied everywhere but
never bettered. Cassandra’s rivals envied him
many things, but most of all, the cut and thrust of
his style, so devastating in chopping opponents
down to size.
Three decades was a long time to occupy a
pulpit in public print.
Cassandra did it brilliantly, with never a yawn
from his daily congregation of fifteen million. But
he observed in his first column after four years
away on active service: “As I was saying when
I was interrupted, it is a powerful hard thing to
please all of the people all of the time…”
To satisfy Cassandra’s fans – and the more literate of his enemies – in one book is a
a powerful problem indeed. These pages can only skim the cream of his genius.
Included is some of his finest and best-remembered writing side by side with certain
jocular items (much relished by Mirror readers) such as the saga of the Goose-Egg
Man, the Fourteen Day Soup, and Cassandra’s private collection of Square-Wheel
This is a book for all occasions and all moods, a delight for those who love to see
their own language used stylishly, a primer for young writers who are willing to learn
from a master of words.
Royalties from sales of this book are donated to the Journalists’ Charity (formerly the
Newspaper Press Fund).
Click here to read Cudlipp on Cassandra
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Few journalists can have written introductory paragraphs that immediately became classic jokes – and that were even presented by some comedians as their own original thought.
But Vincent Mulchrone did.
Who – even though it was written more than 40 years ago – has not heard the one that goes: ‘If the Germans beat us at our national game today, we can always console ourselves with the fact that we have twice beaten them at theirs’…?
Mulchrone wrote that on the morning of the final of the World Cup on July 30, 1966. And some newspapers still regurgitate it every time England and German meet at soccer as if it were their own new and witty idea.
Journalists who worked with him, and some who were reading his stories while still at school, are just as likely to quote another of his intros from memory, this one to describe the queues that filed around Churchill’s coffin in Westminster Hall in 1965:
‘Two rivers run silently through London tonight, and one is made of people.’
Few reporters in the history of newspapers have made such an impression on their peers and on readers as did Vincent Mulchrone.
He was voted Descriptive Writer of the Year (1964) and Feature Writer of the Year in 1970.
Royalties from sales of this book are donated to Leukaemia Research at Great Ormond Street, London.
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Click here to read Vere on Vincent.
by Ian Skidmore
His first rollicking account of such encounters was celebrated a quarter of a century ago in the first edition of this book.
The LiverpoolDaily Post said its publication identified him as ‘the successor to Tom Sharpe’ and actor Ian Carmichael described it as ‘a comic masterpiece’.
Wales on Sunday said it would be a ‘hard act to follow’.
It was chosen as BBC Book of the Year, had the highest listening figures on Radio Four, and was read twice on the BBC Overseas Service.
Now, revisited, revised, and expanded to more than twice its original length it is being published in this special edition.
The Daily Post described Ian Skidmore as Wales’ funniest columnist, the Western Mail as ‘a great eccentric’.
Anthony Hose, director of the Buxton, Beaumaris, and Llandudno Festivals praised his ‘hilarious lectures and sensitive interviews’. Joe D Hendry, president of The Library Association, described him as a ‘witty and erudite speaker’, while Peter Florence, director of the Hay Festival said he was ‘one of that rare breed of radiomen to have that old BBC asset – real charm on-air’; and Tony Lewis of the Wales Tourist Board found him ‘always witty and engaging’.
Published by Revel Barker in paperback at £9.95.
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Click here to read the Chester Chronicle on this Chester chronicler.
Books About Us – Novels
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by Evelyn Waugh: Penguin Modern Classics
Lord Copper, the newspaper magnate, and proprietor of the Daily Beast, has always prided himself on his intuitive flair for spotting ace reporters. That is not to say he has not made the odd blunder, however, and may, in a moment of weakness, make another. Acting on a dinner party tip from Mrs. Algernon Stitch, he feels convinced that he has hit on just the chap to cover a promising little war in the African republic of Ishmaelia. Here begins Waugh’s exuberant comedy of mistaken identity and his brilliant satire on Fleet Street and its relentless and hectic pursuit of hot news.
by Revel Barker
At the end of what was effectively the last day of the war, Hitler grasped his personal physician by the shoulders and told him:‘You must get away from here. Get out of that uniform, into your ordinary clothes, and go back to being the doctor on the Kurfurstendamm! You must act as if you’ve never seen me. If you are asked, say you never even knew me!’
‘You see,’ the doctor told a young English reporter, twenty-two years later: ‘Even at what he thought was the end of his life he was showing that he cared for me, and for my wife.’
What happened in embattled Berlin later than night, and elsewhere in the following weeks and even years, was to rock newspaper offices in London and Hamburg, the intelligence services of three continents, and the Vatican.
For the doctor cared for the man he called Patient A, just as much as his Führer cared for him…
Drawing on a lifetime’s experience in Fleet Street, the Middle East, Ireland, and Germany and with interviews, letters, and research into personal and medical diaries and intelligence archives, one reporter now pieces together the rest of the story, as it was told to and uncovered by him.
It is an extraordinary account packed with real-life history and personalities. But even today it can be related only under the guise of ‘fiction’…
Most thought-provoking novel of the year – Northern Echo
A jaw-dropping premise… Years of research across Europe provides a wealth of interesting detail and the narrative swings fluently… cast of Arthur Daley-style journalists – Daily Mail
Non-Fiction: Newspaper history
by Robert Waterhouse
This is the first full and fascinating story of how Manchester made newspapers truly national for almost a century.
In that time thousands of journalists, printers, and distribution workers ran a parallel Fleet Street 170 miles north of the original.
This is the first time the story has been told so fully of 1900 to 1989 when national daily and Sunday newspapers were published in London AND Manchester.
Former northern journalist Robert Waterhouse details the drama, professionalism, dedication, and fun of those years.
The many pictures are equally fascinating – truly a trip down Memory Lane for those who once worked in Cross Street, Derby Street, Chester Street, Great Ancoats Street, Deansgate, and Withy Grove. No single street for the Northern newsmen and women oop North.
Of course in those golden years, there was occasional friction between the London and Manchester offices. As the book says, ‘Londoners thought (and think) that Mancunians are thick. Mancunians thought (and think) that Londoners are wide boys. Londoners assume that nothing outside the capital matters; Mancunians assume they are superior because Londoners are indolent as well as arrogant.’
But it was cost-cutting, not friction, that caused the withdrawal to London. Where Manchester once had almost 1,000 national journalists there are now fewer than 50. Waterhouse’s epitaph: ‘The other Fleet Street will never happen again.’ Review by STANLEY BLENKINSOP
by Alastair Campbell
The most compelling and revealing account of contemporary politics you will ever read. Taken from Alastair Campbell’s daily diaries, it charts the rise of New Labour and the tumultuous years of Tony Blair’s leadership, providing the first important record of a remarkable decade in our national life. Here are the defining events of our time, from Labour’s new dawn to the war on terror, from the death of Diana to negotiations for peace in Northern Ireland, from Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq, through to the Hutton Inquiry of 2003, the year Campbell resigned his position at No 10. But above all here is Tony Blair up close and personal, taking the decisions that affected the lives of millions, under relentless and often hostile pressure. Often described as the second most powerful figure in Britain, Alastair Campbell is no stranger to controversy. Feared and admired in equal measure, hated by some, he was pivotal to the founding of New Labour and the sensational election victory of 1997. As Blair’s press secretary, strategist, and trusted confidant, Campbell spent more waking hours alongside the Prime Minister than anyone. His diaries – at times brutally frank, often funny, always compelling – take the reader right to the heart of government. ‘The Blair Years’ is a story of politics in the raw, of progress and setback, of reputations made and destroyed, under the relentless scrutiny of a 24-hour media. Unflinchingly told, it covers the crises and scandals, the rows and resignations, the ups and downs of Britain’s hothouse politics. But amid the big events are insights and observations that make this a remarkably human portrayal of some of the most powerful people in the world. There has never been so riveting a book about life at the very top, nor a more human book about politics, told by a man who saw it all.
Getty Images has one of the most important photo collections in the world. The fascinating black-and-white and colour photographs in this volume lead observers through 150 years of the history of photo-journalism. Including both everyday life and the grandest events, the ideals and fears of the decades are conveyed through an exciting perspective. The book will captivate you with its varied and striking images: viewers will be touched, shocked, amused, or even moved to tears. Individual chapters provide a clear, chronological summary of themes such as Revolutions, Entertainment, the Third Reich, or the Role of Women. Commentary in three languages familiarises readers with each topic and points out noteworthy aspects of the photographs. “150 Years of Photo Journalism” is a must for everyone interested in photography and the events of our times. 896 pages.
by Bill Hagerty
The Daily Mirror changed the face of journalism in the 20th century, setting new and improbably high standards which had the opposition running for cover until, under Hugh Cudlipp, it reached an astounding circulation of more than five million a day.
The men and women who drove the Mirror onwards in those days and beyond had a thirst for more than success and a boundless appetite for spending the company’s money.
In time, the excesses of the glory days were to play a part in pushing the newspaper into the grasping hands of Robert Maxwell, a man whose own excesses knew no limit.
This is a story of the great and the good, the bad and the ugly, the heroes and villains who played their part in the Mirror’s history and remain forever in its folklore.
Keith Waterhouse, Bernard Shrimsley, Piers Morgan, and Geoffrey Goodman are among a host of famous newspapermen and women who have made first-person contributions or have been interviewed for this book. Their stories include that of the remarkable night when fax from the Mirror newsroom restored diplomatic relations between two of the world’s atomic powers.
Nearly 80 years ago, reporter Philip Gibbs described working in Fleet Street as ‘a front seat at the peep-show of life…’
This book is the Mirror’s own peep-show. If it were a copy of the newspaper, it would carry on the cover the words SHOCK ISSUE.
Read all about it.
by Bill Deedes, Roger Hargreaves
Daily newspapers – with bold graphic text and arresting hard-boiled headlines and sensational photographs – became one of the defining media forms of the twentieth century. Public figures were central to the papers’ appeal, and the lives of royalty, politicians, and performers were all scrutinized. Yet the history of the photographers who captured these figures in print has been neglected. ‘Daily Encounters’ aims to redress the balance with a celebration of press portraits from the Golden Age of Fleet Street. It traces the emergence of a new breed of press photographers, often from working-class obscurity, who came to produce some of the most memorable images in the history of the medium. From Charlie Chaplin caught taking a stroll through London, Winston Churchill inspecting bomb damage to John Lennon and Yoko Ono leaving court after drug charges and Lady Diana’s early encounters with the paparazzi, these portraits have come to define our memory of the twentieth century. In his foreword, Bill Deedes, a ‘Fleet Street’ journalist from 1931, remarks on the press portraits that he remembers most vividly. With over 60 illustrations, this unique photographic history will accompany the landmark exhibition ‘Daily Encounters, Photographs from Fleet Street’ at the National Portrait Gallery, London 5 July-21 October 2007.
Anecdotes reveal ‘surreal’ characters
Chester Chronicle, March 27, 2008
For two decades, writer Ian Skidmore was a familiar figure in Chester. He pounded a beat that took in the law courts, cathedral, and Army barracks, the Boot, Bear and Billet, Swan, the King’s Arms kitchen, and the bottom bar of the Grosvenor, the police headquarters and the zoo.
He spent part of last summer on a nostalgic visit to his old stamping ground and now he has published a book about it – his 25th publication in 25 years.
Forgive Us Our Press Passes, published this month, is a comic biographical account of his career as a writer and broadcaster in the 1960s and 1970s.
Ian, 79, who used to live at Picton Hall, Mickle Trafford, and now lives in Cambridgeshire, said: “The memories immediately came flooding back to me – the people, the places, the stories.
“A few of the landmarks, most noticeably and regrettably some of the pubs, the Garret Anderson Luncheon and Supper Rooms (the Chester Dining Club), had disappeared.
“Some, despite my best efforts to support them, had actually disappeared while I was there. And some appeared to have been moved. But it was a wonderful visit, and I can’t wait for the opportunity to return.”
After revisiting his old haunts, Ian revisited his book, revising it and more than doubling its length by adding more anecdotes about the surreal personalities – crooks and policemen, judges, bishops and bookmakers among them – that he encountered during his career covering Chester and the surrounding counties as a freelance journalist.
Forgive Us Our Press Passes was actually first written and published as a slim volume of biography in 1983. It was chosen as the BBC Book of the Year, had the highest listening figures of any book broadcast on Radio Four, and was read twice, in its entirety, on the BBC Overseas Service.
Actor Ian Carmichael described it as “a comic masterpiece” and said he hoped it would be turned into a TV series so that he could play the role of Ian.
One reviewer described the author as “the successor to Tom Sharpe”, and another as “a great eccentric”.
Ian, married to award-winning children’s writer Celia Lucas, has one more book coming out this year – a biography of the Welsh painter Sir Kyffin Williams RA – which will make his total 26 in 25 years.
He has a few more – at least four, he says – that he describes as “works in progress”.
After that, says Ian: “I am hanging up my word processor.
“The Royal Literary Fund has been kind enough to award me a pension for my contribution to Welsh culture – two of my books are on the curriculum of the Welsh universities, one for students of history, one for geography – and I will try to exist on that.
“Thereafter my only activity will be to write my blog: www.skidmoresisland.blogspot.com.
“I don’t get paid for doing it, but I can write what I like when I like.”
Forgive Us Our Press Passes by Ian Skidmore is published in paperback by Revel Barker Publishing at £9.95
by Vere Harmsworth
VINCENT MULCHRONE spent almost all his professional life on the Daily Mail but there was hardly a newspaper in Fleet Street which did not print an appreciation of him or which was not represented at his funeral by fellow journalists – and rivals – who were his friends. He had no enemies. It is hard to think of a journalist whose death would bring such an overwhelming and personal response, from BuckinghamPalace and The Times to the Morley Observer and the Suffolk Free Press. Letters poured into the Daily Mail, whose columns he lit up for nearly thirty years, from readers who thought of him as their friend in print and to all those who knew and loved him personally in Yorkshire, in Ireland and in journalism the world over. There was no envy in journalists’ admiration for Vincent. They knew he was a great reporter. They took pleasure in his pleasure in what magic can be made with the English language, in spite of the hurdles and the deadlines that newspapers impose.
His gifts were humour and humanity relieved by a certain sharpness, even acidity, which restrained his writing from being sentimental. He delighted in people of every kind except the pompous and the self-important, to whom he could be merciless.
He loved human foibles, the contrariness of the rural Irish, for example, and the earthy realism of Yorkshire’s industrial West Riding, both of which he combined in his own character. He loved the weird saga of the giant Denby Dale pie or the customers who bought the local in their Irish village rather than let it be changed by a stranger or the Pakistani immigrant on Skye who was more Gaelic than the Scots. He was pleased with being a fairly terrible golfer – his ambition he said was a handicap of 16 and a waistline twice as much. He regarded golf as an excuse for a long walk with a friend.
With all his personal magnetism, which caused people to gather around him in any bar, he was modest, gentle, and brave. His modesty made him uneasy when paid a compliment, because his work, however brilliant, never quite satisfied him. He was gentle and unfailingly courteous to the people whose triumphs or disasters he reported and he was always ready to help a less experienced reporter competing in covering the same story. His bravery was deeply hidden by his humour. After serving in one war as an RAF pilot, he covered other wars as human events. When his illness struck him, he said to a close friend: ‘I know what it is, but I don’t want to know when.’ He was too polite, too sensitive to embarrassment ever to refer to it among his colleagues.
Vincent will always be remembered as a writer who did more to popularise the Royal Family than a hundred purveyors of sycophantic prose. On royal travels and state occasions, his eye was alert not for the pomp and ceremony but for human detail. He liked them as human beings, as well as admiring them as professionals who did a taxing job with style and dedication, and he wanted others to share that knowledge. He once devoted 1,000 words to a royal ticking off for Prince Philip. He explained why he had such a reputation for abrasiveness with the Press and advised him: ‘Stay as sweet as you are – and just as difficult,’ adding: ‘Why should he change? We won’t.’
Perhaps his favourite story of unpompous royal behaviour was the royal cocktail party for the Press at which a photographer, seeing the Queen coming to talk to him, dropped his glass on the carpet and later, when it was time to take the pictures, found that again and again, his flash failed to go off. ‘Just not your day, is it, Mr. Reed?’ murmured the Queen as she swept regally past. There was also an opening of the Ideal Home Exhibition by Princess Alexandra, at which Vincent found himself being passed a brightly coloured plastic brush which had been presented to the Princess by an eager exhibitor as an unscheduled gift. Months later at a palace party, she asked him with a smile if he’d still got the brush. Why he asked, would she like it back?
He felt in some ways, paradoxically, that he was a failure as a writer because he confined his talents to daily journalism, which is read, crumpled up, and thrown away. It did not occur to him that what he achieved could only be accumulated over the years through daily written journalism, more direct and immediate communication from writer to the reader than either books, on one hand, or television, on the other. He took tremendous pride in his craft but he simply did not know how good he was.
He could penetrate in a flash to the heart of a story in a few deceptively simple words. He wrote of Churchill’s lying-in-state beside the Thames at Westminster Hall: ‘Two rivers run through London tonight and one of them is made of people.’ When objects were thrown at the Queen’s car in Ulster he wrote: ‘A breeze block and a bottle of stout were flung into Irish history here today.’
He loved what he called ‘the most exciting trade in the world.’ When he won one of his awards as a descriptive writer, he wrote, ‘Journalism, like war, is 90 percent sitting on someone else’s laurels and the rest sheer panic. If in the panic, you can find words to convey the blood and sweat of the revolution in Oojiboo and, which is frequently more difficult, get them back to a sub-editor who is worried about his train home to Orpington, then you are a reporter and the happiest animal on earth.’ He asked to be remembered, not with miserable faces but with joy, and he deserves that joy as our thanks for having known him and read him.
by Hugh Cudlipp
The man who should be writing the preface to this book by Cassandra is William Neil Connor. He knew his faults and scarcely suspected his virtues. But they died at the same moment in the same bed at Bart’s Hospital, London, earlier this year, and we’ll have to make do without him. A pity.
For the past two or three years, the medicos had re-arranged the internal plumbing and checked the hemorrhages as best they could, but we all knew (except Old Incorruptible himself) that in the early hours of some sad morning, surgery, drugs, and the patient’s formidable courage would have to give up the ghost.
The nursing sister in his room at High WycombeMemorialHospital, where he started the marathon series of operations and treatments, told me ruefully that she called him ‘Sweet William’. Liberace, for one, would not endorse that tender tribute; arsenic yes, but not old lace.
Cassandra had a predilection for writing in the Last Words about the famous and the infamous. He had a morbid acquaintance with the chap who brings the obituaries up to date at The Times, or so he told me.
Connor phoned me the day before the funeral for Winston Churchill.
‘I have my ticket for St Paul’s. I have hired my morning suit from Moss Bros. I would like to add my two cents’ worth to the Niagara of eulogy. Churchill once called me malevolent, but there is another side to my nature. He said hard things of me, but I am forgiving.’
‘George Bernard Shaw is dead,’ he wrote on an earlier occasion. ‘The great dark gates of death that have been locked against him for so long swung open for a moment at dawn yesterday and the lean, derisive sage looked over his shoulder for a final twinkling trice and was gone.’
His farewell to Joseph Stalin was somber.
‘He died in his bed. That was the last triumphant, exultant trick of Josef Vissarionovich Djugashvili – otherwise Joseph Stalin, the most powerful man in the world…
His seventy-three hideous years have been enough. In his time he did titanic things and the whole world was his chessboard. No tyrant ever planned on such a scale, and continents rather than countries were his prey. Probably he was brave. Certainly, he was shifty and cruel. His skill in power politics was unsurpassed.
But his purpose was evil and his methods unspeakable. Few men by their death can have given such deep satisfaction to so many.’
For a writer who died at fifty-seven – he was three weeks from fifty-eight – Cassandra exuded a matchless zest for life. He held that no major event should occur in his absence, bereft of his comment in admonition or acclamation.
He was in orbit around the crust of the earth as a fine reporter long before Laika, the Russian dog, was projected into the stratosphere. He watched the Nazi jackboots clumping down the Unter Den Linden in Berlin in 1937, and peered over his spectacles with mounting misgiving at the Nuremberg rallies. He was on H.M.S. Alert, near Christmas Island, when the British tested their H-bomb and sent up that mushroom cloud above the Pacific Ocean – ‘like an oil painting from hell.’ He saw Eichmann in the glass dock at his trial in Israel. ‘I will be in Washington,’ he told me, ‘for the Negro march on the White House.’ He was in Dublin when Roger Casement’s remains were returned to Eire (‘the triumph from the felon’s pit to the national shrine is complete’), and with Pope Paul VI in Nazareth in 1964 (‘you can hear the beating heart of Christianity in this ancient town’).
He’ll be flaming angry now that he won’t be able to write a column about Judgment Day.
Combat and satire were Connor’s specialties. With due respect, the snarling kittens in the late-night TV programmes are still wet behind the ears in comparison, and most of them (certainly David Frost) would be big enough to admit it.
Outwardly he was stubborn, cantankerous, prickly. Except in the benign moments, which were not infrequent, conversation with him was a boisterous affray; as a marathon reader of books and magazines, his mental ammo was abundant. But the explosive verbal combats ended as a rule with the twinkling eyes peering over the steamed-up spectacles.
Inwardly, he was a warm and friendly cove, always pressuring the firm and his friends to be generous to a pensioner or to a journalist who had fallen by the wayside. Hundreds of people up the creek turned to Bill for guidance, even on matrimonial crises. The people he dissected in his writings usually ended up on amicable terms. When the nails were withdrawn and the wounds had slowly healed the people he crucified were forgiving.
Cassandra joined the Services in 1942. He returned to his column on September 23, 1946, with the famous words: ‘As I was saying when I was interrupted, it is a powerful hard thing to please all the people all the time.’
The Cassandra Column, non-stop for thirty years, apart from global hostilities, has now been interrupted again. So far as is known, it will not be resumed this time.
That is precisely why the millions of his followers throughout the English-speaking world will treasure this book of some of his finest and funniest writing
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