The way it was
COLIN HENDERSON has a mini-rant about The People, then and now, and we lift a report quoting an internal memo to describe how the Standard is now.
WALTER ELLIS says that in the old days you were not allowed to return to the office, after lunch, unless pissed.
Last week Philippa Kennedy mentioned the wonky door handle that VINCENT MULCHRONE was always going to repair. It’s introspective Vincent, on turning 40 – a milestone that few Ranters can still remember. So we’re happy to re-run it.
Chiefy JOHN KAY points out that it isn’t only hacks who get legless in The Street – there are experts out there, also doing it. Although less successfully, perhaps, than the pros.
IAN BRADSHAW protests that, for snappers doing glamour in the early days of Page Three, there was a little too much of this ‘nudge-nudge, wink-wink’ thing about their relationship with the lasses. Perhaps.
And COLIN DUNNE has fond memories of a mysterious insert called Mirrorscope – mainly because he never had to write anything for it.
We have some exceptional LETTERS this week. Anybody remember Gilbert Johnson? Bloody hell fire! He’s in there. All threeMulchrone Boys, and Colin Henderson gets the double up this week by writing about Ken Smiley.
Finally, we don’t normally do this but we received an email from somebody we’ve never heard of about Media Circus (something we don’t think we’ve ever heard of) ‘where five of the UK’s most successful correspondents explain how and why they became specialists.’ That’s what it says. Check it out for yourselves at http://www.jointhemediacircus.co.uk/mediacircus/2007/11/the-specialists.html
Let us know what you think. The address is at top right.
The People flags
By Colin Henderson
How galling it for its old hands that The People circulation is now below 700,000. In the late sixties Bob Edwards, after picking up the mantle from all-time great Sam Campbell in February 1966, took it to 5.8million. Bob’s successor, Geoff Pinnington, made a good fist of minimizing the decline, the Bay City Rollers card being played to good effect for many months.
However, at one of Geoff’s not-infrequent staff drink-ins, I recklessly asked him: ‘Geoff, is there seriously any fear of the circulation dropping below 4million?’
One of those awful hushes descended on his office as the burly ex-squadron leader weighed me up in an ill-concealed fury. As his lips became taught with tension and his eyes narrowed to slits, he spat it out that there was.
He never spoke to me again. And at his spectacular, much-videoed 1982 retirement party at Leeds Castle, Kent, I was consigned to a table as far from the action as could be. How my wife loved me.
But at least my fate wasn’t as bad as the one that befell People FoC Trevor Aspinall ten years earlier. At the paper’s farewell bash for Hugh Cudlipp on board HMS Belfast, newly anchored in the Thames, the atmosphere was riotous even before we sat down for the meal in the bowels of the battle cruiser.
Pinnington, just arrived from the Mirror, was mildly heckled by the boozed company but when The Great Welshman stood up the jibes flew thick and fast, many reflecting how The People had suffered since its acquisition from Odhams by Mirror Group. Memories about how Cudlipp had apparently prevailed upon Bob Edwards to produce circulation-killing pull-out Poverty Supplements for a month were still raw.
Cudlipp batted away the initial remarks then worked himself up into a rage, warning that if the bombardment did not stop he would leave. It continued, prompting him to gaze around the tables and finger Aspinall, ordering him to leave the party, ‘or else’.
Aspers protested that his contribution to the banter had been no worse than anyone else’s, but he gallantly departed.
Several hours later the bash broke up. As they clambered on deck, colleagues were delighted to find their FoC very much in situ, at a table by the railings, a plentiful supply of booze to hand. The wily reporter had yet again worked his chat-up magic — sympathetic ship’s staff keeping him well fed and watered.
- Colin Henderson was a People sub from 1966 to 1993.
From Media Guardian:
The London Evening Standard has banned journalists from using taxis apart from in ‘exceptional circumstances’ and will refuse to pay for meals with contacts unless they are proven to generate stories.
As part of the expenses clampdown, effectively immediately, editorial staff must get clearance before buying meals for contacts and have been told to stick to a £50 budget.
A memo sent to staff also told editorial staff they needed prior permission for any purchase of ‘more than a few drinks’.
The memo has angered a number of staff on the title. ‘When I first read it I thought it was a joke,’ one senior member of the reporting staff said. ‘Needless to say it hasn’t gone down well at all round here.’
A spokeswoman for the newspaper was unavailable for comment at the time of publication.
The memo, sent to staff by Steve Vaughan, the Standard deputy news editor, told staff that departmental expenses ‘must immediately be reduced’.
‘In future, entertaining must only be directly connected with getting stories and a claim for more than a few drinks must be cleared with the head of department in advance,’ it said.
‘Even in this case, it will only be in exceptional circumstances that a receipt of more than £50 for taking a contact out for a meal will be approved.
‘As of now, staff will need to submit a receipt and a credit card chit together with the contact or story details.
‘No taxis should be used unless in exceptional circumstances. Taxi receipts will only be reimbursed if approved by the head of department for being necessary in a critical situation. Your help is appreciated.’
Laughing through the beers
By Walter Ellis
Have you noticed (how could you not?) how many of the contributions and letters to this website dwell on the topic of drink?
This does not surprise me. I spent much of the 1980s either drunk or on my way to the pub. My contention has long been that Fleet Street pre-Murdoch, Maxwell, Montgomery and Black was a largely victimless crime. The qualities had gravitas and verve; the tabs were fun and rattled a few cages; the old Express ‘dialled the world’; and the Mail was, well, a mere shadow of its future self.
Printers did bugger-all (but had real skills) and made shedloads of cash; messengers did less, and earned less; journalists did decently and topped up their salaries with exes; editors had butlers; and the proprietors took a serious interest in what went on and knew the names of many of those who worked for them. Oh, and circulations in those days were a lot bigger, too.
Change had to come. Developments in printing technology meant that the number of snouts in the trough could be cut back drastically. At the same time, New Age capitalism promulgated the myth that shareholders’ rights were infinitely more important than, and on a different ethical plane to, the rights of workers. But it didn’t end there, of course. Since then, the internet revolution – foreseen by nobody, least of all the gung-ho entrepreneurs of the 1980s – has put us all on notice that our days are numbered. But for the new wave of owners to pretend that they were in some way morally superior to the industry they were so desperate to subvert was never more than greed masquerading as sound business practise.
Look at Richard Desmond!
Back at the old Irish Times, where I cut my teeth in the seventies, the news editor, Donal Foley, was very strict. Young reporters were not allowed to leave the snug of Bowes to return to the newsroom after lunch until they were properly pissed. The Irish Times was a fine newspaper, known for its literacy and its investigative bent, and Donal was at its heart.
Years later, Perry Worsthorne used to lead his troops to El Vino of a Saturday lunchtime – those, that is, who could be persuaded to decant themselves from the King & Keys. The Sunday Telegraph of Perry’s day had a rising circulation and was regarded, among the broadsheets, as the Sunday paper to be on.
Maybe we did drink too much – though we would have drunk more if we could. But we loved our jobs. Murdoch was wrong to say that we didn’t take ourselves and journalism seriously. We did. But we wrote ‘stories’, we didn’t crunch numbers. Most of all, we got out of the office, unlike the new generation, who are little more than online editors and professional bloggers.
Nearly all newspapers these days are grim and po-faced. Editors and their inner circles see themselves as businesspersons (I think that has to be the word), not story-getters or campaigners. The only ones who do well out of the business today are execs, ‘top’ reporters and columnists and, most of all, proprietors. Everyone else is expendable, especially as they hit their mid-forties. Circulation, meanwhile, is falling inexorably and will eventually disappear. If this is progress (and no doubt it is), give me the good old days.
That last observation, by the way, has stood the test of time. I remember the oldies of my young day reciting it to me back in the seventies.
There is a school of thought, led by Roy Greenslade, that says newspapers post-Wapping are better organised, better edited and more far-reaching than their predecessors. He is not completely wrong in this … if you regard newspapers mainly as vehicles for opinion, ‘facts’ and statistics. The Prof has also observed that papers are a lot bigger than they used to be, which is certainly true. But I defy anyone to pick up a copy of today’s Times or today’s Telegraph and argue with conviction that they are a better read than their predecessors.
Put it this way, if we are all so well informed these days, why is the world going to hell in a handcart? Does anyone out there, part from the unemployed and the retired (and politicians) – really read the papers?
What’s the answer? Who knows? But while you’re pondering, get down to the pub, I say. Feel real life coursing through your veins alongside three pints of Young’s ordinary. And then get back to work.
The second half of my life
By Vincent Mulchrone
It is my firm intention, sometime during the second half of my life, to do something about the wonky handle on the sitting-room door. For a while, it was possible to say to visitors who found it came away in their hands: ‘Oh, yes, it came loose the other day, and I haven’t got around to doing it yet.’ But all the people who ever come to us have been back two or three or more times since then. And now they all know. It’s not merely lack of opportunity, or even mere idleness. It’s sloth.
It is the seventh of the seven deadly sins, and I commit it daily. The paint on the house moulders like my intellect, yet I do nothing to rejuvenate either. The gap in the garden fence grows like the gap in my moral defences, yet I plug neither.
The opposite virtues to the seven deadly sins (should you have forgotten them for the moment) are humility, liberality, chastity, meekness, temperance, brotherly love and diligence. And I can’t remember when last I unconsciously practised any of them. (I have the notion that to practise any of them consciously is to cancel out the good in them and revert to the first and worst of the deadly sins — pride.)
Taking stock, any shopkeeper will tell you, is murder. Taking stock of your own life is like a taste of suicide. If I am not exactly sin-ridden, I am certainly guilt-ridden. Not oppressively so, or I’d open the window and jump. (The current oppressiveness may be attributable to an excess of hock at lunch — gluttony, or DS No 5).
But I have been looking at the credit balance and find it woefully short. I am in terror that the first unselfish thing I can remember doing might also prove to be the last. It consisted of selling ha’penny milk tickets for Spanish Republican babies. It was being a Young Communist that made me do it, and I went in some terror that the Pope might find out that one of his lads in the West Riding was putting milk down the wrong throats.
Before becoming a reporter I was several socially acceptable things. I was a Bairn (of the Boots for the Bairns Fund), a patrol leader, an RAF pilot, a second-row forward, a sucker for ‘fear God, honour the Queen, shoot straight and keep clean’.
And I can match most of your comings and goings, chum. I have eaten the finest meal in the world, flown an aeroplane, tried reefers, seen the sun rise over Everest and men die at the barricades. I have made and taken life, scored a winning try, made a Queen laugh and a child cry.
And what am I? I am a portly, winded, over-dressed, overfed, day-dreaming coward; a tireless, tiring juvenile; a hack with a small reputation for humanity which is, in reality, a calculated insurance against the rigours of the hereafter.
And me only half-way through!
When I was less than a quarter of the way through, and already shouting against the wind, I vowed that, when I was fat and 40, I would pay heed to any idealistic 17-year-old who told me how the world should be run.
Well, any 17-year-old who presumes to say ‘I think…’ in my hearing is likely to qualify for the old thin-lipped, indulgent smile, and a reply in the order of ‘Yerse, I remember Mr Nehru telling me…’ Yet some of the ideals remain — an end to class and racial barriers, realistic pensions, the abolition of the death penalty, harsher sentences (perversely, perhaps) for cruelty to children, and an England free of the hypocrisy, cant and smugness which is holding her back.
I have longed, and almost invariably failed, to add my jot to international understanding. I tried it, in a small way, when reporting President Kennedy’s recent visit to Ireland. (I am a Yorkshireman as a result of the Irish Famine, and believe, with Sydney Smith, that ‘the moment the very name of Ireland is mentioned the English seem to bid adieu to common feeling, common prudence and common sense, and to act with the barbarity of tyrants and the fatuity of idiots.’)
And what happened? I got a letter from the vice-president of a Hollywood movie corporation saying he thought my stuff ‘one of the most, perceptive, humorful and scintillating pieces of reporting I have read in many, many years.’ I was attacked by columnist Lord Arran for being too pro-Irish. And several Irish readers cancelled their subscription to the paper because they thought I was being too anti.
Given the chance, I will write columns about quiet, kindly, sensitive Americans as far removed from the common, grotesque image they have abroad as the Englishman is from his own image beyond our shores. I need columns because I can’t say anything shortly. Perhaps it is smug, but I recognise the limitation. Forty is a good age for saying ‘I can’t…’ with regret, perhaps, but without envy.
At 40 I can say to a younger man: ‘ No, thanks, I think I’ve had enough.’ (I hope he thinks I’m being mature in my drinking. The truth is, of course, that I can’t take as much as I used to. But at least I know it.)
I don’t mind my shape on a beach any more. I used to look like the weed in the Charles Atlas advert, the one who had sand kicked in his eyes. Now I look like a pear. And I don’t give a damn. (I pull the tum in when there’s a blonde about, but then, who doesn’t?)
I am several things I pity – a wine snob (in a cunning, deprecating sort of way), a dodger of responsibilities, a fool with money, a hearty teller of dirty stories, a snob about some things and an inverse snob to the point of ingratiation with taxi-drivers, waiters and porters, and those people who come to the door to change your religion.
I dislike myself most of all when I find myself in full ‘father-knows-best’ spate with my children. And when I am in my leave-me-alone mood and give a curt ‘No’ to their offer of a game of ludo, I recognise in their eyes a hurt I dimly remember. Then, ashamed, I play ludo. But why didn’t I play in the first place?
And how, at 40, can I still go to sleep with a bitter husband-and-wife quarrel unresolved? ‘We’ll never sleep on a quarrel,’ we said. Perhaps you made the same rule. Then why do I still break it? It is sheer, gagging pride, of course. The silence is torture to the soul. The making up is sweet indeed, but, oh, the pity of the lost hours. This surely can’t, mustn’t, be allowed to go on for another half a lifetime. Halfway through, surely, I should be balanced enough to see short temper coming and step smartly out of its path. It is one of those little-big things which I now know to be more important than the grander ambitions of youth.
Cry shame, if you care, but I no longer want to save the world. The Mitty dreams are less and less frequent (I haven’t saved England in years). I no longer want to upset the order of things — only to rattle it like a box of dominoes now and again.
The Tories give me a pain right up my left leg, and the present Labour bunch another all the way down the right. The Liberals come somewhere in between.
If only they would stop killing and maiming and prodding one another with electric cattle-probes I’d love the entire yewman race. I’ve seen a hell of a lot of it, and it’s not a bad bunch when you get to know it. One of its favourite members will always remain — me. And I don’t intend to do badly by myself. I’ve had the running, thrusting years, and a precious thin layer of knowledge and understanding and sophistication they have laid on me.
But I have another half to go, and a fair idea of how to occupy it. I would like to fill the second half with loving and ideas, and experiences and things I was in too much of a hurry to catch hold of back there in the thrusting 30s.
Having always shied away from the absolute truth about myself, I think I’ll have a crack at learning a bit more about me. (Perhaps I’ll wind up looking at a face like the hungover loon I sometimes see in the bathroom mirror, and then I’ll wish I hadn’t.) I’ll do all the things I have regretted never doing. I’ll learn how to sail a boat, how to build a wall. I’ll buy all of Beethoven and read all of Dickens. I’ll learn about flowers and to curb snide remarks. I’ll not fly into a rage when somebody holds his knife and fork the ‘wrong’ way. I’ll go to old pubs and listen to old people. I’ll switch off that damned box in the corner, and I’ll talk.
But, chief above all, I will try to understand what being a husband and father is about. And I will try to perform that most glorious of all man’s earthly tasks as diligently and as cheerfully as my nature will allow. This I must do. This, in the second half of my life, I will do.
Just as soon as I’ve fixed the handle on that damned door.
Beware: expert at work
By John Kay
It was the sort of morning every reporter and news editor dreads. One of the oppos had got away with a biggie – and this one was bigger than most.
Sir David English’s Daily Mail was splashing on car giant British Leyland operating a slush find to hand out bribes to win contracts.
And it was all being done with the connivance of the National Enterprise Board headed by Lord Don Ryder.
To make matters worse, the Mail had a photo-copy of a type-written letter signed by Lord Ryder outlining it all.
When myself and Peter McHugh, two young industrial reporters, arrived at The Sun’s Bouverie Street offices on that May morning in 1977, the all-pervading gloom had lifted slightly.
In the small hours, the night news desk had fixed up for a renowned hand-writing expert to come in to analyse Lord Ryder’s signature.
The desk’s thinking was that whichever way it went, we’d got the makings of a half-decent follow up.
By the time the expert arrived at noon, we had acquired a genuine example of Lord Ryder’s hand-writing so things were looking up.
That was until we took one look at our expert – he was quite clearly out of his skull on booze.
He produced a grimy magnifying glass, swayed around for a few minutes, and then pronounced that he had to ‘pop out’ to acquire some ‘essential research materials’.
By 3.00pm he had not returned, so we sent out a search party and found him staggering out of the Cheshire Cheese.
We dragged him back to the office and vowed not take our eyes off him again.
At one stage, the expert appeared to be staring intently at Lord Ryder’s signature for several minutes with his eye fastened to the front page of the Mail. In fact, he was asleep snoring gently.
As the minutes ticked by, news editor Ken Donlan came to inquire about progress, followed by back bench executives and then editor Larry Lamb himself.
At 5.15pm, the expert threw down his magnifying glass, tottered to his feet, and declared in a decided slur: ‘The signature ish a fake – in fact it ish a flagrant forgery.’
As whoops of joy erupted, Larry drew the front page with a single gigantic word FAKE plastered all over it – the one-word headlines are always the best.
Peter and I began to batter out our exclusive story which started:
‘The letter at the centre of the Leyland slush fund scandal was denounced as a fake last night after a top hand-writing expert ruled that NEB boss Lord Ryder’s signature was a forgery.’
Take by take the pages were ripped from our old Imperial typewriter and rushed off to be subbed as first edition deadline approached.
Just before 6.00 pm, PA put out a ‘Rush’ that an official statement was coming from Scotland Yard about the scandal.
Fearing the loss of our scoop, we waited with bated breath.
The Yard statement said that the entire type-written letter was a fake – it had been mocked up.
According to the cops, the only GENUINE thing about the entire slush fund letter was the signature of Lord Ryder which was NOT a fake and had been photocopied and pasted from an official document.
As a frantic rewrite began amid howls of rage, we looked round for the villain of the piece.
But our hand-writing expert had silently disappeared into the night – no doubt in pursuit of much-needed new ‘research’.
Nudge-nudge: it’s the Naked Tourist
By Ian Bradshaw
When the Sun launched its Page Three girls in the late sixties there were a number of photographers, including myself, who drifted into the glamour world. Or so it was perceived. Truthfully the photographers and the models were all great mates who saw each other frequently in the studio or on location. The models in those days were mainly in their early twenties, rather than the early teens as they are today, and therefore more of a fun bunch of people, earning a living by producing topless pictures day in and day out.
The photographers had to endure the nudge-nudge remarks in their local pubs as uninformed locals assumed that we were all ‘at it’ all the time.
Ideas were the lifeblood of glamour photographers who sold to newspapers and we were all trying to come up with a new twist to make a few bob and that was how, one alcoholic lunchtime, I suggested the idea of the Naked Tourist as a set of pictures.
My agent at Features International latched on to it in a flash and the search was on for a ‘game girl’ to model for the photographs. We tried to avoid faces that had been seen regularly on Page Three to give the story some semblance of credibility but I doubt, in hindsight, that anyone really cared.
In the end we decided on a young lady called Angie who was just starting out on her career and the planning stages started.
This was a story that could not be attempted today with all the closed circuit cameras in London but in the early seventies everyone was game for a laugh. We used my old 3.8 Jaguar with my printer driving and at sparrow’s fart one morning embarked on a dry run. The poses were decided in advance and we agreed that Angie would wear a long fur coat which would be whipped off her shoulders at the last minute and then quickly replaced after the shoot.
We planned Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Big Ben, South Bank and the Tower of London as the main tourist attractions. So it was on the day of the shoot that we started bright and early at Buckingham Palace. Angie, myself and assistant strolled onto the monument outside the Palace, she lay down, the coat was removed and click, click, we had the first picture in the bag.
Everything went like clockwork until the Tower of London where we could not park near enough to the cannons that we had decided to feature.
We had most of the pictures done when Angie decided for ‘just one more’ astride the cannon. As the shutter released who should stride into view but a Yeoman warder.
‘What the ‘ell do you think you’re doing?’ he enquired.
It is at these moments that inspired journalists and photographers fly by the seat of their pants and make up the most outrageous excuses. How the explanation came to me I just don’t know.
‘We’re trying to win a bet,’ I said with as much seriousness as I could muster at 6.20am.
‘Yes, well last night at dinner, I bet her husband twenty quid that I could photograph her stark naked on a cannon at the Tower of London before noon today,’ I said, striving to keep a straight face.
The silence was deafening.
‘I’m sorry if we’ve upset you’, I ventured ‘but we did think there would be nobody around this early.’
He glared at me then started to laugh.
‘Oh well, boys will be boys. I reckon you’ve earned your twenty quid. Could you send me a print?’ And with that he strode off into the sunrise chuckling.
The Sunday Mirror ran it on the spread the next weekend and there were even more orders for prints.
I would have been happy with the outcome but the story did not quite end there.
Two weeks later I was sitting on a plane bound for Scotland and another assignment when a lady sat down next to me. It was my Naked Tourist.
‘What a coincidence seeing you,’ I said.
‘Oh, it’s no coincidence,’ came the reply. ‘I heard you were going to Scotland and I had a hell of a job getting this seat. I got so much work from that tourist stunt that I just had to thank you properly.’
And that is where this story ends – for you anyway.
The odd couple
By Colin Dunne
If you could dig them out of retirement – or, possibly, out of the ground – you’d probably find at least a handful of Mirror writers who, wiping away a nostalgic tear, would swear that their careers peaked gloriously with Mirrorscope. Count me among them – and I never wrote a word for it. But it gave me my happiest year in newspapers, enough money to build an extension on my house (‘Dublin’ we call it), and introduced me to the funniest double-act in journalism…
Kelly and Kenealy. Kenealy and Kelly. How on earth did it happen that they came to be locked away in loveless union high in the skyscraper overlooking the Liffey? It was almost like love, in that they couldn’t leave each other alone: I always thought it was a sort of passionate hatred combined with mutual fascination. One of them couldn’t leave the room without the other whispering: ‘Did he say anything about me?’
When I come to think about it, maybe it was love.
But, first of all, where does Mirrorscope come into all this? For those who weren’t there at the time, Mirrorscope was one of those brave and brilliant ideas (almost certainly by Cudlipp, out of Molloy) that come to those who have achieved massive popularity then want to Do Good. So the five million Mirror buyers (14.2million readers), no doubt to their astonishment, found themselves with a pull-out section packed with intelligent backgrounders, elegant profiles and scholastic analysis – and often not a single pic. All those Mirror readers with doctorates and IQs over 150 found it most rewarding: the rest turned to Quizword before returning to the coalface.
To produce this, the paper recruited writers of high reputation… Matt Coady, Richard Sear, Don Gomery. Not me, needless to say. I was trainee assistant junior feature writer in Manchester, only recently promoted from pencil-sharpening.
The only reason I came to be involved in this was because of the Irish Edition, a revolutionary production method that provided Ireland with a colour version in the mid-sixties. Before then, the odd stringer was more than enough to cover Ireland, but now Dublin needed something much grander. And for this, naturally, the Mirror had to have the finest reporter in the land: Jack Kenealy, of the Express. He didn’t come cheap, but he came.
The story goes that as he was leaving the interview he asked about his deputy. Deputy? Who’d said anything about a deputy? Kenealy pointed out he didn’t work seven days a week and he’d heard Liam Kelly of the Herald was a good man. But he’d cost. He did cost. But he too was hauled on board.
Then there was the matter of holidays. If Jack was away for a couple of weeks you could hardly expect Liam to work 14 days non-stop… A third reporter (Bernard Falk, Chris Buckland) was sent over from Manchester. So was a photographer (Kevin Fitzpatrick, Bill Kennedy), and they had to have someone to do the sport (Tom Keogh) and who was going to work the tape machine? Doris, as it happened.
And that’s how the Dublin empire started. At least, that’s the way I heard it, and, as always, we must prefer the legend to the truth. Since it was a high-prestige operation, they needed offices in Ireland’s only skyscraper, Liberty Hall, on the banks of the Liffey
Where it got tricky was that Mirrorscope, being whatever the phrase was then for cutting-edge, would insist on covering such subjects as birth control, condoms, homosexuality, orgasms and lots of other rudenesses that simply didn’t happen in Holy Ireland. The censors kept banning the paper to prevent it making perverts of Ireland’s saints and scholars. And quite right too.
That was where I came in. London, fed up with the paper being banned because of their super new pull-out, told Manchester to find someone to fill the gap. Manchester found Alan Price, the features editor, who found his newest and least prized feature writer, me, and recited the sweetest sentence I ever heard in my life…
Would I please go to Ireland, stay as long as I wanted, spend as much as I liked, but come back every week with four pages on any subject I fancied? Oh yes, and would I take Dennis Hussey, the best photographer in the north and all-round good guy, with me?
I nodded. It lasted over a year in which we stayed at every multi-starred hotel and ate at every big-name restaurant in the country. What did we write about? Whatever we fancied. We used to decide that on the plane over.
How about a pull-out on Sixties Women? Fine. We assembled one ardent feminist, one Rose of Tralee, the head of the Irish equivalent of the Women’s Institute, a career woman, and a woman who had a market stall and 23 children (‘two in heaven, the rest down here’). Quick chats, quick snaps, one pull-out. As you can imagine, it wasn’t difficult. We worked the same formula again and again – chefs, business tycoons, sportsmen… we even once did Racing in Ireland simply because Dennis loved a bet and wanted a few tips.
Naturally, we based ourselves in the Liberty Hall office of the dynamic, thrusting new Dublin team. Kelly and Kenealy. Kenealy and Kelly. Luckily for me, the first time I set foot in the office, only Liam was there. Now Liam was – and I’m sure still is – one of the funniest and nicest men you could wish to meet, and he was also very helpful to visitors. What I didn’t know was that because I had spoken to him first, I had then signed on with Liam for life. Jack would be civil, but that was all. I was on Kelly’s team. Any help, ask Kelly. ‘Liam, your pal’s here,’ he would call out. He never said don’t ask me, but it was there in the small print.
They were both terrific reporters, both great company, and both widely liked and respected on either side of the Irish Sea. Individually, that is. But together? Together produced an electric tension that induced quivering nerves in English visitors.
Kenealy was sophisticated, urbane, darkly sardonic. When Kenealy picked up the latest visiting Manchester editor at the airport at 8.30am, the editor asked him what he thought of someone on the Irish desk. ‘Feckin’ eejit,’ said Jack. ‘That’s rather a nasty thing to say,’ spluttered the editor. Kenealy looked at his watch. ‘Nasty feckin’ hour,’ he said.
One day in the office he strolled over to the window and looked out over Dublin. Misquoting a popular television programme of the time, he announced: ‘There are eight million stories in this city, and I haven’t got a feckin’ one of them.’
On the other hand, Kelly was lively and cheeky and much given to wicked gossip. It was said that an Irish journalist once burst into a bar where Kelly was sitting on a stool, and sent him flying with a vicious punch.
As Liam sat up rubbing his jaw, his attacker said: ‘Jasus, it’s the wrong man.’ Everyone agreed that he may have been the wrong man on this particular occasion; any other time it could well have been right.
One morning, Liam picked me up at Jury’s hotel after a night of Dublin hospitality that had left me semi-derelict. As we walked to the office, an old tramp – ragged, smelly, toothless with red-rimmed eyes – held out his hand. ‘Give him a few bob, Colin,’ said Liam. ‘After all, he’s feature writer from Manchester who came over eight years ago and missed the plane back.’
But it was Liam who introduced me to Sean, the phantom car hirer. Long ago, his firm of undertakers had hired out cars, and he still had the paper-work. He couldn’t provide a car, but he could provide a receipt for a car – much more important. First of all we had to go through a procedure that was conducted in a sober and proper fashion, with much use of the subjunctive and conditional. We would shake hands, then he would ask me where I would have gone, if I’d had a car. I said Galway. He expressed the opinion that such a long journey would necessitate a car of large engine capacity. I agreed. He suggested a two-litre model. I agreed. He then pointed out that there would be a very high mileage charge. I agreed. He would then write the whole thing out, sign it, and appear not to see the note that I slipped into his hand as he gave it to me. That’s how I got the extension on my house.
In the office, Kelly and Kenealy conducted their personal warfare beneath a cover of civilised manners. Visitors like myself sat quietly watching, heads nervously swivelling like Wimbledon spectators. ‘I’m off to the Curragh army camp for lunch, Jack,’ said Liam.
‘They’ll do you proud up there, Liam,’ said Jack.
‘If you want me, I’m in the officers’ mess.’
‘Enjoy yourself, Liam. Don’t worry about getting back, have a few jars.’
As the door closed, Kenealy, his foot drumming away at the carpet as it always did, gave a bark of laughter. Putting on a mock-posh accent, he said: ‘Aim off to the officers’ mess, says Kelly. Him, in the officers’ mess. He didn’t wear feckin’ shoes until he was ten-years-old, and I hope to God he gets the knife and fork in the right hands…’
He went on in this vein for a minute or two, until the door burst open and red-faced Kelly leapt back into the room.
‘I heard that, Kenealy,’ he shouted. ‘What sort of a man would talk behind a colleague’s back like that? What sort of a man would stab someone in the back like that? What sort of a man would sneer at a colleague like that?’
Calmly, Kenealy dabbed the ash off his cigarette. ‘And what sort of a man listens at feckin’ keyholes, Kelly?’
By this time I was under the desk.
For a relationship as compellingly tempestuous, you’d have to go back to Rhett and Amber. You’d think, with Jack Kenealy demanding all his attention, that Liam wouldn’t have room in life for any more romance. But he did. A beautiful and charming young woman called Ann, to whom he had been engaged (is this possible, do you think?) for 13 years. While Ann had lived a life beyond reproach, Liam had… well, now and again sort of enjoyed himself. When they decided to get married, it took Liam some time to find a priest who would accept him, and it was said his confession took three days.
With, I think, his audience in mind, the priest took a tabloid line. First, he quoted from a pop song of the day. ‘Liam can’t guarantee Ann happiness. Today he is saying to her: I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden.’ Then, emphasising that this was a spiritual rather than a social event, he described the congregation as ‘these so-called friends.’ As Liam left, he murmured that the priest had clearly spotted Jack in the church.
Even then, it wasn’t over. As the couple bent to get in the bridal car to go off on honeymoon, the voice of Mrs Kenealy floated over the crowd: ‘Now don’t you be going at it like an expert tonight, Liam, or she’ll kno-o-o-w.’
It all had to end, of course. The IRA blew up the Belfast colour plant, although there were vicious rumours suggesting a senior London executive had been seen dancing in the flames. Certainly when Percy Roberts, the chairman, came to make his farewell speech, one of journos sang: ‘He’s got the key of the door, never blown up a plant before…’
And the whole thing, the new colour printing, the Irish edition, the Liberty Hall office, the assembly of all the talents, the phantom car hirer, all gone. Kelly and Kenealy carried on freelancing for a while before the inevitable divorce.
I was rather sad when I heard. Do you know, I bet they were too.