Edition #19

End of an era

End of an era

So when did the great days, the glory days, actually end?

Was it the arrival of Maxwell (1984), the Murdoch move to Wapping (1986), or the manifestation of Montgomery (1992)?

Certainly the good old days did not extend beyond the 20th century – as WALTER ELLIS moans in a rant drawn from his diary and memos while working for the Sindy at the start of the new millennium.

Whatever, and whenever, the second half of the last century has just been celebrated in usual style at the annual gathering of Newcastle plc – the event convened by Daily Express photographer Gordon Amory at the St James’ Park ground where the plc’s shareholders collect the interest on their lifetime investment in Newcastle Brewery. CLIVE CRICKMER reports the minutes of that meeting.

Did STANLEY BLENKINSOP tell the story over lunch of his time as a young Express reporter on Tyneside when life was still being produced in black and white and reporters and photographers would share cars or taxis as well as quotes and teem (and team) off together on jobs as far as – oh, maybe 17 miles from the office?… The one where they could organise a whip-round with what they had in their pockets sufficient to bribe a Manchester United player to kick a ball for a photograph…

Different world, or what? And, as Stanley reveals here, if you found the soccer player in a boozer you didn’t splash it as the story, or tell the manager: you kept it to yourself. At least, for 50 years.

They weren’t averse to ringing Matt Busby from London, writes DON WALKER – except it would most likely be for a daft quote. They’d ring Frank Sinatra, or Diana Dors, too. Well, they had to fill the paper somehow; sometimes there might have been as many as 24 or even 28 tabloid pages. At least Mr Busby had the wit, when he took this type of call, to pretend that he wasn’t at home.

Lord Bath, it appears, was always at home to photographer IAN BRADSHAW who discovers that being drunk as a lord can have its advantages.

GARTH GIBBS, on the other hand, can’t find Lord Lucan, drunk or sober, anywhere in the world.

COLIN DUNNE has to look anywhere in the world – outside Skipton – for a new job…

Click on the links, or scroll down for the details. Also check out Letters (link at top left) for contributions from Charlie Catchpole,Alastair McQueen, Ian Skidmore, Dermot Purgavie, Bill Fredericks.

Finally, there’s an honourable mention in Grey Cardigan column in today’s Press Gazette:

THE OLD hacks’ home that is the gentlemenranters.com website continues to throw up some absolute gems.

Reminiscing about the brilliant Daily Mail writer, Vincent Mulchrone, the equally entertaining Colin Dunne recalls two of the great man’s most memorable intros: ‘Two rivers run silently through London tonight and one is made of people…’ for Churchill’s lying-in-state, and ‘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’ from the 1966 World Cup.

As Dunne says: ‘Given that we were all working with the same 26 letters, I could never understand why what he wrote was so totally different – and inarguably superior – to the others.’

An elegant tribute.

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Summer of discontent

By Walter Ellis

 

Readers may recall that Walter left the Sunday Times in 1991 after being sued by his own editor, Andrew Neil. Three months later, he was back out on the street, if not on The Street, this time because Robert Maxwell, who had hired him to be features editor of The European, gave his job to someone he met at a party. Years as a freelance followed, culminating in eight months at the Independent on Sunday. The following is based on his diary and a farewell memo he wrote to the Sindy managing editor. Now read on …

April, 2000. I turn up for a long-standing appointment with deputy editor Mike Williams, formerly a colleague at the Sunday Times, to discuss possible work. Unfortunately, Mike has taken the day off and is not there. ‘Didn’t he call you?’ his secretary asks. We re-schedule for the following week and he introduces me to various senior members of staff. The idea is that I should be a kind of locum executive, standing in for Simon O’Hagan and Catherine Pepinster when they are away, and that I should otherwise contribute Focuses and news features. If all goes well, I am told, there should be a contract and perhaps even a job.

April-June. I work as arranged. I do several stints on the Focus desk without complaint. Later, I do a week on Comment. Again, no problems. I also write a number of Focuses. Mike tells me I have brought a ‘bit of class’ to the operation. Janet seems to like me and everything is going swimmingly. I find some of the features I am being asked to do somewhat odd, but I don’t complain. Money, however, is a problem. All sorts of foul-ups and late payments. After a bit of argey-bargey, this seems to be resolved. There will, though, be no job for me and no contract either. Mike tells me that ‘my’ money has been earmarked for Geoffrey Lean, the environment correspondent, to persuade him to write less often for the Mail.

July. I am transferred, at Mike’s suggestion, to the news desk, where I help news editor Barry Hugill and get stuck into Saturday afternoon re-writes. I find myself spending a lot of my time on the phone talking to Janet’s pop friends – Alex James, Elton John, Michael Eavis – whose lives are apparently of some importance to our remit. At one point, I find myself talking to James on his mobile as he is apparently piloting a light aircraft back from France. Later, I am sent to Tony Blair’s Sedgefield constituency to report on little Leo’s christening. No doubt I have been selected because I previously spent a day hanging around Chelsea and Westminster Hospital trying fruitlessly to get an interview with the PM, who wasn’t there. The Sedgefield visit is contrary to Blair’s clearly expressed wishes and I turn out, on a wet, cold, day, to be the only journalist there. Several constituents berate me as ‘scum’. I point this out to the office, but the editor is insistent that I remain. At the end of the day, my piece is dropped lest it cause offence to Downing Street. Instead, we run a ludicrous confection in which we complain that we are unable to use the photograph of Leo that appears in every other newspaper.

Mike Williams, who previously was my biggest supporter, has for some reason turned against me and takes every opportunity to humiliate me in public, calling me an ‘amateur’ and ‘a poor reporter’. I wonder if this has anything to do with the fact that I commissioned a well-known freelance journalist to cover the build-up to the England-Portugal football match in Eindhoven as part of Euro 2000. Mike was convinced the English fans would run rampage and was extremely irked when our man on the spot found no evidence to substantiate this. The reporter – a former head of Insight – is paid a kill fee and does not work for the paper again. Mike re-writes my re-writes over and over again, accusing me ever more loudly of ‘taking the piss’. I try to remember that I have worked in journalism for 29 years, during which time I have been Belfast correspondent of the Irish Times, Brussels correspondent of the Irish Times, deputy economics correspondent of the Financial Times, a foreign correspondent for the FT in Amsterdam and Jerusalem, chief feature writer of the Sunday Telegraph and a columnist and assistant editor of the Sunday Times. Again, there are difficulties over payments.

Several times I arrange with Mike to discuss our problems. We never actually talk.

October. I give up the news desk stint as a bad job and offer to carry on with Focuses etc. I do a final week as Comment editor, during which nothing goes wrong. I commission all the work requested and get it in on time. The week’s ‘Debate’ feature is on patent law. One of the participants is a partner in a patent firm who says she expects a fee. I tell Janet this and she suggests £300. There is no criticism of the content of my section, all of which appears as written.

I am concerned that I have still not been paid for a 1,500-word feature I wrote in August about HMS Tireless, a British submarine docked in Gibraltar, which was allegedly leaking radioactive material. I went to Gibraltar from home at my own expense. Happily, I did not drink a glass of water from the boat’s reactor coolant system, which the young lieutenant on duty assured me was perfectly safe (or not, as the case subsequently proved).

One other small thing. I have not been paid for a book review, which was commissioned from me and accepted, but never appeared.

The next week follows a similar pattern. On the Saturday morning, Mike tells me that Janet doesn’t trust me. I am not surprised by this. She had already told me I was ‘a sad cunt’ because I had never eaten at the Ivy and hadn’t heard of the band Nine Inch Nails. He says to make sure we talk before I leave that evening. Around midday, Janet is literally spitting with rage when she discovers that our profile of the Royle Family (her idea) has been compromised by an interview in that morning’s daily Independent with Ricky Tomlinson, the star of the show. I am blamed for not checking with the daily’s arts pages over what they are running. Later, Janet shouts at me for paying the patent lawyer £300. Who authorised that? she wants to know.

Mike tells me I’m in trouble now. Next, Janet abuses at me in the middle of the newsroom for not placing copies of all the material intended for the Comment section in her personal screen file. I point out that, as previously requested, I have given her print-outs of everything. As she rarely turns her screen on, this had always been her preferred method. ‘Show some initiative!’ she scolds me. ‘I haven’t got time to read all the fucking stuff that crosses my fucking desk.’

Later still, Mike shouts at me over headlines. One, in particular – written by the chief comment sub – offends him. He tells me what the headline should be and I relay this to the sub, who comes up with an improved version, which I take to him for his appraisal. He grabs the proof out of my hand and scribbles over it with a red pen. ‘Can you do nothing right?’ he wants to know. ‘Do I have to do everything myself?’

At 6.15pm, as I am leaving, I remind him that he wanted to talk to me. He spins round in his chair, red in the face. ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ he screams. ‘I’m the fucking deputy editor of this fucking newspaper and I don’t have time to talk to you!’

The following week I am commissioned to write a Focus from home on the British Museum. When it turns out that Janet’s premise is wildly exaggerated, I am obliged to re-write the piece from top to bottom. Further changes are made by Mike. The story, as it appears, is cringe-makingly bad.

November. It is confirmed to me that I can no longer be relied on at the ‘sharp end’ and must confine myself to writing. At the age of 52, I spend a cold, wet day traipsing around London on the back of an 1100cc motorbike for a feature on couriers that by Thursday is no longer wanted. My next story is about an ice cream war in Glasgow, featuring feuding Italian families. Neither family will talk to me over the phone and the paper will not pay to send me to Scotland.

‘Forget that,’ Mike tells me. Instead, he dispatches me through the night, in a hired car, to Telford, to interview a headmaster about his remarkable school. I arrive at two o’clock in the morning. In the middle of the 9.00am interview, I am called by the newsdesk to be told that I am to drop everything and head off to Worcester to report on floods. There will be ‘shedloads of cash’ in this for me, Mike says. The idea is that I should interview residents of flooded houses about how they got their belongings out.

Each person is to be photographed, preferably carrying out a valuable item. When I get there (90 miles from Telford), I discover that all the evacuations were completed two days earlier and the waters have since receded.

I find a couple of people who will talk to me, but that is all. I drive back to my hotel in Telford, write up the interviews, file them to copy, have dinner and go to bed. Next morning, I get up at seven and write the education piece, which, like the flood story, I dictate down the phone as the Sindy has no laptops to spare, before driving back to London.

On Sunday I discover that virtually my entire week has been wasted. The interviews were not what was required (by Saturday they were much more interested in the floods in York, to which no one had been sent). My interview with the Telford head appears only in bawdlerised form, cut in with a report about Chris Woodhead and the future of the schools inspectorate.

Late in November, I receive my pay cheque for September. I worked 16 days and am paid £540.00+VAT. Shome mistake shurley. I am supposed to get £180 per day plus VAT, which was the rate offered to me by Mike and which he had several times confirmed to me as my rate for the job.

I demand to be paid in full for all work I have done, up to and including Saturday, November 4. That would be:

• the missing £2,000 or so from September

• the British Museum focus (£350.00)

• fee and expenses for the Gibraltar piece (£350 + £300 for hotel, airfare, taxis etc)

• two weeks as Comment editor @ £180 per day

• Four days’ writing for the week just gone, including extra (as agreed) for driving through the night on Thursday and working a 15-hour shift on Friday – ie £900.00

• £150 or so for the missing book review

Total: £5,850 + VAT

Mike rejects my claim and asks me to provide a detailed account of the work I have done. I send him this and he asks me to send it again, this time with even more detail. Barry Hugill – later to resign as news editor – takes up my case and recalls the assurance that I would be paid ‘shedloads of cash’ for my weekend in Telford and Worcester. Mike demands to know who made that promise. It certainly wasn’t him, he says.

I conclude that I do not have a future with the Sindy. Mike agrees.

I was eventually paid all the money I was owed, but only after I initiated proceedings in the Small Claims Court. The managing editor later told me that I should not expect to work for the Independent again as I had ‘broken the bond of trust’. Mike Williams, who took redundancy from the Independent earlier this year, is now the group’s Readers’ Editor. Janet Street Porter is editor-at-large. I live in New York.

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Newcastle plc annual report

By Clive Crickmer

 

Here is the report (commissioned by the editor on the usual terms) of the seventeenth annual Newcastle plc – Pens and Lens Club – reunion lunch. As my presence was also expected that night at my local rugby club dinner, there may be a certain vagueness of recollection.

Guests at this august occasion (sometimes unkindly, though not totally inaccurately, referred to as the Pissed and Legless Club lunch) are mostly grey, grizzled and long-retired retired scribes and snappers who at some time in their career worked on Tyneside.

It was, as usual, organized superbly by Gordon Amory (ex-longstanding Daily Express photographer) and held in the restaurant atop St James’s Park overlooking the field of dreams, mostly unfulfilled since the heyday half a century ago of that wonderful footballer and gentleman Jackie Milburn (also of the – Odhams – Sun and News of the World). Scottish and Newcastle Breweries again provided a pre-lunch free bar so that the assembly could quaff a few pints of aperitif – generosity for which Mr Amory formally thanked S & N director of communications Nigel Pollard, who could not be present, and his deputy, David Jones, who could.

It was once more my pleasant duty to welcome those present, many of whom had travelled from distant parts of the country though, sadly, Mr Barker, aka the Grandee of Gozo with whom I worked on the Daily Mirror in Newcastle more than 30 years ago, was unable to attend. Thus I was able to proceed uninterrupted with my various ramblings that included something of the following.

It was most pleasing that David Banks, now happily recovered from serious illness, was again with us after an absence of several years.

I recalled how Banksy, as an eager young reporter on The Journal and my stringer in South Shields, tipped me off that a bride-to-be had collapsed and died on the eve of her wedding. We went together to her home and, as so often happens on tragic occasions, the grieving family opened their hearts and picture album and very soon we were in the pub scribbling and phoning our pieces.

David had promised to ‘give a line’ to the local freelance (where the hell was he, with a story like that on his patch?) So I offered him money for the Mirror to have it exclusively among the nationals; he refused, so I offered him more money. No, he said, a promise was a promise.

So this seasoned toper put Plan B into operation: get him pissed! But the young man of formidable girth showed he had a capacity to match and downed pints at Mirror expense with zeal and no apparent ill-effect. But at least it acted as a delaying tactic and through a haze the next morning I discovered that, while the Mirror had a splendid show, the story had just crept into the North East edition in the Mail and Express – but not at all in The Sun, which was what mattered most.

The lunch enabled David to be reunited with an old friend from those days, Tom Petrie, then an Evening Chronicle reporter, and with whom he later worked, both in executive capacities, on The Sun (and who had also thankfully recovered from serious illness). It also enabled him to catch up after many years with Roger Bolam (The Journal and Sunday Times) who had taught him to sub. Some piquancy there; Roger’s father was Sylvester Bolam, who had been a Daily Mirror editor (famously gaoled for contempt of court) and David became a successor to him.

At the age of 85 and in fine fettle, John Sleight, former parliamentary correspondent for Tyne Tees-TV, made his PLC debut. It was he who as acting news editor of the Evening Chronicle in a heat wave many, many years ago arranged for a young reporter to go into the vast refrigerator at Newcastle’s meat market to do a first person piece about being the coolest person in the city on its hottest day of the year. Like losing your virginity, you never forget your first by-line. Thanks, John.

David Dawson (WhitleyBay Guardian, Evening Chronicle, Tyne Tees TV and wide-ranging PR positions) is a regular at the lunch, and it transpires we have something in common of which we were previously unaware: neither of us was first choice for our first jobs in journalism.

I was recruited by the Evening Chronicle (aged 17 in 1957) after the chap who was first given the trainee reporter’s job left it, disillusioned. It seems he was sent with hardened Sean Bryson (later Daily Mail, The People and BBC Belfast) to cover a prostitute murder in Newcastle’s rough and tough Byker area and was aghast at having to interview people in seedy houses and dingy pubs and so quit to become a teacher.

David had started his journey in journalism a few months before on the Whitley Bay Guardian after a lad called Sam Padmore, then the only coloured boy in town, resigned explaining that there was not much future for a reporter who, when people opened the door to him, immediately slammed it in his face!

As it happens, David and I also claim a piece of journalistic history. Having adjourned with others to a pub after the funeral of Laurie Taylor (Sunderland Echo, Daily Sketch, Tyne Tees TV publicity officer), I realised the gates of the cemetery almost a mile away were due to be locked at 6pm and my car was parked beside the crematorium within it. And it was 5.50pm. David drove through rush hour traffic to get me there in the nick of time – the only known instance of two hacks rushing from a pub to get to a cemetery before closing time.

It was a sad duty to report the deaths of three PLC stalwarts in the past year. Octogenarians John Forbes (Sunderland Echo chief photographer) and Doug Blackhall, (long time editor of the Whitley Bay Guardian), both recently, and Mike Gay (WhitleyBaySeaside Chronicle, The Journal, Daily Mail, The Sun) a few days after Christmas, aged 69.

Mike and I had been firm friends since 1961 when we worked together in the South Shields office of The Journal, Evening Chronicle and Sunday Sun, district men covering for all three titles in those faraway days. He was one of the most likeable and thoroughly decent men I have ever known and it was a sombre privilege to be asked by his widow, Anna, to deliver the eulogy.

In preparing this, with her help, I was told a Christmas story from a time when every woman wanted a fur coat and before animal activists damned such ambitions. Anna had dropped none-too-subtle hints about wanting ‘something furry and warm’ as a gift and so Mike was in no doubt what it was she wanted.

As well as being a super reporter (and along with Stan Blenkinsop and Doug Watson the best intro writer in my experience) he was a talented artist with a love and deep respect for the countryside and all things that live and grow there. And so he was well ahead of his time in regarding furs for fashion as utterly distasteful. But Anna wanted something furry and warm. Thus it was that an Old English sheepdog pup called Santa arrived in the Gay household and was a much-loved pet for the next 14 years.

Glasses were as usual raised in gratitude to Gordon, who puts so much work into organising the lunch, but the toast was also to his supportive wife Beatrice who had been admitted to hospital a few days before and seemed likely to have to undergo an operation. Voices lubricated by many a bottle of wine responded enthusiastically after the lunch to Stan Blenkinsop’s call for a chorus of ‘For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow’.

David Banks thanked him on behalf of the guests in a witty and charming speech of which I’m afraid I can remember nothing. I seem to remember, though, that I did get to the rugby bash.

The PLC line-up: Gordon Amory, Phil Aris, Vernon Addison, John Bailey, Alan Baxter, John Bell, Stanley Blenkinsop, Chris Boffey, Roger Bolam, Tom Buist, Gordon Chester, Clive Crickmer, David Dawson, Jim Dumigan, Allan Glenwright, David Haigh, Barry Henson, Colin Henderson, Peter Holland, Andy Hughes, David Hicks, David Isaacs, John Learwood, Ian Kerr, Jim Merrington, Neil Morgan, Brian Nichol, Geoff O’Connell, Stan Oliver, Keith Perry, Tom Petrie, Elaine Reed, Bryan Rimmer, Frank Robson, John Robson, George Romaines, Michael Scott, John Sherbourne, John Sleight, John Sutton, Dave Thompson, Dan Van Der Vat, John Wardhaugh, Doug Watson, Peter Whittall, Terry Wynn and Louis Yaffa.

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The half-knicker whip

By Stanley Blenkinsop

 

Phil Smith asked (see Archive, October 26) for recollections about Manchester United’s 1958 Munich disaster. I wasn’t in the city at the time but I was present when Bobby Charlton kicked a ball for the first time after it.

It was a well worn tennis ball and the pitch was the back lane behind his parents’ pit village cottage in Ashington, Northumberland.

Playing with the teenage Manchester United forward were local schoolboys – only five or six years younger than the frowning Bobbie – on half-term holiday.

Apart from a handful of neighbours, the ‘crowd’ consisted of the 12-strong Newcastle upon Tyne national press corps – a reporter and photographer (complete with VN plate camera) from each of the six dailies based in the ‘canny toon’; Express, Mail, Sketch, News Chronicle, Herald and Mirror.

We had arrived in convey crammed into three cars – the usual rota system then operated on ‘out of town’ trips so that everyone could claim the mileage (plus another ten or 20) on exes.

Bobby, flown home the previous day from the Munich hospital where he had been treated for a fortnight, was at first very reluctant to ‘play’.

Eventually he agreed to kick a ball around for the photographers’ benefit with his mother, miner’s wife Cissie (sister of Newcastle United international Jackie Milburn). Cissie, a female footballer of some local renown, had been Bobby’s first soccer coach.

Bobby had been finally bought over by a whip-round of ten-bob-a-head — £6 in all or the equivalent of £300 or so in today’s terms.

Worth it though – the pictures went round the world.

I was back in Ashington two weeks later. Bobby’s team-mate Duncan Edwards had just died from his injuries in the Munich hospital and the Express wanted a tribute from Charlton, his greatest pal.

There was no telephone at the Charlton pit village home – only one house in 50 or so had a phone then. But there was a short cut. On a previous visit to the house I had taken the number of the GPO kiosk and on two occasions had contacted Mrs Charlton with queries about Bobby by ringing the kiosk until a curious passer-by answered. On each occasion they went to get her for me.

But no such luck this time. So I went the 20 miles from Newcastle by taxi. ‘Sorry, he’s out – gone to the pictures,’ said mum. But Ashington then had THREE cinemas. So which one? Mum: ‘No idea’.

So she told youngest brother, Tommy, then 12, to take me round them all in the search for Bobby as the Express first edition deadline loomed.

First cinema: ‘Have you seen Bobby’ I asked the manager. ‘No.’ Could he flash a message on the screen? No – they didn’t have the necessary equipment. ‘But I’ll switch the film off, put the lights on and you can go down the aisles looking for him’. Which young Tommy did – running full out. But no luck – and the same experience in the other two cinemas too. Deadline now ten minutes away.

Tommy suggested there was only a very slim chance that Bobby might just be in a certain pub – and he was. Time for 40 or 50 words from him on Edwards which turned into almost a broadsheet column when I found a public phone that worked.

Then I went back to thank Bobby. He looked anxiously at me: ‘You won’t tell Mr. Busby you found me drinking brown ale, will you? Of course, I assured him that I would not.

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Cunning stunts

By Don Walker

 

A young friend of mine once asked for a personal tour of the Mirror editorial and its environs. He had heard many a tale of great newspapers at work and wanted to witness for himself the clangour of the ringing telephones, the harried reporters, the noisy circus of the print shop and, above all, the breathtaking power of the presses.

The rotaries that produced the newspapers were in the Holborn building’s basement at that time and around six in the evening or even earlier (the Mirror’s mighty five million run had to get underway promptly) you could feel the vibrations even three or four stories up. It was a thrilling moment in a temple of truth.

We didn’t let him down and after an hour or so he was shivering and wide-eyed with the adrenaline. We headed for The Stab intent on sustaining the high.

‘Look, Keith,’ I said: ‘I can’t stay long tonight. I must get home–I’ve got a very early start tomorrow. I have to drive up to Norfolk on a job.’

‘An assignment?’ he said breathlessly.

‘Yup.’

‘What is it?’ After the brilliant scenes we had just left, the shouting and the tumult, he knew it had to be of great weight and moment.

‘I’m going to interview a farmer who has seen a dancing mouse.’

He looked blank. I felt further elucidation was necessary.

‘This farmer in Norfolk works in a barn with his radio on. When The Beatles played Hey Jude, this mouse came out and danced before his very eyes.’

‘Before his very eyes?’ His tone was dull now; the adrenaline seemed to have drained away.

‘I’m also trying to get hold of a local naturalist who may be able to explain the creature’s behaviour.’ I was gabbling. ‘We hope we might get the mouse to come out again. I’m taking a photographer.’

But I had opened a door and shone daylight on magic. The moment was gone.

I worked as a writer towards the end of that period when Stunts were the order of the day. Features editors seldom thought about how they could get an exclusive with a footballer (that was Sport) or how much the striker’s girlfriend had spent on her chest and preferred pressing hapless feature writers into cages with lions, setting them on fire, shooting them out of canons or linking them up to lie-detectors while they kissed pretty girls to see if their pulses did actually race.

Don’t sneer. That last was a job I did in the Seventies. Okay, it was tough–but I got to snog top models Vicki Hodge and Vivianne Ventura.

What d’you mean you’ve never heard of them?

We had to fill the pages somehow even though there were only 28 of them (sometimes even just 24–unthinkable now, eh?).

Another favourite cliché of desperate Features editors was the all-star round-up or celebrity quiz. This was where you reached for your contacts book and rang round anybody with a name and asked them a puerile question. Like:

‘What do you do when you get the blues?’… ‘What makes you happiest?’…‘Do you think there’s too much soccer on telly?’… ‘What makes you cry?’

To this day, I can hear Sally Moore at the next desk to me saying breezily down the phone: ‘Hello, Mr Sinatra, I’m Sally Moore at the Daily Mirror and we’re doing one of our wacky round-ups. Would you like to take part…?’

My favourite wacky-round-up star was that grand trouper and former glamour puss Diana Dors. She frequently picked up the phone herself and never refused to answer any question however daft. Always entertaining, she could give you enough quotes to fill a page on her own.

Amazingly we were seldom told to sod off. The best that the celebrities of the day could come up with was to pretend they were somebody else and say: ‘He’s not here.’ Or ‘He’s walking the dog.’ I had quite a long conversation with a voice that was clearly Matt Busby’s, but couldn’t have been because apparently Matt Busby had just slipped out to the off-licence.

But stunts were what they liked best. And they were best liked by Mike Christiansen. Son of the legendary Arthur, sometime features editor, deputy editor and briefly editor of the Mirror, Mike was a stunt enthusiast to the manner born.

He brought Arthur the Tramp to the Mirror Holborn offices in 1970 while editor of the Sunday Mirror. Arthur Baker was a gentleman of the road who had a brief, bizarre moment of glory in the public eye.

He had been invited aboard the Iveston, a troubled ship of the Queen’s Navy in Scotland, and had a drink with the captain producing the headline: The tramp who drank with the captain on the mutiny ship. This was a real mutiny, exacerbated, I fancy, by the rum ration – it ended up in tears and imprisonment.

But Arthur was the real tabloid story and was just begging for stuntdom.

Mike decided the stunt was that Arthur should be given a taste of the high life.

This was a cardinal rule of stuntship. Anyone whose life was felt to be humdrum or, worse, less than glamorous, had to be given a room at the Dorchester, dinner at Rules and a wash and brush up by some society crimper. Why? They never enjoyed it and preferred, quite rightly, an evening down the chip shop or, in Arthur’s case, a quick kip in the YMCA.

Nonetheless, we took him up to the roof of the Mirror and photographed him against the London skyline, arms widespread. All London is mine, he seemed to be saying, but wasn’t. Then we whipped him off to the Dorchester and Rules and the expensive crimper. Like the mutiny, it ended in tears when Arthur decided quite soon he’d had enough of this nonsense and disappeared, perfectly sensibly, back on the road.

So I knew I was in trouble when Mike Christiansen appeared at my shoulder one afternoon and said: ‘Ah, Don, you’re musical, aren’t you?’ This is what is known in the profession as a trick question.

‘Well, I play the guitar,’ I confessed modestly, realising that I was doomed but determined to remain cheerful to the end.

‘That’ll do. Get yourself a violin. Go down to the Dorchester. Jack Benny’s in town -get him to give you a violin lesson.’

Get yourself a violin. Go down to the Dorchester. Get Jack Benny to give you a violin lesson. I repeat it more for my benefit than yours. No, I can’t believe it either. As my mum said when I told her what I was up to: ‘Crumbs, the things you have to do to earn a living.’

And I did. I must have an honest face, because the man at Chappell’s loaned me a violin free. And Jack Benny, bless his generous, old vaudeville heart, never blinked an eye.

The genius of stand-up and star of many a black and white Hollywood movie stood beside me, bow in hand, violin under the chin, while Pete Stone snapped away.

Well, I suppose he couldn’t find an off-license in time.

#

 

 

Bathroom secrets

By Ian Bradshaw

 

There’s one great thing about the aristocracy: You’re never drunk, inebriated, pissed or even rat-arsed. You are tired, unwell or just a bit off-colour.

I met the late Lord Bath through his ex-Public Relations guru Andy Bowen. Andy was then PR at Chessington Zoo and I was a photographer at Reveille in the early sixties [but that’s another story]. After several successful photo shoots at the zoo, Andy suggested we go down and see his old boss at Longleat and get some publicity for him.

‘You’ll like him’, said Andy, ‘He’s one of us, likes a drink.’

And so it was one Tuesday morning we arrived at Longleat around 10am to find his Lordship in his dressing gown regaling bemused American tourists with tales from darkest Wiltshire.

‘I’m Bath’, he would introduce himself. ‘I own this pile.’

Spying Andy he excused himself from the throng and ushered us into his study.

‘I suppose I ought to change, so help yourself to a drink. You know where it is.’

Andy most certainly did after years in his Lordhip’s service.

‘Through here,’ he chortled, and led the way through a small door in the bookcase.

It was a bit like Alice in Wonderland.

The room we entered was a mere 6 foot by about 8 foot. Its wall to wall shelves lined with every brand of drink known to man – and then some. Bowen, an old hand, produced glasses, ice and a huge gin and tonic for each of us and a few minutes later we were joined by Lord Bath himself resplendent in check sports jacket and the obligatory spotted red handkerchief falling out of his breast pocket.

‘Welcome to my Fally-Downy room,’ boomed his Lordship and then went to great lengths to explain its origins.

It turned out that his Lordship had it designed so that guests could stand leaning against the walls drinking and then, as the sessions wore on, slide gently down the flock wallpaper and subside into the deep pile Wilton carpet without injuring themselves.

He seemed intent on demonstrating this safety mechanism but we were rescued by a phone call from his wife advising us that lunch was ready.

We staggered, literally, into the Manor House to be greeted by Lady Thynne. I was concentrating so hard on trying to appear sober that I did not see the turned leg of the Chippendale or Heppelwhite or whatever brand of chair lay in wait for the unwary.

With hand outstretched to greet her ladyship I tripped over the chair leg and performed what Lord Bath described as an ‘elegant somersault’ to land at her feet.

They have style at Longleat.

‘You poor thing, I really must get the maid to move that beastly chair’… was the only reference to my acrobatic performance.

The lunch was distinctly amusing. A butler produced a huge silver tray with a domed cover which he whipped off like a conjurer to reveal – macaroni cheese! Naturally wine was served so the rest of the meal was just a blurry memory.

A week later I had to return to Longleat for more photography. Forewarned is forearmed they say and I deftly avoided the early start in the Fally-Downy room by rhapsodising about the light and possible bad weather in the afternoon. Thus pre-prandials were reduced to a couple of his Lordship’s large ones before lunch.

‘I think I was a bit pissed last week,’ I ventured as we readied ourselves for lunch.

‘Oh no, dear boy, you were tired or maybe ill. You definitely were not pissed. Its such a tiring job you do and we do appreciate your coming all this way.’ Deadpan.

We went to the Manor House again and entered the library to find Her Ladyship standing by the fireplace.

‘Ian how nice to see you again,’ as if nothing had happened the previous week.

Having avoided the dreaded room for most of the morning I advanced confidently to shake her hand when an aristocratic voice in my ear said, ‘Don’t worry old boy. The maid has moved the chairs back to the wall.’

And his Lordship winked as he poured me another large one.

#

 

 

Looking for Lucky

By Garth Gibbs

 

For a third of a century now Fleet Street scribes have spent countless hours and thousands of pounds searching for Lord Lucan. Deep down, they have heaved a great sigh of relief every time they haven’t found him. It’s not that they haven’t been searching for him as vigorously as they would search for a blank restaurant bill – it’s just that the game would be spoilt if he ever turned up.

For as that brilliantly bigoted and crusty old columnist John Junor once cannily observed: ‘Laddie, you don’t ever want to shoot the fox. Once the fox is dead there is nothing left to chase.’

With that in mind I regard not finding Lord Lucan as my most spectacular success in journalism. Of course, many of my colleagues have also been fairly successful in not finding Lord Lucan. But I have successfully not found him in more exotic spots than anybody else.

I spent three glorious weeks not finding him in Cape Town, magical days and nights not finding him in the Black Mountains of Wales and wonderful and successful short breaks not finding him in Macau, either, or in Hong Kong or even in Green Turtle Cay in the Bahamas where you can find anyone.

The most recent success in not finding him – or anyway, not finding him definitely – is down to William Hall and Mike Maloney. William and Mike thought a hippy called Jungle Barry, who used to hang out in Goa, may have been him, but it turned out he wasn’t.

The Right Honourable Richard John Bingham, Seventh Earl of Lucan, vanished on November 8 1974, leaving behind a couple of letters, a bloodstained car and a dead body. In his absence, a jury returned a verdict that the Earl had murdered his children’s nanny, Sandra Rivett. This raised a few eyebrows among the aristocracy because there was such an acute shortage of nannies at the time. Then a couple of years ago the High Court declared Lord Lucan officially dead, but no journo with a current passport accepts that. He’s called Lucky and if he’s Lucky he’s still alive and out there.

James Nicholson, Prince of Darkness, remembers the breathless excitement in the Daily Express newsroom one evening when the night news editor was off as a result of an industrial injury (gout) and a reporter was sitting in for him. Suddenly, the phone rang and a voice declared: ‘I have found Lord Lucan and I demand my reward.’

‘Where are you phoning from, son?’

Newcastle.’

Newcastle upon Tyne?’

‘Yes, mate. That’s the one.’

‘Forget it. Lucan wouldn’t be seen dead in Newcastle. But listen, if you happen to go on holiday to Bali or even Singapore and see him there, don’t hesitate to call us. And don’t forget, you can reverse the charges.’

John Penrose, while on the Daily Mirror, also found some fame while not finding Lucan. Somebody reported that Lucan was on a microscopic island in the Pacific, somewhere in the vicinity of Guam, and John hurried out, flying to Montreal, across to Vancouver, and down the western seaboard to Los Angeles. Then a flight to Guam and eventually a two-seater Chipmunk to the tiny island.

It wasn’t that tiny. It had a hotel and a bar. And guess who was sitting at the bar? Yes, Lucky Lucan himself, sipping Scotch.

But as Lucan stood up Penrose thought: ‘He’s too short to be Lord Lucan.’

Then he noticed the man was barefoot, so it could well have been Lucan. Lucan disappeared into the night and John went for the glass. He picked it up in a bar cloth and rushed to his room where he carefully packed it in his suitcase.

He lost Lucan but the next day announced to the office that he at least had the Earl’s fingerprints, proof that the man was still alive.

‘Come back at once,’ said the news desk.

Well, coming back at once was not that easy, of course. But he did eventually arrive at Heathrow. He went home to change, left his suitcase there and popped along to the office.

He telephoned Scotland Yard’s Fingerprint Bureau and announced he had the Earl’s fingerprints. The Yard said that was all very well but, actually, they did not have Lord Lucan’s fingerprints on file. They did, however, have lots of fingerprints from the house in which nanny Sandra Rivett was killed.

Penrose rushed home to fetch the glass. But his mother had unpacked his bag and there was the glass – on the draining board.

He was horrified. But he did what any hack would have done under the circumstances. ‘Dad,’ he said, ‘please pass me that glass.’ He wrapped this up carefully, too, and took it along to Scotland Yard.

To this day he is very philosophical about it all.

‘At least I found out my father didn’t have a criminal record,’ he says ruefully.

#

Time to up sticks

By Colin Dunne

 

What I’d forgotten, in that moment, was that there are two Claphams. So when Bill Mitchell told me that the traffic around Clapham was surprisingly heavy, I agreed with him without a second thought. I was just about to say that I used to live in Putney and I’d seen the way they poured round that London ring road, when he added that little bit of extra detail that confused me.

‘Especially at milking time.’

Milking time? Now in the Clapham I know, they probably have an injecting time for all the druggies, and a mugging time for all the thugs, and quite possibly a condoming time for those single mums who don’t wish to become double mums. But milking time? There are plenty of cows in South London but none, I think, of the Friesian or Hereford breeds.

Of course, the problem was that I’d been so long away from Yorkshire that I’d forgotten there was another Clapham up there. A scattering of grey cottages on the road that leads from the Dales into the Lakes. When the young newly-trained reporters from Skipton set out to scale the peaks of journalism, Bill went 15 miles up the road to the Dalesman magazine. Frankly, we thought that was a touch unadventurous.

This was the time – I’m sure you all remember it – when we had to move from our first job out into the wide world. What to do? Follow the sign that said: ‘Cash! Exes! Girls! Power! Travel! Fun!’ Or follow the one that simply says: ‘Nice sensible life.’

Exactly. We all know which one we followed. And half-a-century later, I’m beginning to see that I was wrong.

That first move was quite a jump. From the comfortable, familiar life on the local weekly or agency, you peep over the edge and wonder happens next. It was a coming of age, a rite of passage, one of the most exciting and important decisions of your life, one that decided the direction you set off in, both geographical and professional.

On the Craven Herald and West Yorkshire Pioneer, in the news-free market town of Skipton in the Dales, it was a problem that had never concerned me. We didn’t do forward-looking.

We stuck to good old monotype, about one century after everyone else embraced linotype. We printed on a press which, we were assured, had been bought from the Yorkshire Post in the twenties for £25. If you’d seen it you would’ve said nearer ten quid.

The editor, Mr Mitchell, sat in his huge office overlooking the High Street, wondering if it was too early to go for morning coffee or afternoon tea with his fellow Round Tablers at the Castle Café.

Mr Waterhouse, the chief reporter, sub-editor and general progress chaser, was waiting for Mr Mitchell to retire so he could become editor. He did… eventually. ‘The time has come to give way to a younger man,’ he said, at his farewell. Mr Mitchell was a master of irony. By then Mr Waterhouse was over 70.

So they weren’t going anywhere, and nor were Charlie and Roy and Jack, the three seniors. But for the trainees, usually two of us, after four years of hammering reports on weddings and the Skipton LMS football team and Hellifield auction mart prices on Underwoods the size and weight of the Scharnhorst, the time would come when we would have to show the world what the Craven Herald and West Yorkshire Pioneer had taught us. ‘You lads are getting the best training in the world,’ Mr Waterhouse assured us.

We never questioned that, nor did we question the general understanding that Mr. Mitchell was so well-connected in global communications that he only had to pick up the telephone to send his young fledglings off to romantic and lucrative posts. When the time came, of course.

It came, as it happened, as a bit of a shock. The time to move was governed not by our readiness to unleash our skills on the world’s press so much as the financial requirements of the paper. When a young reporter reached the age of 20, his salary rocketed to a wallet-packing wage of almost three quid, grievously worrying for the accountant who knew you could get a trainee from the grammar school for five bob-a-week. That was how Mr. Mitchell came to call me down to his office for the fledgling-must-fly speech.

He was a lovely old chap, kindness itself, and he talked about the unconquered lands that lay out awaiting my blazing talent and 80 wpm shorthand. We didn’t have oysters in the Dales, but what he was saying was that the world was my faggot and peas.

Eyes twinkling with pride (completely uninfluenced by the thought of a reduced wages bill), he shook me by the hand and sent me off to… wherever.

Did he have any suggestions where? Not really, he said, looking vague. Why didn’t I have a look at the trade magazine? It was only then that I realised I wasn’t flying the nest – I’d just been pushed, and my wings weren’t working too well.

Long before Press Gazette, there was WPN. World’s Press News was the trade mag with all the jobs at the back. I had often looked at them, savoured the magic of the names of these exotic journals, each one a challenge to the imagination. Was I ready for the Smethwick Telephone? Could I face the challenge of the Falmouth Packet? Hartlepool, Barrow, Totnes… a romantic roll-call of places that awaited me. Would I need sun cream? Would I be able to eat the food? Would the girls wear grass skirts?

A quick check in the office road-map book was something of a disappointment. The climate was unlikely to be radically different in Smethwick, there was every chance of a cheese sandwich in Totnes, and grass skirts in Hartlepool would be soggy from the sea-fret.

This isn’t quite as silly as it sounds. Until then, I had no idea where these places were. They were certainly not within the circulation area of the Craven Herald, even though it extended from the steepling towers of Ilkley to the wilder shores of Barnoldswick.

At that time, my travelling was limited. True, I had been to Leeds once some years earlier, but not strictly on a news assignment. It was to see a panto with my mum. And I had climbed to the top of a double decker bus – the only one to reach Skipton – to go to my journalism class in Bradford every Friday, where a reporter from the Telegraph and Argus – Stanley Pearson, the smooth swine – had a trilby of his very own.

So, to me, even Hartlepool and Smethwick sounded pretty exciting.

And all my predecessors on the Craven Herald had jumped ship without drowning. Bill Freeman had gone off to the Yorkshire Post (or Why Pee as the old hands called it) and the Sunday Express. Ron Evans had prospered on the Bradford Argus (and possibly also had his own trilby). Don Mosey was in Manchester on the Express, and his brother Derek was editing – editing! – the Morecambe paper. There was a chap called Green who was said to be on the Daily Telegraph in London, which seemed rather hard to believe. Oh yes, and Bill Mitchell who was on the Dalesman in Clapham.

Off went my letter. Two days later the papers in Hartlepool and Barrow rang offering me jobs immediately. It was almost as if they knew I could do six wedding reports in an hour. Even so, I was suspicious. It wasn’t until later that I learned that, so desperate were the papers in Barrow and Hartlepool, that they would offer a job to anyone who could spell the editor’s name correctly. Maybe they still do.

But the letter from the Northern Echo in Darlington set my imagination ablaze. It had an embossed letter-head. It was a daily paper. A big daily paper. Darlington was almost certainly a sort of Venice of the north. This was all the stuff of dreams, and – this is what the letter said – if my interview was satisfactory, the starting pay would be £7 13s a week. Every week. More than seven and half pounds.

I remembered this, 50 years later when I was talking to Bill Mitchell about our working lives. Bill Freeman had gone on to edit the Sunday Mirror in Manchester. Ron Evans ended up running Harlech Television in Cardiff. Don Mosey was a radio star on Test Match Special. And Michael Green, I believe, ended up as news editor of the Telegraph.

I was saying that, whatever all their successes, Bill had got it right. He’d spent his entire life living in the Dales, in a village overlooking the Ribble at Settle, driving a few miles up the road to his office. He was the editor, the chief writer, the heart and soul of the Dalesman which is – and here I must be careful not to exaggerate – the finest magazine in the history of publishing. You can’t get much better than that, can you? And there I was slogging across London, cursing the traffic.

That was when he said it. That the traffic could get a bit heavy in Clapham around milking-time. By traffic I think he meant cows. And however you put it, it didn’t sound quite as bad as Hyde Park Corner.

But that was all much later. Waiting for my interview with the Northern Echo, I could hardly sleep for excitement.

I mean, £7 13s a week. With an income like that, I could afford to buy Durex. And, in a sophisticated place like Darlington, I may well find out what they were for.

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