Edition #26

Damn lies, or statistics?

Damn lies, or statistics?

For those readers and ranters who give a toss about numbers, here are a few.

According to the website counter that has been ticking away since August (six weeks after we launched), we have 10,700 readers. A fairly healthy readership for a specialist weekly publication, that; even if it is a figure taken with a large measure of salt here at Ranter House where only around 300 readers have actually been identified personally.

What it means, apparently, is that the site has been hit by 10,700 different computers (the mechanics can identify ’em). Some people use more than one PC, no doubt, but some PCs are used by more than one person, so who knows?

Can we count on counters? The website provider says that we have had more than 750,000 ‘hits’ in the same period, even if it is difficult to explain what a ‘hit’ actually is – it may be a visit to the site, or it may be a movement (a click on the mouse) within the site – nobody seems to know.

By the way, if you know the answer, please don’t bother to explain it. We are just quietly, contentedly and confidently heading towards our magical one million. Not many in Fleet Street can say that… at least, not many who are heading towards it from a lower figure.

So – you are bursting to know – what about the income from all those ads that run (ran) down the right-hand side of the page, where Letters are now sited?

They work like this, every time a reader clicks on one of the ads and buys something, the website accrues some commission. The ads were not chosen randomly, but, well Oddbins, for example, will deliver a case (even a mixed case) of wine to any UK address for a fiver – which seems cheaper than paying for petrol plus parking; Waterstones post everything free of charge…

At the end of the year the commission earned was into three figures. Yes: £4.55, to be precise – and most of that was amassed by the Ranters editor sending Christmas presents. What’s more, they don’t send out cheques for less than £25, so the ad department looks like being stood down and the lofty ambition of running a Ranters’ competition for a book token appears to be out the window.

The Sunday People was very fond of competitions, Liz Hodgkinsonreminds us. Mind you, it was selling 5million copies a time, in her day, so they could afford to give away a tea pot, provided only that they could find a sufficiently ‘nice’ reader to win it…

Ian Skidmoreentered acompetion with the same paper nearly 45 years ago.Almost needless to say, it was a drinking competition. He lost the contest and won a job. He still disputes the referee’s decision.

Halfway round the world, James Mahoney reminds us, the hacks also liked a drink. They started their morning sessions even earlier than us, and it had nothing to do with time zones.

Chris Sheridanbreaks the broadcasters’ duck on this site with stories about the people who brought us the lunchtime news (the programmes we never saw because we were already in the pub).

Geoffrey Matherasks who – these days – remembers Rosie Boot, a lass with a lot to answer for, not least the ever-increasing coffers of the Crown & Kettle. But that’s nothing, because Ian Bradshawcan remember the Battle of Hastings, and John Anstey, the magazine editor who started it.

How did it come to this? ‘The more you inquire into how people of my generation came to be in newspapers, the more absurd it gets,’ saysColin Dunne. It isn’t only the getting in to it that is absurd.

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The fall guy

By Ian Skidmore

Ken Graham, my colleague on The People, had a head apparently whittled from balsa wood. Superficially craggy but wont to crumble under pressure.

Graham was always under pressure. I thought his supreme creative act was throwing the ‘future features’ box through the news room window and into the Manchester Ship Canal. He survived that to be sent to expose a massage parlour. He was instructed to accept the ministrations to a certain point and then to sit up and say ‘I am from the People and this is a disgusting exhibition’ which would be photographed by Dennis Hutchinson, unkindly known as the Poison Dwarf.

Three times he struggled from a recumbent posture only to fall back under the mesmeric fingers of the masseuse for a moment more of pleasure.

At last he struggled to a sitting position, cried ‘Bugger the People!’ and abandoned himself to hedonism.

He was The Great Complainer. He stopped going to meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous when a fellow alcoholic failed to buy his round of lemonade. When I organised trips to Sweden for a pal who was a director of Tor Line, Graham was my earliest choice.

At Immingham we were shown in to a board room, handed G&Ts the size of crystal fire buckets and invited to make free of a lavish buffet

‘It should have been my day off to-day,’ Graham said mournfully.

In his hotel room in Gothenburg he took an apple from a fruit bowl that was doing its best to be a harvest festival. An hour later when he returned to the room he rang reception to complain it had not been replaced.

On the voyage home the ship’s chef assembled a smorgasbord that had the Swedish passengers gasping with joy.

I watched Graham tour the table, shovelling away like an under-nourished JCB. As he staggered back under the weight of his plate I said to the girl with whom I was lunching: ‘ Bet you when he comes back his first words are a complaint.’

She said: ‘He couldn’t. That is a Christmas smorgasbord. It has everything.’

Graham did not disappoint. ‘Trouble with these meals,’ he told the table aggrievedly: ‘You are spoilt for bloody choice.’

I must not give the wrong impression. It was impossible not to be fond of him. He had a terrible time living up to his craggy face and a voice that rasped with a thousand Woodbines. Underneath his bluster, he was a gentle drunk and I would not have been at all surprised to find him talking to a six foot rabbit that only he could see.

A person so innocent was a natural butt for our practical-joking news editor Mike Gabbert . He was the de Mille of jokers; his hoaxes had casts of thousands.

We were all, at one time or another, grist to his malevolent mill.

Like the day he put Ken Graham down in the diary for a wholly mythical parachute jump.

Graham went white when he read the entry but did his best not to show it. Not even when a man from accounts rang and asked if his insurance was up to date and did it cover him for sudden death on the job… Because, if not, the paper would insure him for £50,000.

An Air Minstry PRO was the next one to call . He wanted to know whether Graham enjoyed good health and sound limbs. Especially, he added darkly, limbs.

I thought Graham took it well but he was less successful when the picture desk rang from London to say they were putting a special helmet in the Manchester despatch box. The helmet had a camera in the front and a cable that went into the mouth. Graham was to grip it and jerk his head when he left the aircraft and continue to do so during the fall so that the paper would have a sequence of thrilling photographs.

I for one thought he was bound to break when Neville Stack, who was news editing our sister paper the Daily Herald, rang and said he had heard Graham was going to do a parachute jump. Stack said he wouldn’t do anything like that, not for a gold clock. But, he said, the daily were anxious to commemorate the event, so would it be OK if they photographed Graham as he landed?

Graham said in a very small voice that it would.

‘There is just one thing,’ said Stack. ‘I gather you are jumping in a stick. How will we know which one is you?’

Graham said helpfully that he would wave but Stack said he wouldn’t advise that. Graham would need both hands to pull on the parachute harness or he would break his leg on landing.

‘I’ll tell you what,’ said Stack: ‘We will strap a loud hailer to your chest and just as you are about to land you can shout through it ‘I am Ken Graham from The People.’ Stack said: ‘If you could add “Over here!” it would be helpful.’

At this point I think Graham’s nerve must have broken because he said to Mike was it all right if he had an early break. It was only 11am but he was over the road breasting the bar in the Chicken Grill before Mike had time to answer.

I have always suspected that the ex-paratrooper at the bar was a plant by Gabbert.

(Like the transvestite lorry driver he introduced to Mike Kiddy without telling Kiddy about the transvestite bit, causing Kiddy to make a very embarrassing discovery on a bomb site at the back of the office.)

Anyway this paratrooper got into conversation and when Graham told him about the parachute jump he pursed his lips and made the sucking sound that workmen make when you show them work done by any other workmen.

‘Have you practised landing?’ he asked, and when Graham admitted he had not the paratrooper said: ‘We had to practise for a fortnight rolling off the back of a lorry.’

This was ‘absolutely vital’, he said.

‘But the jump is tomorrow,’ wailed Graham.

‘Well, try falling and rolling here,’ the para suggested. I would have thought the joke had gone far enough with Graham falling and rolling on the floor of the Chicken Inn.

Not so.

By the time we got over, Ken was jumping off a table, bending his knees and rolling along the floor.

It was at that point Mike Gabbert said: ‘Oh by the way Ken, the jump is off. The Air Ministry won’t wear it.’

‘Oh hell,’ said Ken, with a lack of conviction that fooled nobody. ‘I was looking forward to it.’

My fall was simpler. I was happily night news-editing the Sunday Mirror at the time and resisted Gabbert’s repeated urgings to move over to The People desk.

In the end I agreed to a contest. I would join The People if he could out-drink me.

The day I joined The People he presented me with a brass plaque which still stands on my desk.

It reads: ‘In hazy memory of March 20 1963 when Ian Skidmore and Michael Gabbert drank 12 and a half bottles of Chianti and a bottle of brandy at the Chicken Inn, Manchester. Because they were very thirsty.’

Looking back I think he cheated. I have never left half a bottle of anything in my life and that night I was in sparkling mid season. Driving home to Chester I stopped off at the Farmers Arms in Huxley and had four pints with Curly Beard.

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Life in The Observer

By James Mahoney

Back in the days before Jumbo jets ruined it all, Sydney’s shipping reporters had it made. They’d start the day around 5.30am and float across the magnificent harbour on a Stannards’ launch, courtesy of the shipping lines, to meet the latest international arrival. This meant three things: first, a decent shipboard breakfast; second, mostly, a reasonable interview with someone interesting; and third, a decent session at The Observer pub before it got crowded at lunch time.

The ‘Tombstone Admiral’ was an example of a story generated from one of these early morning jaunts. One of the old Matson line ships, probably the Monterey because she visited more often than her sister ship the Mariposa, had cruised into Sydney with a cargo of wealthy, mainly retired, Americans. Not much decent reporting this day, but it was the Vietnam War era so the retired admiral was at least worth meeting.

After about 20 minutes of nothingness, I asked how long he’d been an admiral. ‘Oh, I’m only a tombstone admiral,’ he replied. ‘What’s that mean?’

‘They promote you when you retire so you can put “Admiral” on your tombstone.’ Thus the lead next day was ‘The Tombstone Admiral sailed into Sydney Harbour yesterday morning…’ or some such trickery to convince the subs it was worth running. That worked, especially after a schooner or two of The Observer’s finest.

The Observer was one of Sydney’s many early openers – pubs that, despite the limited licensing laws that applied until the enlightened 1970s, started pulling beers around breakfast time for sailors and port workers coming off the dogwatch. It is down in the historic Rocks area of the city, that part of Sydney first settled by the English when they arrived with their transported convicts in 1788.

It is directly across the road from three other important institutions: the Seamen’s Mission, the old Sydney coroner’s court and the now replaced city morgue. It always seemed rather ironic that temptation, soul saving, death and inquiries into why lives ended mysteriously so co-habited in a tight 50 square metre block. Nowadays the Coroner and morgue are elsewhere. The old courthouse is some kind of arty establishment and the mission barely a shadow of its former glory. Only The Observer battles on.

The front bar – in Sydney in those days it was called the ‘saloon bar’, a kind of middle-class watering spot where a beer was more expensive than in the ‘public bar’ (singlets and shirts, wharfies, labourers, tradespeople), and where people were expected to generally behave. Plus, the place was quieter. Out the back, on the way to the lavatories, the toffs occupied the ‘lounge bar’, even quieter but the only place you could take a female friend for a drink at The Observer. Sydney was like that back then.

Anyhow, it was the saloon bar that the shipping correspondents and the coroner’s court reporters frequented. The shipping types got there early, before morning tea time, the two afternoon paper reporters having phoned their copy in from the court’s dingy, but quiet, press room. The two morning paper types usually followed after doing the rounds on the phone. By the time the court mob came over for a heart-starter after the day’s list had been sorted, the first case was found to be boring, and sorted out who would stay as the pool reporter while the others sought refreshment, the shipping lot were well under way.

The bar had one of those new fangled (well, new, for Sydney at that time) public telephones that allowed people to ring in as well as patrons to phone out. Mike Henderson, who was the long-time shipping correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald, had the number listed with some of his sources, and the chief of staff, as one of his contact numbers. It was most often Mike who answered because most incoming calls were for him anyway. He did so with a certain panache that never ceased to impress the callers and amaze the bar: ‘Observer press room…’

Many never twigged it was a bar and it is impossible still to go there for a drink and not remember.

·         James Mahoney covered the Sydney coroner’s court for The Sydney Morning Herald and replaced Mike Henderson as shipping correspondent. He now teaches public relations at the University of Canberra and like many journalists who moved to PR is thankful he did it before the yeast and hops got him. He still enjoys a drink, but not before midday.

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Lunchtimes o’nooze

By Chris Sheridan

News At One was regarded by many at ITN as the company’s funny farm, which is probably why I was so happy there.At the time I clambered on board, it had been given its own ground floor newsroom, isolated from the creative tensions upstairs where the 545 and News At Ten were put together.This quarantine was so that the film and electronic news gathering editing staff could have extra space; as a result, their shift leader now occupied the broom cupboard where an entire programme staff had once been squashed.

Another reason for the move was that it was the first newsroom at ITN to be fully computerised and it is to this event that I owe my complete and utter ignorance of the machines.Needless to say, one day when I was producing the programme, the computer system crashed at 1215.Fortyfive minutes before transmission, access to scripts, agency copy, running orders and all other vital information had disappeared into the electronic undergrowth.No wonder my colleague, the late Terry Lloyd, always came in with his script written on the back of a fags packet (Senior Service).

The editor of the day – known as ‘Jokes’ for his lack of a sense of humour – encountered me in a corridor.Instead of telling me how the company’s technicians were dealing with it he lit his pipe and asked between puffs what I was going to do about it.I think I said I’d sent for the company chaplain.As you undoubtedly guessed, ‘Jokes’ failed to see the funny side.Meanwhile, some IT incantation had revived the computer system and the programme went out on time.

After that, somebody got a glass case, screwed it to the wall and placed a typewriter inside.The door of course bore the legend, ‘In an emergency, break glass’.

The NAO team that I had joined was a fresh one, its coming together occasioned by the sacking of the previous programme editor.Like many such events, that is a long story, but what we would call the ‘545 version’ reveals that another convenience of the ground floor newsroom had trapped him…

When leaving the room, reception lay to the right while to the left was a darkened corridor that led to the VT archive which was blessed with a back door leading into a cobbled courtyard.At the other side lay a door opening into a hostelry called The Green Man.Thus one could exit the newsroom and get to the pub without being seen by management.

At 12:30 on a particularly aggravating day, Cyril sought solace at the pub and slipped out via the little known (to management) back door.The place was heaving, but the landlord spotted him and, knowing the need for swiftness, invited him to pull his own.

No stranger to the task, Cyril had started smoothly when a very familar voice asked him to pull two more and see him in his office after the programme.It was ITN’s last great editor in chief, David Nicholas…

As the first National TV News of the day, it was a prime example of chaos theory. It was a bit like Jurassic Park with the electric fences switched off.

Many reporter packages never reached the programme before it went on air, so a lively and flexible approach to the running order was essential.One such day, the chap who was in the producers’ hot seat was casually asked by the director, who already knew that a number of reports were running late, what he was going to do about the running order.His response was, ‘We’ll start with story three, then go to four, by then story one will be in so we’ll take that.After that we’ll take stories six and seven, then story two, by which time story five will be in. Then we’ll take the live interview followed by the wrap and stories nine and ten.Then we’ll go to the pub.’

Then there’s the matter of priorities: ‘There are only 35 dead and they’re all Greek.In fact, we should say that all on board were Greek – which is why it’s in Part Two and not Part One.’

We gave experience of various kinds to many trainees.The best ones were those who hadn’t been taught anything; they brought fresh minds to the job, and were ripe for instruction:

‘That’s not a bad intro, son.Just remember that, when I change it all, I’ve had 27 years more experience than you.And the first thing is that the end needs to be nearer the top.’

‘I’m afraid this lead-in is going to be a long one’ (trainee).‘Don’t worry. Do it as long as you like.We’ll soon get it back to 15 seconds’ (chief sub).

Then there is the hazard of literals.The thing about those in newspapers is that they can be spotted by the stone sub and either ignored (Naguriad) or repaired.In TV, you get the newsreaders who give you no chance for repairs – ‘Britain won another gold medal in the women’s lightweight cock-less fours..’ one such proudly intoned.Or another, when coming back from lunch just in time for the 5.15pm news one Saturday, ‘League Division One, Arsenal two… Leeds one, Aston Villa two’… right through four league tables.

On another day, we had a visit from Princess Diana (long before Andrew Morton).The building was thoroughly spring cleaned (particularly the lingering scent of kebabs that hung around the VT area like an old tom) and pep talks about behaviour and how to address a royal (if approached) were delivered.Then, on the appointed day, the editor in chief and his entourage were greeting the princess and hers when, unexpectedly, the adjacent lift doors opened and out spilled two men trading blows and curses in about equal measure.With typically British sang froid, the editor merely took the princess’s elbow and guided her safely around the writhing bodies saying, ‘the one on top is the News At One editor and the one underneath is the news editor who promised and forgot to send a crew down to Downing Street.’

Almost everything else went smoothly (as Palace planning dictates), except when the visitors joined us in the control room for transmission of the progamme (in whatever order).The process of navigating the airwaves undamaged was something of a nail-biting bore to those with experience of it, but it provoked some excited chatter in fluent Sloane which caused our redoubtable director, Diana Edwards-Jones, to shush her regal namesake.

The ITN bar, on top of the building, commanded good views over London’s West End, but it had to be scratched from the royal tour because a couple of ENG editors had stationed themselves in comfortable leaning positions at the bar… with no clothes on.

Every so often there was a more mundane occasion – birthday, Christmas, divorce day etc – when something slightly grander than a 1330 swill at the Green Man was required and only a restaurant fitted the bill.The trouble was that fewer and fewer were accepting bookings from us.That sorry state of affairs may have had something to do with the occasion when, during a pre-Christmas lunch, the NAO editor of the day had his trousers filled with chocolate blancmange… while he was still wearing them.However, I personally suspect that the final straw was the day we burned down the Venice, a cosy Italian bolthole on Great Titchfield Street.

It was all an accident, guv, honest.We had eaten prodigally, the fare matched by an appropriate quantity of Chianti or Orvieto, and had finally and safely reached the final lap – coffee and liqueurs.That was the undoing.Someone who had imbibed with particular enthusiasm knocked over a flaming zambuca.As the flames raced across the table, someone else had the bright idea of putting them out by throwing a glass of water over them.Unfortunately, the glass chosen contained not water but another zambuca.Now the flames were free to race up the curtains and they spread like, er, wildfire.

In this reminiscence, all the events are true and most names have been omitted as superfluous and some have been changed to protect the guilty.

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The life and times of Rosie Boot

By Geoffrey Mather

When they compile the list of women whose reputations live forever – Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, Marie Antoinette among them – I do not suppose they will include Rosie Boot. But the name of that theatrical lady is one that decimated the Daily Express in Manchester one evening long ago. And she achieved this unlikely result, not by displaying her talents, but by abandoning them. In short, her entrance was her exit.

She died.

The Irish edition had gone, and I suppose that by Greenwich Mean Time we were between the second and third editions when a small group of men gathered quietly in the Crown and Kettle pub, 20 brisk paces from the front entrance of the Express, and quietly drank. They were in twos. Nobody to this day will know why this tranquillity should explode as it did. Charlie – the one who said there was no call for tonic when asked to provide it as an addition to gin – was behind the bar with Edie, his beloved. And Edie was resting against the bar top in the way which led our theatre man to declare, ‘If those two ever have pups, I would like one.’

Peace on earth, goodwill towards men time. Not a discordant note.

But then something happened. The editor of the time was with a companion and he invited another two to have a drink. This drink had, of course, to be reciprocated. Others around the bar were offered drink, in turn, and the twos merged into a group.

The group was invited by the editor to toast the life and times of Rosie Boot. Nobody had heard of her, but they – we, I might add because I was there – drank whole-heartedly as a tribute to her unknown past and her possible heavenly future.

Magically, it seemed, a circle formed to continue this tribute and as a diversion, one of our members absent-mindedly decided it was a scrum. Bending low, he headed in the direction of the editor and took him cleanly below the waist. In no time at all others had charged in any direction and our leader was beneath a turmoil of people. Not so much a try as an accomplished fact.

The editor raised himself from the floor in a dishevelled state and toasted Rosie Boot all over again to cheers of approval. Edie, capturing the moment, and seeing profit, detached herself from the bar and stood in the centre of our group with a bottle of Scotch. She went in a regular circular perambulation pouring a shot into each glass and as each glass was charged all cried aloud, ‘Rosie Boot! Eighteen and eight’ – the latter being the cost of the round which was cheerfully borne in turn by each of us. Charlie watched. I thought he might. On busy evenings Charlie tended to move to the front of the bar and if you asked him how he was, he would reply, ‘Working me puddings off,’ while sitting on a stool.

Edie was quick with the bottle, so that by the time she had passed she was, it seemed, there again. Charlie was shovelling the money like small coal. Amber was flashing before my eyes at about the same pace as Edie. I lost count. But much later, all could count the number of celebrants who dropped in repose as they attempted to make the 20 paces required to the office steps. This trivial distance had become Scott of the Antarctic trying to make the tent during a hurricane.

Those who made it, quickly took to the newspaper equivalent of intensive care: the cubicles to be found in the second-floor washrooms. And there they stayed for hours, staring fixedly at the doors as editions came and went, emerging only to view a world that had somehow changed for all time.

I said to one friend who had dropped to the pavement six paces from the pub front door, ‘What a night that was.’ He stared at me as if I was mad and denied recollection of anyof it.

As for me, I sometimes waken, usually around 4am, and the damnable words still drift across my mind – ‘Rosie Boot! Eighteen and eight.’ The stark vision returns.

Rosie was, without doubt, the most remarkable lady none of us ever
met.

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The battle of Anstey

By Ian Bradshaw

John Anstey, the editor of the Telegraph colour magazine, was one of the best, and at the same time most maddening, editors I ever worked for. There are only two people who he never sacked as picture editor – myself and Susan Griggs. Others came and went and often were re-hired but running the picture department was always to teeter on a knife-edge.

A paper terrorist, Anstey employed the brown envelope as his high velocity ammunition. Memos of varying potency were circulated daily to staff, hammered out by a team of secretaries. They varied from the Confidential, Private & Confidential to the Personal, Private & Confidential and the nuclear variety that arrived at home covered in multitudinous stamps by special delivery the morning you were leaving for holiday. These normally declared that your department was a disaster and unless things were put right within 7 days you would be replaced. He knew, of course, you were going on 14 days vacation.

John hated people going on holiday and did everything in his power to wreck their enjoyment. It is probably a good thing e-mail had not been invented in the early eighties or a Blackberry would have been forever buzzing on the distant beach.

I was working on the Observer one Tuesday when I received a phone call. ‘Could you come and see John at six this evening?’

I duly turned up and was welcomed with old world charm and an industrial strength gin and tonic.

‘I wondered if you would like to picture edit this magazine. You see the current picture editor is leaving us on Friday and I know you are freelance and thought you might be available.’

I learned later that, after we had negotiated a deal for me to start the next Monday, he promptly fired my predecessor who’d had no intention of leaving voluntarily. He then called Patricia Elkins, then deputy picture editor, in and asked her if she would like to be picture editor. ‘That’s funny’, said Patricia, ‘I’ve just had lunch with Ian Bradshaw and he tells me he’s starting on Monday!’

So it was the following Monday that I joined the team of Patricia Elkins, Claudia Rosencrantz [now supremo at LWT] and an absolute gem of a Sloane secretary called Julia who was to look after me royally for the next two and a half years. Nothing and nobody got past Julia. The pearls and twin sets might as well have been Kevlar and knuckledusters as many a visitor realised when they were halfway to Blackfriars that they had just been ejected in the most charming manner.

One poor photographer who had traveled all the way from Liverpool to show his portfolio never even made it into my office. ‘Of course, I’m not an expert’, smiled Julia sweetly, ‘but you could have saved the train fare.’ I swear it was Euston before it hit him.

Then there was the birthday lunch at the Chinese restaurant. As the waiters placed the many dishes on the revolving centerpiece of the table, Julia, with perfect timing, observed: ‘Aren’t these dumb waiters marvelous?’

To say Anstey was a ‘car nut’ would have been an understatement. Every week some manufacturer was conned into delivering the latest and most expensive set of wheels for the great man to play with and this led to an idea for a race between the latest BMW and a plane from Calais to Nice.

Geoff Axbey, the art director, was sent to organize a lead photograph of the plane flying very low over the BMW to publicise the event. ‘I want them really close together’ directed the editor. Axbey returned to the office white and shaking. John pounced. ‘Well?’ he demanded.

‘Uh, John how are we going to explain to BMW the groove in the roof was made by the undercarriage of a plane?’

And so it went on. I spent most of my days closeted like a lawyer, returning brown envelopes with replies that did not incriminate me or the department. Patricia Elkins, bless her, ran the assignments with her Labrador Bertie curled up under the desk. One day Patricia so infuriated John that he threw his pen at her and told her she was fired. Patricia immediately put her coat on and went home to find the phone ringing. It was John Anstey. ‘Where the hell are you, why aren’t you in the office,’ he ranted, ‘Get back here immediately.’ Those were the days.

There were great characters in the office. None more so than chief sub-editor Danny Halperin, a sandal wearing character with his all female team of ‘puddings’ as he called them because they were always eating at their desks. An irascible Canadiannever far from a joint, who had lived with jazz singer Annie Ross in Paris, Danny had a heart of gold but loved a row and if you could hold your own against him he loved you for ever. Having recently returned from Scotland I revelled in it and one morning we were screaming and shouting at each other over some caption when Anstey stuck his head in and asked what it was all about.

Without missing a beat Halperin said, ‘Fuck off, we’re having a great row; we don’t need you.’ John did actually withdraw.

The anniversary of the Battle of Hastings produced a memorable photograph for the magazine. Against my advice Anstey insisted one of Susan Griggs’ photographers take a photograph to illustrate it. The results were disappointing and so John told me to reshoot it as I wanted. One of the great characters in advertising photography Nigel McIntyre loved a challenge and was always willing to chip in on the finances for a great job. Rumours of ‘private money’ accompanied him and he duly took off for Hastings. We got permission for a photographer from the Telegraph to shoot on the hallowed ground. The curator, who left at 4.30, said would we kindly shut the gates when we had finished. At 5pm a caravan of vehicles more fitting to a movie rolled up to the battleground. Working on the premise that if its big enough nobody questions it, Nigel had rented generators, armour, swords, chainmail, half of Berman’s wardrobe department and then proceeded to light bonfires all over the area placing discarded weapons and pools of blood across the hillside before shooting one of the greatest still-lifes I have ever seen, on a 10 x 8 view camera. The resulting picture looked as if you had just come upon the remains of a war with smoke and flames billowing in the Sussex twilight. Anstey loved it and I never found out how much it really cost.

It was always nice to put one over on John and the rare opportunity came when he insisted that Terence Donovan do an ‘At home’ shoot with David Puttnam, ‘John, Terry will just give you a portrait’ I protested.

‘Nonsense Terence is an old friend, he knows exactly what we want’,

An envelope duly arrived containing one head shot transparency. I cleared the huge lightboxes and placed it delicately dead centre. Anstey duly arrived for midday viewing.

‘What’s this?’

‘Terry’s shoot with David Puttnam’ biting my tongue not to say ‘Told you so’.

‘Phone him up and ask him where the rest of the shoot is now.’

I got Terry on the phone. ‘John wants to know where the rest of the pictures are.’

‘That’s it.’

‘What should I tell him Terry?’

‘Tell him to fuck off,’ came the expected reply.

I duly relayed the message to a steaming editor but nothing more was ever said.

The worst time came when the lovely Julia went on holiday. She thought she was doing me such a favour and arranged for her sister Victoria to take over. First morning, I said how much I appreciated her helping out and was there any chance of a cup of coffee?

Sloanes were not meant to say ‘Fuck off and get your own’, but this one did. She was just as feisty as her sister but there was no delay in the fuse and a definite shortage in the charm department. I eventually got to know her and she was actually really great, but things were never the same again. Julia got married, the Mail on Sunday launched YOU magazine and I decided to return to photography. Claudia is now deservedly at the top at LWT, Patricia is living in Spain with her horses and I’m still taking pictures in America but we still talk fondly of the late John Anstey. For all his faults he had high standards. Maybe a strange way of maintaining them at times but they never fell. It was a great experience.

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Not my cup of tea

By Liz Hodgkinson

The Sunday People was very fond of reader competitions, and one of the most successful ever was The Cup of Tea I’ll Never Forget.

There was at the time a highly popular TV drama series, Upstairs, Downstairs, about masters and servants co-existing in a large aristocratic house at the turn of the century, and somebody had the bright idea of cashing in on it. Why didn’t we run a competition asking readers to describe their most unforgettable cup of tea, for the chance of winning a solid silver tea service exactly like the one used in the series? The lucky winner would also meet the stars of the series at a special champagne reception at The Savoy.

It soon became clear that this was going to be the mother and father of all newspaper competitions, as entries started to pour in.

So, who was going to sift through all these letters to find the best story? None other than we in the special writers’ room – a kind of dumping ground for those journalists who the editor, Geoff Pinnington, never knew quite what to do with. We special writers watched helplessly as postboys lugged sack after huge sack bulging with letters, until our office began to resemble a post office sorting room at Christmas.

At first, although daunted by the sheer number of the letters, the special writers, Eric Leggett, John du Pre, Sandy Brereton and myself, were conscientious enough, and we started to read every entry carefully. But we soon realised that even if we gave every letter no more than a minute, and did no other work at all, we would still be reading the entries in six months’ time.

We then decided that we would read one in ten and ditch the other nine. But even this proved far too time-consuming so, eventually, we just took a handful of letters at random out of every bag and read those. But even that took ages. There was also seemingly no end to the letters and the postboys kept lugging up yet more sacks.

We each contrived our own method of selection. Sandy decided she would not read any letters written in either green or red ink. Eric would not consider any letter longer than two pages, and John du Pre at first declared that he would bin all the letters written on lined paper. He soon had to abandon this, however, as nearly all of them were written on lined paper. I initially refused to read any letter with illiterate spelling or punctuation, and this again meant that very few that I looked at passed the test. I, uniquely, also ditched typewritten letters on the grounds that they were too deliberate, professional and contrived, somehow.

We unceremoniously ditched any story that seemed too far-fetched, or which simply didn’t appear to have the ring of truth about it. We also had to be careful of the professional competition enterers, of whom we had a fair sprinkling, and who were blacklisted. We were looking for something original and heartwarming.

Eventually, after weeding out everything that was unsuitable for one or another genuine or spurious reason, we had about twenty letters between us that looked like possibles. The next step was to send local correspondents round to these readers on the shortlist to see whether they were the kind of people we wanted to feature in our paper.

We had to check that the story was true, that the people were presentable and respectable, that they did not have a criminal record, that they were not black or otherwise ethnic, that they were heterosexual (we were horribly racist and homophobic in those days), and that they were not horrifically ugly. Positive good looks were too much to hope for, but we wanted to feature pleasant-looking readers, wherever possible.

Many of those short-listed fell down at the first post. Either the story didn’t check out or couldn’t be confirmed by anybody, or the people were wildly unsuitable for our paper. One lived with about twenty Alsatians in a caravan, another was a bachelor, one or two others seemed simply round the bend. Some had homes that were too slummy or overcrowded – our wondrous tea service had to adorn a neat sideboard in a tidy, well cared-for home.

Several people just seemed too boring when our correspondent went to see them. One was judged too fat, and another too young. When we came to investigate, nobody seemed just right. All had some fatal flaw and our hearts began to sink as the reports came in.

One couple, however, out of all the hundreds of thousands who had entered the competition, seemed to satisfy all the requirements, and our correspondent filed back a favourable report.

This was a nice retired couple who had recently got married. They had first met and fallen in love as teenagers, and had even got engaged. But as she was sixteen and he was eighteen, their parents had objected to the match, and forced them apart. We will call them Bill and Nancy as I’ve long forgotten their real names. Bill went into the Army and Nancy became a nurse, and they drifted apart.

Then, more than forty years later, after both were widowed, they met up again by chance on a holiday. Neither initially recognised the other but as they swapped life stories, they came to realise that they were, astonishingly, each other’s long-lost love. The affection was rekindled, and the cup of tea they would never forget was when he proposed and she accepted.

It all sounded nicely heartwarming and upbeat. There were other good things about them, too, in that they both attended church regularly, and belonged to all kinds of local clubs. Nancy did volunteer work at the local hospital and, all in all, they were just what we were looking for, streets ahead of any of the others – unless, of course, a far better story had been thrown away because it was typewritten, on lined paper, or written in green or red ink. That, of course, we would never know.

We were delighted to have found such a deserving couple, such a lovely story, and so were they, when we contacted them to tell them that they had been chosen as our outright winners.

The next hurdle was the champagne reception and dinner at The Savoy. Eric Leggett and I were to attend this event along with some other dignitaries from our organisation.

Bill and Nancy could hardly believe their luck as they were presented with their prize by Simon Williams, the young handsome star of the series. We toasted them in champagne and then sat down to a gala dinner. Our couple were also being put up at The Savoy for the night after being fetched from their home in a chauffeur-driven car, so it was all like a marvellous fairy story for them, especially as they, rather than the stars from the TV series, were celebrities for the day.

Their faces shone with happiness as the cup of tea they would never forget led them to the occasion they would never forget.

Although these dos may sound exciting and glamorous, the truth is that they are often rather tedious affairs, at least for the journalists present, and there is always a price to pay – apart, I mean, from getting drunk, consuming thousands of unnecessary calories, and risking making a complete ass of yourself. The price I had to pay for being allowed to attend this glamorous event was to write it all up for the paper.

Needless to say, I had drunk so much that I couldn’t remember a thing next day, but I rang the couple after they had returned home and wound down a bit, and got the story from them. Their tea service had been much admired, they told me, and the local paper had been round to do a story as well.

So I managed the Herculean task of writing it up, and the story went in the paper, complete with pictures of the stars of the TV series and the couple being presented with their prize. The tender story of how they met and rekindled their love after more than four decades was very popular,and the couple were subsequently interviewed for local television, as well.

So, that was that. We disposed of the mailbags full of unopened and discarded letters, and the whole thing gradually faded in our memory.

Then, about three months later, an envelope was handed to me by the postboy, headed The Cup of Tea I’ll Never Forget, and addressed directly to me.

It was from the ex-wife of the supposed widower who had been the outright winner of our competition and who was now the proud possessor of a valuable solid silver tea service.

This woman, who understandably objected to being killed off prematurely, had written to tell me, as the author of the story about Bill and Nancy, that as well as Bill not being a widower, he also had a long history of womanising. Bad enough, but there was worse. Bill had not known this new woman, his supposed long-lost love, as a teenager. In fact, it was all a tissue of lies, and she just wanted us to know.

Her final point was that he never drank tea. So that was a lie, too.

‘And after we’d checked them out so carefully,’ I moaned, after I’d I read the letter out to the others.

‘Not our fault,’ snorted Eric. ‘Anyway, who’s to say she’s telling the truth? She may just be a malicious old woman. Throw it in the bin. Forget it. Tear it up.’

‘Right, I will.’ I dropped it in the wastebasket. And what I need now,’ I said, ‘is a nice cup of tea.’

‘I’ll make you one you won’t forget,’ offered Sandy.

#

Happy accidents

By Colin Dunne

When I think of some of the boy friends my sister had, I was lucky that the one who came into the Carla Beck Milk Bar that Wednesday morning was Bill. Tall, lanky, fair-haired, he swept in with his white riding mac flapping, newspaper stuck under arm, sat down and started regaling his chums with a story from the magistrates’ court.

At the time, I was desperately casting about for a job when I left school, which was only a few weeks away, and I had yet to see any form of work that looked faintly possible. Yet here was my sister’s ex-boy-friend – amicably ex, I was grateful to recall – with a job that fed him wonderful conversation and allowed him to slop around in milk-bars in the middle of the morning.

All in all, I thought I could handle that.

What did he do? He was a reporter on the Craven Herald. Suddenly a world of possibilities opened before me.

Now what’s the element of luck involved in that? About 100pc would you say? If it had been her latest boy-friend who’d been my role model, I could have spent the rest of my life buttering teacakes. He owned a café opposite the church in the high street.

The more you inquire into how people of my generation came to be in newspapers, the more absurd it gets. I’ve just asked two friends of mine: difficult to say which is the least likely. John Dodd got his chance thanks to the headmaster of the Churchers’ College in Petersfield, and he wasn’t even a pupil there. The editor of the local paper rang the school to ask if they had any promising youngsters who might fancy journalism.

Churchers was really only a grammar school with delusions of Eton, but the headmaster, aghast at the thought, averred (sorry: no other word for it) that no boy of his would ever enter journalism.

To hell with it, the editor thought, and rang the secondary modern school where John was a pupil, and where he’d just written a brilliant essay on how the English cricket team had won back the Ashes. ‘I’ve got just the chap,’ said his head. John went on to write for everyone from the Sun to the Spectator and The Observer.

Chris Kenworthy longed to follow his father who was a distinguished journalist on the Express. Only his father was determined that his son wouldn’t be a journalist and packed him off to King’s College to be a lawyer. So Chris joined the college newspaper, rapidly became editor, and after a year transferred himself to the Surrey Comet. From there to 30 years in Fleet Street and a shelf-full of novels.

You see? Happy accidents combined with a bit of opportunism. As any reporter knows, in today’s terms, being lucky is worth about 270 GCSEs.

In my case, there had been earlier indications that I would never be able to do a proper job. I went to a school in the Yorkshire where they prepared the scabby-kneed and snot-nosed sons of the Dales for a role in Empire, or the Skipton Building Society, whichever was nearest. It soon became clear to me that any science subjects were way beyond my reach. I realised this on the day that ‘Titch’ Cooper, the maths master, went mad. On the blackboard, he had written a mixture of letters and numbers. Now even I knew that numbers and letters can’t be jumbled together like that. The man had clearly lost his mind. Yet he claimed it was something called ‘algebra’ and was allowed to continue his career.

A year or two later, he awarded me seven per cent in the fourth-year exams. ‘Seven per cent of what?’ I asked, reasonably enough. He took me on one side. He’d had a long and disappointing career in teaching and felt, at this stage, he could do without me. What did I enjoy? The library and the art room, I said. In that case, he suggested I should spend all my maths lessons there, which I did.

In science, I never truly got over the only sex lesson we had, in which Mr Swainson, the sports master, glowed with embarrassment as he explained the reproductive system of the frog. I suppose I must have learned something from it. Throughout my life I have had a weakness for girls with long legs, pop eyes and slightly greasy skin.

No, I never got the hang of the place, although I did get some advice on a possible career from the headmaster, M L Forster, the first time he caned me. I went into his study. He stood there, flexing the cane, pointing to the chair. So I sat down in it – I was always of an optimistic nature. ‘I see you are some form of humorist, Dunne,’ he said. ‘Would you now like to bend over it?’

The one poor talent we potential hacks possessed was in trying to arrange the alphabet into interesting patterns… writing, if we want to be pretentious about it. I did have a bit of previous with that. The writer we most admired was one whose work was rare, but in high demand. Hank Janson wrote lurid crime books which relied heavily on half-naked blondes being tied up and thin silk being constantly ripped from heaving breasts. There was only ever one copy of his books in the school at any one time and, with 360 sweaty little paws tearing at it, it was pretty ragged.

Perhaps, with my research into silk-ripping limited to a handful of games of postman’s knock, I was being over-ambitious in trying my hand at a sub-Hank, but I did. I couldn’t match his snappy titles – Skirts Bring Me Sorrow and When Dames Get Tough. Mine was more in the Yorkshire schoolboy idiom. It was called Tits. Also, it ended on Page 2. Fatigue got me.

My career as a jazz critic didn’t last much longer. Just how a teenager in the Dales developed a passion for the music of the sons of slaves in Louisiana, I have no idea, but I did. No-one was more surprised than me when Jazz Journal used a piece I wrote. What’s more they asked me to review records, which, to me, was like a living wage. I reviewed the first two 78s. Bury My Body and Diggin’ My Potatoes by Lonnie Donegan. I never got any more. Some bastard had written to the editor telling him his record reviewer had only recently parted with his short trousers.

Where do you go when you’re a 16-year-old semi-literate innumerate with a passion for jazz and soft porn? The Skipton Building Society didn’t seem an option. Then I saw Bill in the milk-bar that morning and I began to wonder. I said to someone else who was there that it sounded a great job. Whoever it was said it was better than that: Bill had a key to the office.

To anyone who wasn’t around in the fifties, this needs some explanation. At that time in Britain’s history, 16-year-old boys were very interested in researching the contents of 16-year-old girls’ blouses. Since none of us had a room, a flat or a car, and progress – mostly in Woolworth’s doorway – was limited, access to an office was the fifties equivalent of a penthouse flat and an Aston Martin.

I went home and wrote my application letter.

Any hack would tell a similar tale, I’m sure. As a route for finding and pursuing your career, I have to admit it was all a touch random. Yet, years later, I remember seeing a minor public schoolboy, a northern droll, and an East End tough laughing together in the Stab, and I thought any system that can get three blokes like this to the top has to be all right. But then, you can’t imagine Richard Stott, Phil Mellor and Tom Merrin on a media studies course, can you?

What happened to Bill? Oh Bill Freeman became northern editor of the Mirror. He got me a job there too.

###

Cudlipp lecture

Alastair Campbell, former Mirror man and Downing Street press secretary for most ofTony Blair’s time as prime minister, will deliver the annual Hugh Cudlipp Lecture at the London College of Communication on January 28, 2008 entitled The Media: a case of growth in scale, alas, not in stature.

In addition, the winner of the £1,000 Cudlipp Award for a student journalist will be announced.

The handout reminds us that the lecture was established to commemorate Hugh Cudlipp as a key figure in popular journalism between the 1930s and the 1980s. Under his direction the Daily Mirror gained a reputation for probity, clarity and a salutary disrespect for authority. In 1964 it made British newspaper history by reaching a daily circulation of five million copies. Alastair Campbell was a graduate of a pioneer training scheme run by the Mirror and eventually became the paper’s political editor.

The occasion is organised by the Hugh Cudlipp Trust and the London College of Communication which, until it became incorporated in the University of the Arts London, was the London College of Printing. It is a renowned centre of training and education in journalism and other media skills.

Hugh Cudlipp was born in Cardiff in 1913 and died in 1998 as Baron Cudlipp, a life peer. The Trust was founded by his widow Jodi, a magazine editor in the Mirror stable of the 1960s. Family friend Margaret Allen, once assistant editor on The Times, became the Trust treasurer.

Lady Cudlipp enlisted support from Mirrormen and Mirrorwomen of the Cudlipp era: former editors Tony Miles and Mike Molloy; Felicity Green, (the first woman appointed to a Fleet Street boardroom); columnists Geoffrey Goodman, John Pilger, Keith Waterhouse; and Tony Delano, a former Mirror managing editor now a visiting professor at the College.

The event is open to all. ‘Media celebrities and star journalists will mingle with students to hear Mr Campbell’s views—and to question him about them.’

+

BACK to better days, and stroll down to read Paul Bannister on New Year resolutions and how he got into the trade that made Alastair Campbell famous; or Phil Finn (following last week’s piece from Liz Hodgkinson) on drinking tea; Stan Blenkinsop on the Charlton brothers; Plain John Smith on Tom Stoppard; Peter Kinsley on Henry Thody; Colin Dunne on star interviews; and… Peter Reece on, er, Colin Dunne.

Plus a Letter, from John Stevenson of Dobcross.

#

 

 

You need resolution

pb2By Paul Bannister

By now, safely into the new year, most of my iron-clad resolutions are lying by the wayside, gasping for air.

Exhausted after a galloping start, the poor old resolutions – most have been around for half a century or more – just want a nice lie-down, and a good thing, too.

A look at popular Resolutions to Do Better finds that people vow to spend more time with family and friends (the mind recoils!) to be fit or less fat; to stop smoking, drinking, being stressed or in debt.

Virtuous resolvers vow to learn new things, help others and get organised.

They probably aim at other lofty ideals, but that’s about the top ten, and enough for me, except for walking the dogs a bit more.

The fact is, with one exception, I can’t remember ever making it past about mid-January with whatever resolution I’d vowed definitely, really, would work this time.

My earliest newspaper-related resolve came to me in about 1950. It was a magical time. We still had a King Emperor, and money was big, from giant white fivers to large silver half-crowns and huge copper pennies that wore holes in your pocket.

Outside our front garden gate were tramlines I had to polish with Brasso as a Christmas party forfeit, and yes, the roads were that quiet. Inside the house, decorated with looping paper chains, with cotton wool and tinsel on the aromatic tree, were attractive, teenage female cousins who practised kissing on me, a delighted small boy with confused thoughts.

My brothers gifted me with a John Bull printing outfit, which comprised a collection of grooved wooden blocks, a pair of tweezers and a whole lot of grasshopper-lively, tiny rubber fonts.

Squeeze the bendy type into the grooves, ink the thing and press it to the waiting page, and behold: illegible smudges. I was entranced and immediately decided to publish books.

Two days and less than a paragraph later – I was copying from a ‘Just William’ tome – I opted out of an inky’s life. Resolution One had crashed and burned.

In prep school, I resolved to become an editor, and with others in Form 1A, from which I was unjustly and permanently demoted to the B stream after one term, produced a class newspaper, The Scribe.

The first and only production run went to, oh, four copies, all lovingly hand-coloured but it was thin on content and nobody actually paid anything to look at it. My ambitions on an editor’s chair wafted away.

Circulation was next up, but two weeks as a newsboy dealing with dogs who wanted fingers for breakfast when you poked the paper through the letterbox persuaded me that a grocery delivery job had less heavy lifting, was not so sanguinary and had better and more frequent tips.

With production, management and circulation avenues off the screen, I resolved to seek other areas for a media career.

Third-form German language classes with a spluttering Glaswegian gent provided the motivational springboard. I used my brother’s discarded hospital card and inked in my own fictitious appointments, which always coincided with afternoon double periods, for my Get Out of German Free card.

It was a road-to-Tarsus awakening. Forgery and deception worked. My career path beckoned like a lit-up flare path, and I made the one resolution I can recall ever actually achieving. I became a newspaper reporter and settled down to some very Happy New Years.

#

Tea for two

PhilFinnBy Philip Finn

The best cup of tea, or rather the two best cups of tea, I ever had were in Sao Paulo, Brazil. One saved my life; the other saved my job.

Mash yourselves a strong brew because it is a story that requires a lot of background.

It starts in New York’s Catskill Mountains in the early 70s when I was doing a prelim piece on Joe Frazier before the first of his tumultuous battles with Muhammad Ali.

The day I spent with Joe was numbingly cold. Paris Match snapped a pic that day of Frazier with ice on his brow during his morning training run. It was about 30 below.

After wrapping the interview I made a check call to the New York office of the Daily Express.

Fred Ellis, who was one of my six journalistic colleagues working the bureau, said the foreign desk in London wanted me to get to Brazil as quickly as possible.

That meant a 120-mile dash back to Manhattan, swiftly writing the Frazier piece, and a stop in my apartment to pick up an overnight bag, and the portable typewriter my old mates in Manchester gave me when I went off to Fleet Street.

I didn’t have time to change clothes, and set off in my Catskills gear, dark business suit, shirt, tie, sweater, thick socks, and heavy Crombie overcoat.

After an overnight flight I arrived mid-morning in Rio de Janeiro to find the temperature a near-suffocating 105 degrees.

Within minutes I was bathed in perspiration. Sweat oozed from every pore, and I found myself squelch, squelch, squelching through the airport to catch another flight to Sao Paulo.

The assignment: to find a divorced dad from Preston, Lancashire, who had absconded with his kids following what should have been a brief Sunday visitation.

He had in fact taken them to Manchester Airport, flown to Switzerland, and caught a connecting flight to Brazil. He was believed to have holed up at a brother’s home in a Sao Paulo suburb.

I found the address, which was heavily fortified, but managed to make my way to the front door, still squelching because I did not trust leaving my Crombie, typewriter and overnight bag in the waiting taxi.

The Preston man’s brother opened the door, and told me in no uncertain manner, where I could go.

I squelched my way back to the cab, and sat there in some distress, wondering what to do next. I asked myself what Tom Campbell, Bob Blake, or the guys on the Manchester news desk would say if I made a check call in similar circumstances from Warrington, or Penrith.

Easy. ‘Get yourself a pie and a pint, and try again later when the brother has cooled down.’ Not so easy: where do you find a pie and pint in Sao Paulo, a sprawling city where I didn’t know a single word of Portuguese?

But I knew the drill. About an hour later I squelched back to the house, and this time the response was even more hostile.

The Preston man’s brother told me under Brazilian law he could have me arrested for trespass, saying not even a postman was allowed up the garden path without permission.

Now, several gallons lighter from all that perspiration, and desperately fatigued, there was only one other idea I could try: a visit to the British consulate.

I climbed several flights to a third floor office-still squelching in my Crombie and carrying my bag and typewriter, bedraggled, disconsolate.

A stern-faced woman, who identified herself as a First Secretary listened to my plaintive tale, before responding:’I am sorry there is nothing I can do to help you. This is a private matter, nothing to do with the British government…’

It was obvious I was close to collapse because the woman suddenly softened her stance to ask: ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’

It was the last thing on earth I wanted-at that moment I could have drunk every pub in Ancoats and Fleet Street dry.

But good manners prevailed. ‘Yes, I’d love one’ I muttered through parched lips, and she led me, still squelching, into a side room. The cup of tea was served on the finest English china, with a couple of biscuits, and within minutes I was back from the dead.

‘That was the best cup of tea I have ever had’ I told the First Secretary. And that was the honest truth.

The following day, after a decent night’s rest, the only option was to go back to the consulate, if only to tell them where I was staying, and to see if old stern-face had mellowed.

I went back, climbed those steps with a renewed zest, and there she was, the same First Secretary. Again she went through a litany of reasons why she could not possibly help, and then, suddenly she said, ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’

‘Yes, please,’ I said with some alacrity,’ but I know it won’t be as good as yesterday’s.’

She paused a second, and I’ll swear there was a twinkle in her eye when she said: ‘Maybe it will be even better.’

She took me back into the side room, and soon the tray was back with the biscuits, and expensive china.

But before I could lift the cup from the saucer, the First Secretary Lady, put a finger to her lips, and motioned me not to utter another word.

As I lifted the cup I saw a tiny piece of paper neatly cut lying in the circular centre of the saucer.

The First Secretary lady brought her finger to her lips and again indicated I should not say anything.

On that tiny scrap she had written the initials of a Brazilian

airline, a flight number, and the date, and departure time for a flight from

Sao Paulo to Madrid. I almost choked, wolfing down the biscuits, and drinking the tea in one gulp. ‘That was even better than the one you made yesterday’, I said. And I have never been more sincere or grateful in my life.

It saved my job, because it did not take long to check with the Brazilian airline that the Preston man and his children were booked on the flight whose details came from that glorious cup of tea.

The ExpressMadrid correspondent, Steven Harper, met the man and his children in Spain, and flew with them for an exclusive showdown on a connecting flight to Manchester.

My end of the story had an amazing sequel. I was arrested and held for several hours at Sao Paulo airport by military police carrying automatic weapons after the brother of the Preston man spotted me and told authorities he feared I was going to kidnap the children.

Guess who helped spring me? Yes, the stern-faced First Secretary lady, who saved my life, my job, and then my freedom. I’ll drink to her any time.

Phil Finn began his journalistic career on the South Yorkshire Times in Mexborough. He later subbed on the Sheffield Telegraph, and was sports editor of the South Yorkshire edition of the Yorkshire Evening News. He worked at Eastmid in Doncaster before joining the Daily Express, reporting in Manchester, London, and New York, for over 30 years. He is now savouring retirement and countless cups of tea-in Aiken, South Carolina.

#

Wor Bobby

By Stanley Blenkinsop

Sir Bobby Charlton’s autobiography, ‘My Manchester United Years’ – ghosted by former Daily Express Manchester sportswriter Jim Lawton – has now been high in the hardback bestseller lists for four months.

Many readers have been surprised by references to family feuds between Bobby, now 70, and his older brother Jack and mother Cissie, once a female footballer of great renown.

But little or none of it is new to the surviving members of the old Tyneside national newspaper corps of the 1950s and 60s, Strange that the broadsheets and tabloids of half a century ago (albeit with a total circulation twice what it is today) were most reluctant to use such ‘reality’stories which would be page leads nowadays.

Here is a typical example from the 1966 Football World Cup weeks when brothers Bobby and Jack were stars of England’s winning team.

Both were given the freedom of the world’s biggest pit village, Ashington in Northumberland, to mark their triumph. And a mega-rich Geordie entrepreneur loaned them his immaculate white vintage rolls in which to lead the triumphal procession.

I was awaiting outside the Charltons’ miners cottage when Bobby, frowning as usual, strode out through the backyard to the glittering Roller beside a grinning Jack.

Suddenly Jackie lost his smile and rounded on his younger more talented brother: ‘For fuck’s sake, wor kid, can’t you make an effort and smile for the first time in your fuckin’ life?’

I put that verbatim in my copy – without the two F-words – only to be bollocked by the news editor: ‘We don’t want that sort of shit in a jolly, happy story!’ Somehow I can’t imagine that happening nowadays. Can almost see the Sun headline…

Cissie Charlton used to say of her football star sons: ‘Jackie always sends a card for my birthday and Mother’s Day; Bobby always seems to forget, but of my four sons I suppose he’s my favourite.’

England footballers each got a £3,000 bonus for winning the ’66 World Cup. Jack spent all his on a private house to replace his parents’ rented cottage. In gratitude they called it ‘Jules Rimet’ – name of the founder of the World Cup competition.

Jack – two years Bobby’s senior – played for Leeds United. When they had home games he travelled by train to Newcastle upon Tyne then on by bus – often strap-hanging the 20 lurching miles to Ashington for the weekend at home.

His mother Cissie often waited at the bus stop. One night she was frowning.

Earlier than day Stoke City were the visitors at Leeds and Jack had tripped the legendary Stanley Matthews. No live television of soccer then, but BBC radio covered one First Division match live every Saturday afternoon. (Matches were NOT announced it advance – the FA feared it would reduce the crowds and therefore the clubs’ income!)

Jack stepped off the bus as his frowning mother tore into him. ‘Why on earth did you do that to Mr Matthews (his knighthood – first for a British player – was still to come) ‘I hope you apologised properly to him.’

An embarrassed Jack mumbled agreement. Then Cissie insisted: ‘Before you go back to Leeds you will write a full apology to Mr Matthews and give it to me and I will post it to him at Stoke. That way I’ll be certain he gets it.’

Imagine anything like that today with the premiership gods…

During the 1966 World Cup the first England goal was scored by Bobby. I rang his parents, then in Beatrice Street, Ashington, via the public GPO telephone kiosk 60 yards from the back door.

Eventually the inevitable passer-by heard the phone ringing and answered my request to get mother Cissie or father Tommy to talk to me.

It was Cissie who came: ‘Wonderful – I heard it on the wireless. But Tommy’s on nightshift down the pit and he won’t know till he gets home for breakfast.’

The then chairman of the National Coal Board was Sir Alf Robens, former Labour MP for the Ashington area, who knew the Charlton family well. Alf had always been press-conscious and knew most of the Newcastle national press corps.

So I rang him at home and told him that Bobby’s father was at the coalface and would not know of his son’s goal till he came up at dawn.

But could Sir Alf not call him on the emergencies-only underground line to break the news? Immediately he agreed and ten minutes later rang back with father Tommy’s reaction.

It made a one-par exclusive in the last editions of the then world’s greatest.

#

 

 

Rewriting the bard

By John Smith

It’s been more than 40 years since Tom Stoppard and I shared a typewriter.

In case this conjures up a misleading picture of close collaboration, a vision of me and the great playwright huddled side by side while struggling to produce some joint theatrical masterpiece, I should point out that at the time we were both young provincial newspaper reporters.

In the ill-equipped newsroom of the BristolEvening World, with its ancient stand-up telephones and scarred, scrub-topped tables, there was a daily scramble to grab one of the few available antique Remingtons. As there were not enough of these battered machines to go round, Tom was forced to share one not only with me, but with a dozen other muttering hacks who stood around impatiently waiting for a chance to bang out their stories.

That scruffy newsroom with its ragtag crew of aspiring journalists must have seemed a million miles away when Sir Tom reached one of the highpoints of his brilliant career back in 1999 and threaded his way through an audience of Hollywood greats to claim his Oscar for the screenplay of Shakespeare in Love.

But as I watched on TV and saw him mount the podium to receive his award, my own thoughts were still of that dreary, paper-strewn office where we had met so many years before.

I am sure he will always remember the glamorous night when he received Hollywood’s glittering prize for rewriting Shakespeare. I will never forget the chaotic Bristol morning when I acquired a prized and personal memory by rewriting Tom Stoppard.

At the dawn of the swinging sixties, Bristol was a fiercely competitive newspaper town, with a morning paper, the Western Daily Press and two afternoon tabloids, the Evening World and the Evening Post.

The city became a magnet for ambitious journalists en route to Fleet Street, but it was the brash and breezy Evening World that seemed to attract the more colourful characters. They included a twinkle-toed feature writer called Hilton Tims, who lightened proceedings by tap dancing on top of his desk while singing Powder Your Face With Sunshine and a pugnacious Glaswegian, Charlie Wilson, whose rough and ready demeanour provided no portent of the fact that he would become editor of The Times.

On to this eclectic stage swept Tom Stoppard, who added an entire new dimension to our West Country Wild Bunch. In a pre-Beatles era when barbers knew only short back and sides, his curly, tousled hair was shockingly long and shaggy. He wore a long, dark overcoat and an even longer, flamboyantly wrapped, multicoloured knitted scarf which dangled almost to the ground. With his dark, Slavic good looks, the man was straight out of Dr Zhivago.

While most of us young reporters hung around the Assize Courts pub drinking halves of bitter, the brooding Mr Stoppard enjoyed the more esoteric company of actors from the Bristol Old Vic. It was rumoured that he drank wine.

So it was that Tom was hunched reclusively in a corner of the reporters’ room on a slow news morning, jealously guarding one of the rare working typewriters and pecking out the newspaper’s around-the-town diary column. Suddenly the news editor, Reg Eason, a man of erratic temperament who had reached Olympic standard in Throwing The Typewriter, sprang to life.

A road repair workman drilling in Park Street, one of the city’s main thoroughfares, had cut through a gas main. There had been an explosion and a huge crack had opened up. The front wheels of a double decker bus had become lodged in this crevasse. Some passengers had been injured and rush-hour traffic was approaching gridlock.

In the great scheme of things, this unfortunate event may not rank as sensational. But for the Bristol Evening World, the deadline for the first edition fast approaching, it was a disaster that ranked alongside the Titanic. Reporters scattered from the newsroom like the Red Arrows. Reg Eason, red faced with excitement, looked urgently over at Tom Stoppard, who was still languidly chronicling the previous night’s activities of local luminaries.

Hard news was not normally Stoppard’s domain. Besides doing the Diary, he was also the theatre critic. Many a hapless juggler at the local variety theatre, valiantly trying to survive music hall’s dying days, had been advised of the inadequacy of his performance by one of Tom’s lacerating reviews, which frequently made Kenneth Tynan’s appear benign. But this was an emergency. BRISTOL BUS IN HORROR PLUNGE.

‘Colour, Mr Stoppard,’ barked Reg Eason. ‘Get up to Park Street and write me bags of colour.’

Stoppard, in his Cossack overcoat and Dr Who scarf, disappeared moodily through the door like Heathcliff going on a reluctant blind date.

For the next 30 minutes I sat in the office, frantically pulling together the strands of the drama, compacting a splash story from the flurry of accounts phoned in by our reporters.

With 15 minutes to go to deadline, I spotted the agitated figure of Ernie Averis, the chief subeditor, striding towards me. His well worn cardigan flapped behind him and his glowing pipe puffed smoke like an overworked tugboat.

‘Can you make some sense of this?’ he snapped, thrusting a thick wad of copy towards me. ‘All is need is 12 crisp paragraphs and there are enough pages here to wallpaper the bloody Mansion House.’

It was Stoppard’s colour story, dictated from the site of the crash. No one could say he hadn’t done a thorough job. He had even interviewed the unfortunate workman whose drilling had caused the chaos and recorded the labourer’s shock and regret.

Unfortunately such salient facts were immersed in a torrent of lyrical prose, taking in everything from hovering blue skies to the banks of flowers on the corporation lawn which provided such an ironically peaceful back-drop to this rush hour tragedy. Along the way were musings on the human condition, reminders that fate controls our every waking moment and some erudite philosophising on the twist of karma that had so explosively brought together drill and gas pipe.

‘Can you cut out the crap and knock this stuff into shape?’ pleaded the harassed chief sub. ‘You’ve got 10 minutes.’

So, surrounded by overflowing ash trays, hastily abandoned canteen mugs and half eaten cheese rolls, I sat down to rewrite Tom Stoppard.

Mr Averis, meanwhile, stumped back into the subs’ room, despairingly clasping his forehead and wailing: ‘God save us from reporters who think they’re bloody poets.’

#

Racing certs

By Peter Kinsley

Henry Thody was a freelance working mainly for the Sunday Times out of Rome and the French Riviera during the film festival, and later in Australia, and we shared many long nights of drinking on the Via Veneto and meeting the stars. One night we were talking of gambling,and I told Henry that when I was on the Daily Express there were posters all over England advertisng: Clive Graham, Britain’s No.1 Racing Tipster, but Clive had had to escape from the bailiffs by going down the fire escape of his house in Drayton Gardens, Kensington, while they were hammering at the front door. Thus the life of a gambler.

Clive, tall and frequently bronzed from the open air of the racecourses, an Etonian and a gentleman, carried a silver medallion with the words, if memory serves me right: ‘Is it known to TheBeaver Clive Graham’s gambling fever?’ It was a present from John Aspinall for all the money Clive had lost at his tables.

Henry, who had been a cavalry officer and sported a magnificent Dundreary moustache, told me that he was awakened one morning in the lean-to hut that served as the officers’ sleeping quarters in the jungle by the sight of Clive Graham, binoculars around his neck, trying to creep silently out of the hut. Henry asked him in a hoarse whisper, what he was doing.

‘Shhh. There’s a race meeting in the south of Burma today and I’m getting a lift by plane. Do you want to come?’

‘But the Japanese are only five hundred yards away…’

‘Shhh… shut up then. Or you’ll wake them. Do you want to come or not?’

Henry slid out of bed and threw on his uniform and set off with Clive for the airstrip.

They spent the day on a racecourse, with Clive looking over the field with his binoculars and cheering on the winners.

In the evening they flew back to the front line.

When his leave came up, Henry went to Australia and walked into a bar and asked for a large scotch. ‘Wotta we got ‘ere then?’ said the huge bartender. ‘Large scotch? Don’t you know there’s a bloody war on? Anyway what are you doing in civvies? Dodging the column?’

‘Well, no, as a matter of fact, old chap. I am on leave. Been up in the jungle in Burma, y’know, fighting the Japanese, and they’ve given me a spot of leave.’

‘Oh, in that case: Charlie – a large scotch for the Pom officer, and put the bloody bottle on the bar for him.’ He said to Henry: ‘Sorry about that, sport. Drinks are on the house. Welcome to Australia.’

#

Stardust

By Colin Dunne

Thanks to my faithful friends the snappers, they’re all there in the suitcase in the attic. Photographs of my encounters with those two imposters, triumph and disaster.

Here I am, in a white suit, dancing in the style of John Travolta. This was the idea of Nick Lloyd, brilliant features editor of the Sun and – although I didn’t suspect it at the time – clearly an even more brilliant practical joker. Actually, I look more limping pimp than a strutting stud. Come to think of it, I can still hear Tony Prime’s hysterical giggles as he took the pic…

In this one, I’m sinking in terror beneath a wave of dozens of slavering foxhounds (‘Find out how the fox feels’ was the brief, I think). Why didn’t photographer Dennis Hussey also get covered in hound-gob and mud and general animal crap like me? Because he was on top of a ten-foot bank shouting: ‘Pretend you’re screaming, Colin.’

Pretend…

What am I doing here, at the wheel of my brand-new, stylish, hideously expensive Panther Lima sports car on the hard shoulder of the M1? Are those tears running down my face? Yes. On its first trip out it broke down every half-mile. I suppose I was lucky that Roger Bamber was there to record it all. He laughed so much he nearly blew his fag out.

Come to think of it, they’re all disasters, except for my one triumph – the photograph of me being sexually molested by the most desirable woman on the planet. This was the occasion when Brigitte Bardot, at the very peak of her sexual prowess, slipped a silken arm around my neck and pulled my mouth down towards her moistly opening lips…

Nurse! Nurse! I’m having that dream again!

No, this is true, I swear it. The one oasis in a career that was mostly Saharan sand, and where’s the photograph? Can’t find the bloody thing.

Bardot apart, the truth is that I’ve had rather a patchy record when it comes to interviewing celebrities, which possibly explains why I’ve been unemployed for the last 30 years.

I’m really not very good at it, largely because I invariably don’t know who they are. After Bing Crosby, they all became a bit of a blur to me. And if there’s one thing celebrities don’t like, it’s being a blur.

The pop group I interviewed backstage in Newcastle were, to me, just a bunch of guitar-strummers who couldn’t sing ‘White Christmas’ to save their lives. They’d certainly never co-starred with Bob Hope. I’d just watched them on stage and it was clear to me they were no-hopers. What’s more, during the interview they were a touch cheeky and a scrub down with a Brillo pad wouldn’t have gone amiss. So when I wrote the piece, I changed their names to Nick Stagger and the Strolling Groans – pretty funny, what-what? – and gave the readers my personal guarantee that they would never hear of them again.

To be quite fair, they did insist on signing a programme for me, together with lots of abusive and coarse comments. Now I know a chap who’s a dealer in showbiz memorabilia and the other day I asked him what he could get for a programme signed by the Rolling Stones just before they were famous. He said we could probably both retire on it. Where was it, he asked, the sweat beading on his brow. I told him when last seen it was in the wastepaper bin just outside the Turk’s Head Hotel where I chucked it on my way home.

That was the start of my legendary career as a talent spotter.

Why anyone should send me to interview Bill Shankly was as much a mystery to me as it was to Shankly. He was, I should tell you, something to do with football and Liverpool a few years ago and was highly esteemed by hooligans the world over. The idea was that since I knew nothing about football – see how well I conceal it! – this would make it revelatory. (If that were true, you’d send John Penrose to interview nuns, but we’ll not think too much about that, shall we?) Although Shankly loathed non-football people, he reluctantly agreed to do it, and when I got there, from the look on his face, he was less than impressed with my shoulder-length hair and suede jacket. He had allocated me one hour. For the first 55 minutes, he said nothing more interesting than that fu’ba’, as he called it, was a team game and they all worked hard.

At this point, I think my concentration must have wavered. Liverpool – if that was indeed the name of his team – had just acquired a player called, I think, Steve Heighway who was a graduate. Naturally enough, I said I thought it must be so encouraging for the other players to be allowed to mix with their intellectual superiors and how it must lift the level of conversation in the changing-room. Or words to that effect.

Strangely, the man went mad. In fu’ba’,. he raged, if it was brains that mattered then you’d find people like him waiting outside Oxford and Cambridge to sign up all these shithead intellectuals, but it wasn’t, because in fu’ba’ you had your brains in your boots… I tell you, he really was quite cross and he went on for quite a while in a similar vein. As I left I heard him snarl: ‘Who’s that fuckin’ cowboy?’ I think it was the jacket he took against.

Oddly enough it got on the Mirror spread and everyone said it was the best interview he’d even given, which just goes to show you can’t beat ignorance and stupidity.

At times of stress, I thought, celebrities would be grateful for a light quip to cheer them up. Wrong again. When a magazine – I think it was the MoS YOU mag – sent me to see Elaine Paige, it was at a time when she was breaking up with a famous chap who I will not name. I will not name him because it was a condition of the interview that I should not, under any circumstances, mention any very tall song-writers of public school background who loved cricket and who were ever so slightly married. It was absolutely forbidden. So of course I didn’t. It would have been unethical.

However, when I came to write it I did mention Trim Ice, Eric Mit, Ric Time, and Ci Mitre, for the pleasure of any anagram fans. Elaine (or El Anie, as I came to think of her) was not pleased. Another star interview I’d cocked up.

When I got back from interviewing my great childhood hero, I was shaking so much I could hardly type a word. He was Joe Louis, sometime boxing heavyweight champion of the world, but by now a sadly reduced figure, in Britain to do a question-and-answer session in night-clubs.

It was heart-breaking, because by this time he was stumbling, mumbling wreck who was being humiliated by scoundrels for profit. And – as I had learned in my early years reporting the Ladies Happy Hour – the true journalist would never flinch from exposing wickedness, and wasn’t I the boy to do it?

I shared a taxi with him afterwards, Joe’s hulking shape on my right, and on my left a man with a broken nose and an East End accent and eyes that didn’t blink nearly as often as they should. Although they were both big blokes, I felt there was nothing to feel nervous about: after all, they had no doubt noticed by my own finely-tuned ten-stone of whipcord and muscle. Then the Londoner, who said he was helping Joe out, expressed the hope that whatever I wrote it wouldn’t reflect poorly on his friend. I think the phrase was ‘make Joe look an arsehole.’ I spoke up cheerfully for the freedom of the writer to express his opinions. The Londoner looked down at his broken knuckles, sniffed and said he personally would be distressed – again, I think the actual words were ‘fuckin’ pissed off’ – if that were so.

As I squeezed out of the taxi, he shook my hand with a grip so firm that I couldn’t put my mascara on for a week. ‘The name’s Kray,’ he said. ‘But you can call me Ronnie.’

The piece I wrote was so boring it was never used. Thank God.

John Dempsie and I should’ve had a major hit when we were the first to dig out television chef Keith Floyd as his rise to fame was trembling for take-off. It was 10am when he opened the door his flat over his Bristol restaurant and his face was evidence of an evening well-spent. Although I had never seen him at his best, I felt sure this wasn’t it. Fresh (if that’s the word) out of bed, he was wearing an old dressing-gown over his pyjamas and holding a shaky cigarette.

As we reminded him why we were there, he caught Dempsie’s Motherwell accent and cheered up immediately. ‘Ah, a Scot. I expect you’d like a glass of Glenfiddich…’

Ah well, it had all been going so well until then.

When I look back on it, these brushes with fame – other people’s fame, that is – have always ended in pain and failure. Does anyone remember a television show called ‘The Avengers’? It was centuries ago, back in the days when Callan weighed nine stone, Molloy’s only card game was Happy Families, and Peter Senn had a full set of teeth. I was sent to interview the glamorous female star, Honor Blackman, who came up with a snappy answer when I asked her how she’d got the role. However, the Yorkshire Post didn’t agree, refused to use it and gave me a bollocking. I still think: ‘Because I had the biggest tits’ was a good quote.

So when Ken Donlan, the Sun news editor, told me to get an interview with Bardot, I steeled myself for another humiliating farce. The occasion was, I seem to remember, her 45th birthday, and, long embittered by fame, she hadn’t given an interview for six years. In fact, she’d hardly been seen in six years. She’d begun to devote most of her time to animals. Over the next few weeks, I fired off several letters and phone calls. No response.

Ken Donlan insisted I should go to Paris. Well, it wasn’t my idea of fun but I went. I dashed off a hand-written letter emphasising my hatred of animal cruelty, seal-bashing, fox-hunting, gerbil-stuffing (she’d know about that from Hollywood), haddock-teasing, and included a photograph of myself with my children’s Airedale, Roly. I pushed it through her letter-box. Then I found an English freelance called Roger who was helping me with my researches into the effect of pastis on the Anglo-Saxon brain.

The next morning I was awakened by a call from her PA. Miss Bardot would see me at 11am.

Ken had selected me for this task because he’d heard I spoke fluent French. It was quite true, I did. I spoke only 14 words of French but each one was perfectly pronounced. I took Roger with me because, as a French-based freelance, he’d help with any language problems. And although her PA had specified no pix under any circumstances, he also had a small throwaway camera.

When she came into the room, we were both speechless in several languages. In those six invisible years, she’d flowered unseen. That careless moon-blonde hair was still piled above the perfect heart-shaped face, and the eyes… well, with eyes like that no wonder she loved baby seals. When she glided into the room in a sheath of cream cashmere, it was all moving, even the bits we couldn’t see. She smiled the smile of a woman who could read men’s minds, and she was right.

She sat down opposite me, legs together and elegantly slanted. We exchanged pleasantries. She was charming. I tentatively moved on to one or two harmless questions. Immediately she stood up and, with a gentle sway of the hips, left the room.

What had I done, for God’s sake? After six years, after all those letters, after all those phone-calls, I’d got into her house, it was all going beautifully, and now – whoosh, she’d gone. Somehow I’d blown it.

I was gathering together my recorder and note pad when she came back in. She was carrying a silver tray with three glasses and a bottle. ‘For such a charming Englishman, we have champagne, yes?’

I was saved, but only for the moment. As she lifted her glass to me, she said: ‘I get so tired speaking English. Now we speak in French.’

I looked at the freelance. Roger shrugged. ‘Haven’t got the hang of it yet,’ he said. For the next 90 minutes I worked every possible permutation of my 14 words, plus some truly excellent mime. Most of my own French, I could understand. Hers… well, all I can say is that she didn’t learn it at Skipton Grammar School.

She rose to her feet. Time up. All over. No, she said, Roger was not to take any pictures. Not even a photograph with me? Just for me?

Laughing, he slung herself down next to on the sofa, wrapped her arms round my neck and turned my face to hers. It was a kiss all right. Lips indubitably met and the after-shock travelled all the way down to my desert boots. I’m the last man to besmirch a woman’s reputation but I had the impression she’d done it before.

Then she was gone, and so were we, straight into the café across the road. I listened to the tape. I checked my notes. I dredged my memory for every last word.

Whether she’d actually given a good interview, I’m not so sure. But when I came to think about it, it seemed to me that she’d said some pretty good stuff. In fact, the more I thought about it, the better it got. By the time I left that café, I’d got enough for a pretty strong three-parter. If I’d stayed another hour or two, I think it would have made a five-parter.

And I think Brigitte would’ve been surprised at just how fascinating, how controversial, how frighteningly honest she’d been. It was one of the very few interviews that gained in translation.

I had that photo for years. I used to get it out to show colleagues. And friends. And family. And complete strangers in the street too. And now I can’t find it – the record of the only successful star interview I ever did.

Actually I lie. I did once have a goodish interview with Bernard Manning. But he didn’t kiss me, the big softie.

#

Dunne writing

By Peter Reece

What a joy it is to read any tale written by Colin Dunne. He is a fine and entertaining writer, a copper bottomed ‘wordsmith’ with an irrepressible sense of fun. Long ago – or so it seems now – I had the pleasure of occasionally sharing a desk with him at the Daily Mirror in Manchester.

If memory serves me correctly, I listened in total fascination one afternoon as Colin called the reception desks of any number of posh hotels with an inspirational idea.

Puritanical whims of acceptable sexual conduct still ruled the hotel industry when Colin dreamed up a tongue-in-cheek mission – to book a double bedded room, not for ‘Mr and Mrs Smith’, but for ‘myself and my secretary’.

He gathered a whole host of impolite knock-backs – plus an astonishing handful of totally outrageous acceptances – then crafted them together into a great feature piece. Oh how I wished I’d dreamed up that idea; it was brilliant.

And then there was the day we invented the world’s first Lawn Mower Grand Prix at Sale Cricket Club. Colin won with a finely tuned Qualcast Junior. His hairy little legs won through any number of heats before he finally defeated the super-fit DJ Jimmy Savile in the final.

I recall his intro to this day: ‘A funny thing happened to me on the way to the world’s first Lawn Mower Grand Prix… I won!’

This week I was entertained yet again by his erudition (sorry: no other word for it) of how he, and various mates, accidentally ended up as journalists.

Like Colin, I was never any good at maths and recall hopelessly trying to pass my GCE in geometry by the exclusive use of the Theorem of Pythagoras.

Pythagoras was familiar only because I had deduced he might be Greek and therefore cultured, and should probably rate alongside my real loves, Keats, Wordsworth and Ian Fleming. (I had already dismissed Hank Janson as a bit of a wanker, and devoted myself to Lady Chatterley instead.)

The examination paper didn’t actually contain a question even remotely connected with Pythagoras. This fact, and the possibility that I didn’t know much about his theorem either, probably explained my final award of 5% (I think I got my name correct). But oh how I wish I’d had the wit to ask: ‘5% of what?’

On the other hand, my sexual schooling was nothing short of a master class. It was provided in-depth and often by a young lady called Janet. In fact all the lads spoke highly of her.

I stumbled into working life with a short but distinguished career in the RAF. Rather sadly, by accidentally damaging my eye-sight during training, I automatically excluded myself from any hope of becoming a Spitfire ace or air crew of any kind.

I was offered the opportunity to buy myself out for £50 and ended up standing to attention before RAF Halton’s station commander. He demanded to know what I proposed to do with my life in voice which pre-supposed that any existence outside the Royal Air Force was unlikely to be up to much

Totally lost for words, I heard myself declare: ‘I’m going to be a journalist sir.’ It was sometime later that I set my mind to wondering where that daft idea had suddenly popped up from.

It was a thought that led me to the office door of the Nantwich Guardian, where they reluctantly took me on as a trainee.

One condition was that I must live in the town itself. It was rule intended to immerse parochial market town life into the human soul and, presumably, to flow naturally into any written story. I lived in another market town 10 miles away and considered my soul to be in fine fettle already.

So was my liver. My weekly wage was £11.50 and the outlay of £4 for digs in a cheap working men’s hostel was to my mind an intolerable expense – particularly so in light of the high price of alcohol. It was an irresolvable issue that became a thorn in side of the editor, Geoff Nulty, and even more so to his head office colleagues at Warrington.

It was further aggravated by the fact I had daily use of a pea green Ford Prefect, albeit the property of my mother.

Cub reporters were expected to gather the truth on foot. Any travel extravagance should be confined to a bus and my use of a car was considered an unforgivable heresy.

Which was all very well, until a protracted rail strike totally disrupted the daily flow of copy from the numerous district offices to the print works in Warrington.

Problem solved… I was invited to spend my days touring the Guardian empire collecting copy in the very car they hated me having. Head office was suddenly delighted.

There was just one fly in the ointment. It was company policy, chiselled in stone, not to pay car allowances in any circumstances, rail strike or not.

They came up with the most mystifying compromise: they would pay me the equivalent to a third class rail fare.

I left the Nantwich Guardian and set off for the rival Sandbach Chronicle in search of another job and sanity.

I didn’t last long there either. Within a couple of weeks I broke an exclusive story concerning one of the most revered scientists of the day, Sir Bernard Lovell. The urban spaceman was about to reveal plans for a second giant radio telescope at Jodrell Bank, and this was big news in those days. Quite recklessly, it later emerged, I actually engaged the great man in conversation about it.

My story made the splash in the Chronicle and was followed up by every national. The Congleton based editor-in-chief was not best pleased.

Who the **** was this cub reporter with the temerity to cobble up such an important story without breathing a word of it to him first?

In the ensuing row his final act was to fire me. He seemed to take exception to being described by a term that foreshortens the word vagina by some measure.

I think it was the only time I topped my old pal Ian Skidmore in any arena of journalism. I decided all by myself that I was totally unemployable. Skid needed to be told. I have been freelance ever since and never regretted it for a moment.

This, in an ideal world, is how Gentlemen Ranters is supposed to work.

Somebody – pick a name out of the air, say Liz Hodgkinson who used to work for the Sunday People – writes a piece that might be as unlikely as a report of a competition about a reader’s best experience of drinking a cup of tea.

This prompts one of the Ranters – oh… think remote… somebody like Phil Finn (who used to work for the Daily Express), to remember when a cup of tea got him a scoop in, just bear with me, I am letting the imagination run riot, here… but let’s say in… somewhere totally daft, like Brazil.

That happened last week.

And the next thing that happens is that Phil’s piece prompts Andy Rosthorne (Daily Mail) off his bum and onto the keyboard because he remembers the other end of the story that Phil had gone to Rio to chase.

And, prompted by Ian Skidmore’s recollections of Mike Gabbert and Ken Graham, Andy Leatham remembers a long-forgotten phone call to the office.

Meanwhile David Baird (Yorkshire Evening News and old Sun) remembers a tale about when Phil Finn was doing sport in Doncaster and discovered that you could write a cricket report just as easily from the scorer’s book as you could by sitting there and watching it.

It could never happen, of course.

Not, at least, in real life.

…Unless you remember, as I do, a piece on Geoffrey Mather’s website (http://www.northtrek.plus.com/) about Neville Cardus writing a match report from the scorebook and somebody reading it and saying that he couldn’t possibly have been there, and Cardus saying no, but he felt like he had.

You couldn’t make it up. But then, we rarely had to.

Here’s Garth Gibbs with a thong in his heart, Geoffrey Seed being a superfluous legman for Vincent Mulchrone, Don Walker explaining what made comps the way they were, and Ken Ashton coming to grief with copy takers.

And… NEXT WEEK we will have Wendy Henry meets Princess Michael of Kent. Talk about a triumph for computer dating…

#

What the paps say

By Garth Gibbs

Princess Anne’s daughter Zara was standing on the perimeter of a polo field in Gloucestershire, fixedly staring through a pair of binoculars. What had caught her attention was a group of snappers lurking in some trees on the other side of the field. It was clear that she was by no means enthusiastic about their presence.

She was watching them and they were watching her. They had a better view. They had longer lenses.

‘What is she looking at?’ asked one of the cameramen.

‘Us. She doesn’t look happy.’

‘I wonder why.’

‘She’s probably still pissed off that somebody tried to photograph her changing in her horse box.’

‘Yeah, but that was slightly exaggerated. And the story that we were trying to get her in a thong was not true.’

‘A thong! Zara in a thong! Wow! Can you imagine what that will be worth…’ A pause… ‘It would pay for all this gear in one hit.’

It is every snapper’s dream. One super shot and then rolling in the syndicated loot. That has already happened to some of the snappers outside William and Harry’s nightspots.

But it is not an every day – or rather, every night – occurrence. The paparazzi – some prefer to be called freelance photographers or candid cameramen – need frequent hits to remain going concerns. Having to pay for all the equipment does concentrate the mind.

The initial cost for paps starting out today is between £15,000 and £25,000 – plus transport. He or she needs at least two digital cameras, flash guns, tripods, long lenses, super long lenses and lap tops. A pap also needs more patience than an angler along the banks of The Thames and what he or she needs most of all is a thick skin. All agree that though £15,000 to £25,000 sounds a lot it is cheaper than going to university and, if successful, can recoup the outlay much more quickly.

The word Paparazzo is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as a ‘freelance photographer who pursues celebrities to take their picture’.

The word was first used in director Federico Fellini’s great 1960 movie, La Dolce Vita, which starred Anita Ekberg. Author and film buff William Hall says: ‘The film provided a sensational view of the decadent, sweet life of Rome society as seen through the eyes of media man Marcello Mastroianni. In the movie Marcello loathes the degradation around him but seems incapable of extricating himself from the glitter of the Via Veneto and the allure of uninhibited orgies.’

(In the case of Anita Ekberg, making the movie was somewhat ironical. She had some real-life run-ins with the paps of Rome. She finally flipped over the flash-guns and one day rushed back into her hotel and came out with a bow and arrow. Yelling ‘My ancestors were Vikings’ she let rip, scoring treble bulls eyes – on a flash gun, a camera, and then a photographer. The police had to sort out the mess.)

London’s first proper paparazzo was undoubtedly Mr Ray Bellisario. He is said to have disliked the Queen’s family. This may or may not be true. What is certain is that they disliked him with a vengeance, particularly so Prince Philip. Deeply frustrated, Philip pleaded with the Queen, ‘Can’t we make an exception? Can’t we send him to the Tower?’

She shook her head, ‘Not any longer, dear.’

Ray used to go for long walks down the Mall, pushing a pram, and keeping his eyes peeled for any royal who may have strayed out of the palace or a royal nanny wheeling a push chair. Like a boy scout, he was always prepared. For inside the pram he was pushing was not a wee baby but a wee old fashioned 35mm camera with a long lens.

One of Bellisario’s big early scoops was at Windsor Great Park. He got a tip off that Prince Charles and Princess Margaret used to go water-skiing at Virginia Water on summer weekends. So one night Ray climbed up a tree and sat and waited. His patience paid off. He got a sensational series of shots of Charles clowning around on the water, one hand gripping the ski rope and the other holding a chair behind him, giving the impression he was skiing sitting down.

And then there was Princess Margaret, skiing in a wet suit, the sort of pictures never before seen of the royal family. They were sensational and were splashed across the pages of Paris Match and other foreign magazines. Bellisario is also said to have taken a picture of a topless princess frolicking on honeymoon on the lawns of Balmoral Castle.

He drove Prince Philip potty. In fact the Duke of Edinburgh became really paranoid about Bellisario and started checking out all the suits of armour in the various palaces. He wouldn’t pass a suit of armour without flipping open the visor to see if Bellisario was lurking inside. At the time Philip went around growling, ‘I’ve got a reputation for being nasty to photographers – bloody nasty if they poke a long lens through a keyhole into my private life. I don’t mind photographers doing their job as long as they stick to their designated place.’

Steve Wood, who never ever sticks to any designated spot, says: ‘If you stay exactly where you’re put and take the shots that please the establishment – you won’t make any money. Pictures that please the establishment don’t please picture editors.’

About the time Bellisario was winding up Prince Philip over here, a Russian called Ivan Kroscenko was making ripples in Rome. He was one of the first paparazzi to patrol the eternal city’s hot spots in a souped up scooter. Ivan practised photography much as the gunslingers of the west practised their quick draws. As he put it: ‘I keep my shutter finger in trim by drawing my camera and photographing coins, which my friends throw in the air, dead centre before they hit the ground.’ What Ivan also practised was ducking out of the way of kicks, bottles, upper cuts and Anita’s flying arrows.

Probably the most famous set of pap pictures in recent times apart from Princes William and Harry was the Duchess of York on holiday with Johnny Bryant. They were taken by a very smart snapper – (no, that is not a contradiction in terms) – a French guy called Danielle Angeli.

Angeli used to keep a close watch on a lonely little airport on the Cote d’Azur between Nice and Monaco, much favoured by big wigs who really did want privacy. He had a good contact in the hangars, too, who one day tipped him off that Fergie had arrived with some bloke who didn’t look like Prince Andrew. Angeli drove to the airport and sauntered over to the Hertz desk, where Fergie had hired a car. He told the receptionist he was with the Duchess of York’s party and was supposed to join them but he had lost the address of the villa. She went away to check and told him. He found the villa and spent the rest of the day checking out the surroundings. He found a dirt road leading up to a forest that overlooked the villa. In the next few days Angeli shot 90 rolls of film. He would camp out in the forest, wander down the road for a long French lunch and then in the afternoon go back to improve on the shots. No one saw him. And Fergie never knew she had been photographed – until the pictures appeared everywhere.

Angeli also got wonderful photos of the Pope going for a swim – wearing red socks. Every morning Vatican security would arrive at the pool, check it out and then go away so the Pope could swim in private. Angeli watched this and then one evening fitted some CCTV cameras inside the complex. He hired a villa next door and sat there watching his closed circuit screen. When the security guards had left and the Pope came wandering down (in his red socks) Angeli climbed up a ladder and started shooting away.

Alas, the deaths of Princess Diana, Dodi Fayed and the chauffeur Henri Paul in Paris have taken a toll on the paparazzi. There are far fewer at work in France because of that tragedy and the country’s tough privacy laws.

Finally some good news for all the paps out there. Some time ago a Philadelphia scientist, one Joseph Resnick, announced he had invented an electronic Paparazzi Stopper. The device, he said, could be clipped to a cap, necklace or jacket lapel and is triggered by a photographic flash, sending back a flash of its own and ruining any unwanted film. He arranged a demonstration but it didn’t work, of course. As Einstein could have told him: one light beam can never overtake another light beam.

#

 

 

Welsh rare bits

By Geoffrey Seed

I was hired as a hack on the Daily Mail in Manchester by Ken ‘nasty cop’ Donlan in 1969 and later that year, assigned by news editor, Bill ‘nice cop’ Dickson, to be Vincent Mulchrone’s runner at the investiture of Prince Charles at Caernarfon Castle.

‘Mr’ Mulchrone was to write the Mail’s big scene-setting colour piece and my role was to do his bidding, whatever that might be.

For a menial tyro like me, condensation running behind my ears, it was going to be an honour simply to be at the Great Man’s side.

At exactly 11am as ordered, I knocked on his hotel room door. A stentorian voice bid me enter the presence. He sat at a dressing table-cum-desk, immaculate in a tailored grey suit, silvery hair swept back, more bank manager than priest but reassuringly ready to sup with dukes or dustmen or whoever the day might bring.

‘Mr Mulchrone, I’m Geoffrey Seed and I’ve been told to assist you in any way I can.’

An affectionate and generous smile spread across a face that had been everywhere, seen everything.

‘My dear boy! How kind of you but I have everything I might want right here.’

He waved his magician’s hand over the props before him – three packs of Passing Cloud cigarettes, a bottle of Scotch and a two shilling guide to the town of Caernarfon.

‘Now you run along and enjoy yourself. I shall be perfectly all right.’

And so it came to pass that a brilliant piece duly appeared, conjured out of the air in that little hotel room. I hadn’t been needed after all.

Some days later, myself and Gordon Priestley – a nervy, perfectionist Mail photographer – got inside Caernarfon Castle by dint of our innate boyish charms and rat-like cunning.

Taking pictures within the Castle before the investiture was embargoed if not absolutely forbidden. But Gordon and I found ourselves schmoozing the Queen’s brother-in-law, Anthony Armstrong Jones, who’d designed the set.

Gordon clicked away covertly in barely suppressed excitement then we scooted back to the Mail mobile dark room with our exclusive. The big decision would be whether the Mail was prepared to risk official displeasure by breaking the embargo for the sake of Gordon’s terrific pictures.

He left his negs with the printers and, if memory serves, went for a deserved long-ish lunch to celebrate while I awaited further instructions about words.

But alas and alack, never underestimate the gods of hubris and their malignant trickery.

Gordon returned only to find his negs had been accidentally left in developer all afternoon. Each of his pictures was ruined save one showing Armstrong Jones and me with the great ceremonial dais still being worked on under the castle turrets. Unfortunately, the chemicals had given me a panda-like black eye so even that shot was barely unusable.

GeoffSeed2

Nevertheless, Gordon wired it. It didn’t make, of course. I think I’ve got the only copy – a memento of the scoop that never was.

  • Geoffrey Seed (Daily Mail 1969-74) was an investigations producer with World in Action, Channel 4, Panorama and ITV, specialising in crime and politics from Belfast to the Balkans and beyond.

#

Horny handed sons of toil

DonWalkerBy Don Walker

‘If they’d invented computers first, Don,’ Tom Harrison, the comp’s FoC, once said to me as we wrestled with New Technology, ‘we’d be on hot metal by now and it would work better.’ Fanciful logic, maybe. But, the laws of physics aside, who says technological advances have to come in any particular order?

The greatest single advance in newspaper technology, publishing and subsequently global literacy came in the 19th century when Mergenthaler invented the Linotype.

But there was a far better machine before it. The Paige Compositor could set type as fast as four men working at once; unlike the Linotype, it could produce entire words in one go, not just letters. This wonder of the age, this Holy Grail of publishing was the work of an American machinist called James Paige.

His machine so wowed experts of the time that fortunes were poured into its development – notably by author Mark Twain. Twain was no lightweight investor; he owned newspapers and had set his own first articles by hand from a fount case. He knew the business.

Unfortunately, the Paige Compositor was just too complicated. The perfectionist inventor was always promising a completion that never came. Huge investment went down the drain and Twain himself was bankrupted and brought to the very edge of ruin by it. He alone lost the modern equivalent of four million dollars.

There is one Paige Compositor still in existence. It consists of 18,000 moving parts and no-one has ever dared to take it apart for fear of being unable to put it back together. Ironically, it was purchased by Mergenthaler’s company and sits in the basement of one of Twain’s former homes…

But back to my compositor friend’s amusing observation.

Running through his bon mot like an iron thread was a sadder undertone, a plea for mercy. Both of us knew that his day, that of the printer in national newspapers, was finished barely three-quarters of the way through the Twentieth Century.

By the time of New Tech on the Mirror in the 1980s, I had worked with comps and hot metal for more than 30 years. True, I had adapted to photo-setting and bromide paste-up on the feverishly up-to-date Reading Evening Post in the 1960s. But hot metal ran in my blood and didn’t really believe in anything else. It got the job done.

I could read a page in relief fluently, I knew what kerning, a beard, a dab and a turned comma were and was at ease with the printer’s mark for delete, upside down and close up. I knew what Off Its Feet meant and that type height was the same as a shilling.

By my mid-twenties I also thought I had got used to comps’ rough manners and their contempt for ‘bloody editorial’ and could ‘handle’ any horny-handed inky and get the best out of him.

Then I came to the Mirror.

I had never met comps like this. Halfway through a vital page a union official would come round and tell the comp: ‘You’re on break.’ The man would not be allowed to touch another line; I would be left staring at a menacing deadline while an overseer looked at me miserably. There was nothing either of us could do.

Comps would stop work after uttering phrases like:

‘Are you having a pop? Right that’s it, this page is blacked.’

‘I’ve been told to go and move my car.’ (Even if the comp had come to work by train.)

‘The committee man [union official] has told me to slow down – I’m working too fast.’

Often the final correction for a page was waiting on the random (the area where all set type was assembled) but there was no comp available to walk this tiny piece of metal two yards to the page. There it would sit and sit and sit.

If a journalist even thought about picking it up and handing it to the comp there would be no Daily Mirror the next day.

As we staggered daringly towards New Technology the rules became fiercer. One day I was standing with my hands behind my back (I knew where my hands belonged) reading a paper proof. A comp came up with a malevolent look on his face and turned over the page that was under my nose so it was blank side up. It was a printer’s proof – not for Bloody Editorial to look at.

In Orbit House, journalists were actually banned from standing on certain parts of the carpet that had replaced the old composing room’s cement floor. These were comp’s areas…

There was, of course, much rough fun to be had. Many compositors were highly intelligent and gifted men; their artwork and scatological poems adorned the walls and were often better than the stuff Bloody Editorial turned out.

I first saw that joke about the editorial policies of the various nationals on a poster in the composing room. You know the one:

The Times is read by the people who run the country.
The Daily Mirror is read by the people who think they run the country.
The Guardian is read by the people who think they ought to run the country.
The Morning Star is read by the people who think the country ought to be run by another country.
Sun readers don’t care who runs the country as long as she’s got big tits.

Coarse humour prevailed mainly because it was a men-only society. The random was often run by a comp whose name I think was Wally. He had the most pronounced limp of any man I have ever seen: he actually disappeared behind the random when he went down on his shorter leg, only to reappear as he came up on his good leg.

He always wore a pristine white apron and his sole conversational gambit was:

‘You can suck my stump!’

‘Wally, has that legal mark turned up yet?’ – ‘You can suck my stump!’

‘Wally, where’s the page five lead?’ – ‘You can suck my stump!’

‘Wally…’ Well, you get the idea.

The first time I saw a woman on the composing floor (it was Judy Moran in the 1970s, just for the record) I was actually shocked. It was like seeing a polar bear sitting on the Front Bench of the House of Commons.

And among all this madness were the geniuses. George Apps, God bless him, ignored all the utterances of the union men and did his thing. He was so skilled that they gave him two or three pages at a time. He often did the front alongside the back.

To see him chamfering rules and pouring sticks of type into a page brought tears to the eyes of even hardened stone subs. It was like watching Yehudi Menuhin playing the Bach Chaconne. Not a quaver dropped, not a vibrato missed whatever the pace.

I had been a writer on the Mirror for nearly ten years when I went back to subbing. I joined the Close-Up page with Callan, Bradbury and Bonnett. They presented the new boy with floods of copy then went to the pub.

I hadn’t the faintest idea what the fuck I was doing.

I turned up on the stone like a dishevelled asylum seeker after ten hours on the underside of a transcontinental lorry hoping for somewhere warm, a nice cup of tea and mercy.

I wasn’t getting any.

I met Charlie Fountain for the first time that evening. It was like Saladin meeting up with Richard Lionheart. It wasn’t going to end with Pina Coladas and making love at midnight.

‘What the fuck is all this?’ said Charlie, indicating the vast number of galley trays on the stone beside the empty forme for Close-Up. I had sent the paper storm down to be set exactly as it had arrived on my desk. Don’t ask me why I hadn’t trimmed it. Sheer panic on the first day of the job, I suppose. There was a lake of it the size of the Serpentine waiting to go into a half page.

Charlie was a little terrier of a man, a comp of the old school. He feared no-one despite his size and would bollock comps, journos, overseers and union officials alike if he thought them incompetent or time-wasting.

I’m no giant myself, but Charlie had under-estimated me that day. I was punching my weight and boy was I smokin’.

‘DON’T fucking start!’ I roared. ‘I’ve had a shithole of a day and all I need is some prick like you giving me a hard time!’

The whole composing room fell silent. They had never heard anything like it. If Judy Moran had walked in naked at that moment no-one would have noticed. Someone had shouted at Charlie!

Charlie stood looking at me for a full 30 seconds. Then with a sour expression of disbelief mixed with disgust at the rubbish he had to work with, fell silently to work putting right my incompetence.

The floor went back to a busy hum.

Turned out it was the right approach at that time, though I have always regretted it. Ever after that we got on very well and Charlie would address me as ‘Mister Walker’ with a styptic hint of sarcasm.

Thank goodness, because Charlie was a genius at his job and could turn you out a tight page with everything fitted as you wanted in record time with no excuses. And any committee man who told him to stop work and go on break or move his car could… well, they could stuck his stump.

#

Just (sigh) changing paper…

ken4By Ken Ashton

‘Tonight, I saw the end of a legend…’ that was the intro to my report on the European Cup match between Ajax and Liverpool in December 1966. I still have the now fading clipping from the Sketch,

The intro has stuck with me, though the ending to this masterpiece of sports reporting never saw the light of day.

My introduction to sports writing started as a part-time Saturday afternoon job, phoning copy for staff men via the Tom Reynolds freelance agency in St Helens. I’d be handed their copy and would spend the afternoon phoning, dictating, half-watching. But it led me to a full-time job with Tom’s agency, Reynolds St Helens, and launched a career in the business.

You got to know the people at the other end of the phone, the blessed copytakers, hunched in little cabins around newspaper offices spending endless Saturday afternoons typing reports. Their little idiosyncrasies became familiar. You chatted about the weather, music, girls, families…anything to stave off the boredom they felt and you shared. And you worked as a team, at a mutually comfortable pace, with pauses when the copytaker needed a new sheet of paper. ‘Just changing paper…’

Some of these behind the scenes typists were real characters. Long before mobile phones and laptops made delivery of reporting a doddle, we knew how to coax a copytaker into taking just one more gem of an item. Some held a fascination.

A reporter who shall be nameless fell in love with the voice at one end of the phone and arranged to meet, only to discover the dulcet tones belonged to a spinster of some 64 years.

I think it was Colin Wood, the youthful faced sports writer with the Mail who told the tale of the clever clogs he had when he was reporting a European match from Everton. The phoning technique was to give clues and hints to the poor soul at the other end of the line, particularly in the spelling of a name. For example, Smith usual spelling, Smyth spelled out. Colin, if it was he, got through the Everton team, then began the Polish team with a twisty name, only for the copytaker to sigh ‘Usual spelling?’

One used keep interrupting me with ‘Are you making this up as you go along?’ Another would make sarcastic comments about the Manchester weather, northern players, northern ale and northern woman, not necessarily in that order.

But to the night in Amsterdam, when Liverpool lost 5-1 and a new star was born – Johann Cruyff.

It was Liverpool’s record European defeat on this night in 1966, losing 5-1 to Cruyff-inspired Ajax in the European Cup Second Round first leg tie at the fog-bound Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam, with Chris Lawler grabbing a last-minute consolation. The pitch was so foggy that manager Shankly was even able to wander on to give instructions to half-back Willie Stevenson without the officials noticing him!

The Dutch telecoms people had miscalculated the number of phones needed in the Press box and four or five us ended up with beer crates as tables on the terrace. What a viewpoint. The fans nearest the pitch relayed what was happing in it and we writers saw occasional flashes of coloured shirts.

After I’d struggled through 100-word bursts every 15 minutes, the copytaker, Andy, a West Ham fan, couldn’t hide his mirth. Every goal was received with, ‘Having a good night are we?… Liverpool playing well?… Are you sure you’re at the match?’

I must point out at this stage that this was shortly after three West Ham players – Moore, Hurst and Peters – had won the World Cup, beating Germany in the final.

Andy was eager to keep reminding everybody of this. I walked back to the Hilton Hotel with Norman Wynne of the People – we later went out on the town and were arrested, but that’s another story. Relaxing in the warmth of my 12th floor bedroom, I then wrote the final comment piece and got back to Andy, who was now tired, fed-up, longing to get home and not a Liverpool fan.

I started, ‘Tonight I saw the end…’ It rambled on from there, with only a few sighs and smirks from Andy, until he grunted, ‘Just changing paper…’ This was followed by ‘How much more of this crap is there?’

I bottled it. ‘You can end it there,’ I sighed. Copytaker one, sports writer nil. West Ham triumph.

#

Sticky wicket

By David Baird

Phil Finn’s recollections about his misadventures in Brazil stirred memories of an incident in a somewhat less exotic location, when he worked for the South YorksEvening News in Doncaster. Phil usually covered Doncaster Rovers but in summer he was expected to file reports from one of the local cricket grounds. It was not a task he much appreciated as on Saturday afternoons he preferred to take the earliest train possible to the bright lights of London. So he made arrangements with the club secretaries to phone in the scores for him.

All went well until one Saturday when, at about 2pm, Stanley Houghton, the feared editor, called reporters and instructed: ‘Finn’s covering Grimethorpe’s needle match with Denaby Main, isn’t he? Well, the next time he calls in, put him through to me.’

Stanley was not a man to mess with – and he had obviously caught on to the Finn strategy.

This was a crisis. How to get hold of Phil? I was despatched to Doncaster railway station and sure enough there he was calmly waiting for the London train.

‘This is an emergency!’ I told him. ‘Call Stanley at once!’

Phil’s cherubic countenance blanched. But he kept his head. He squeezed into a phone box and called the office. When he was put through to the editor, Stanley asked him some inconsequential question, then inquired about the game.

‘Interesting match, Mr Houghton. The pitch is in perfect condition, Grimethorpe won the toss and are batting first,’ reported Phil, with remarkable sang froid – at precisely the moment when the station announcer boomed out: ‘The 2.45 for Kings Cross is now arriving at Platform 3. The 2.45 for London Kings Cross…’

Desperately, Phil covered the receiver with his hand. Did Stanley hear the announcer? Possibly, but he gave no indication, and minutes later Phil was on the train to London.

Later he went off to Manchester and New York, covering events of somewhat greater magnitude. No doubt that, after working on the News under a demanding editor like Houghton, it was a piece of cake. When you’ve toiled amid the miners’ clubs and coal tips of South Yorkshire, you can handle googlies and anything else that’s thrown at you.

#

Rare as Ken’s teeth

By Andrew Leatham

Ken Graham may have presented a gruff, tough face to the world but underneath he was a kind and thoughtful individual. The stories about him are legion but this is one of my favourites…

It was my very first morning on the Sunday People, back in 1970-blank and I answered the telephone in the newsroom.

‘Is Ken Graham in yet?’ a man asked.

Not knowing to whom the voice belonged, nor what Ken’s whereabouts where, I played safe.

‘Not yet. Can I help?’

The voice went on: ‘It’s Arthur at the Royal Oak. Will you tell him I’ve got his teeth?’

Now, we’ve all taken odd calls but this one was shaping up to be the most odd ever.

‘Sorry. Can you say that again?’

‘I’ve got his teeth. He was in here last night and he took ’em out and put ’em on the end of the bar. Said they were interfering with his drinking. Well, he was a bit pissed when he left and he forgot ’em. So if you can just tell him that they’re here with me…’

And so it was that my introduction to a toothless Ken ‘Knocker’ Graham was to pass on from Arthur what still remains one of the strangest and funniest messages I have ever taken.

‘Thanks,’ muttered Knocker. ‘I thought that’s where they must be.’

#

Pendlebury was here

By Andrew Rosthorn

Scooped by Phil Finn in Sao Paulo and Madrid, the Mail hit back in Lancashire.

They sent me to join that supremely well-connected crime reporter James Stansfield on the doorstep of the stricken mother in Walton-le- Dale, near Preston.

The house was easy to find.

In those days you kept a weather eye open for a dark blue E-type Jaguar. It was owned, driven, and parked near the big jobs, by the Mirror’s Ted Macauley.

We were not alone. The huge Manchester pack of those days was beginning to swarm around an Accrington brick semi.

I remember thinking that unless our formidable news desk, organised by Ken Donlan, had a better plan, there would be, as they say in Liverpool, nothing down for us.

But in those days, aboard our tight ship, we sailors left the navigation to the men on the news desk: Bill Dickson, Tony Hoare and Malcolm Long.

Sitting on Accrington bricks on the garden wall, Jim and I composed the traditional grovelling letter, promising the family a hassle-free end to their media ordeal.

I don’t think we had an envelope, so I carefully lifted the letter box flap to avoid our scruffy offer being further mangled on delivery.

It gave me a free peep into the lobby of the besieged semi.

The first thing I saw was a man’s hand.

Behind the green door someone was waiting for our letter.

He held it for a moment, as I held open the letter box flap. Then he pushed it back in my face, returned to sender with a new message scrawled below my signature.

‘Go away. I am inside – Harold Pendlebury.’

The penny dropped fast.

So Jim and I had been part of a deception plan, hatched by an invincible news desk.

Naturally we followed our orders and went away to consider our position – over halves of Thwaites bitter, I think.

###

Garth Gibbs finds Chalkie White, but doesn’t claim his fifty quid.

Ian Skidmore finds Jess Yates, a penniless recluse, living in a mansion.

Liz Hodgkinson finds twins, and then has to find the office lawyer.

The special branch finds Geoff Seed.

Peter Reece discovers Wendy Henry, before she became editor of The People.

Alastair Campbell remembers Richard Stott, who edited The People, and the Daily Mirror, both twice.

Colin Dunne reveals the simple rules of freelancing.

Joe Mullins writes a letter (top right).

Inspector Watts rants about language to Dr Syntax (click at top left).

Er… that’s it.

 

 

The man who made spectacles

skiddy2By Ian Skidmore

I left the Daily Mirror when I was thirty, moved to Chester and retired while I was still young enough to enjoy it. Alas, I fell in with a group of racing men, book makers and professional gamblers and, as a result, the next ten years were passed, in the words of Lord Rochester, ‘in a mist of perpetual revelry’.

The swinging sixties swung right over my head and I cannot remember a single thing about my retirement.

It ended abruptly when I was forty and met my wife and her family of High Achievers. In self defence, I became an author and broadcaster.

Which is how I came to meet Jess Yates, who was born in a cave in Llandudno and grew up to be a brilliant organist, a legendary television performer, the most innovative programme maker in the history of the medium and a total disaster as a human being.

After World War II, West End cinema openings were spectacular occasions which all the stars attended. It was Jess who created the spectacles. For Cockleshell Heroes, a war film, he recreated a commando landing in the cinema foyer with all the noises of war. He organised circuses, mini Hollywood musicals, Arabian nights…

Inevitably he was snapped up by TV where his great achievement was a star studded show watched by millions called Stars On Sunday. Gielguid, Kitt, Olivier, a constellation of Hollywood and Ealing Studio stars not only appeared: they kept coming back. Which was a mystery because the show had a minute budget.

The secret was the contacts book Yates had made during his days producing West End spectaculars. He would ring a star and invite him or her to spend a day with him on a free Sunday. He offered a car to collect them, a slap up lunch, dinner and a night in a top class hotel.

And in return? ‘Sing me three songs or read me three extracts from the bible.’

Fee? ‘No fee. But,hey, what are you doing on Sunday anyway?’

Amazing, the number of stars who accepted his invitation. They would sing their songs, without rehearsal, Yates would tape them and drop a song in each of the next three programmes.

Yates’s fall from grace is a tragedy for another day. When I knew him, though, he lived in a mansion at Rowen in North Wales. He was a penniless recluse, unable to write the biography for which he had taken the publisher’s gold. I was hired to ease it out of him. It was an eerie experience. He would take you from the front door along a corridor and into a wardrobe which opened out into a palatial flat where he hid with his girl friend Anita.

The stars did not desert him. Eartha Kitt rang one day and invited him to take her for lunch at Porth Meirion, the smartest hotel in North Wales.

Unable to admit he was broke, he agreed, but warned Anita to say they were on a diet and to order only cheese biscuits and water.

Eartha innocently went through the card and, as Yates watched in agony, ordered champagne, oysters, fine wine and the house speciality. He knew the bill was going to be far more than the few pounds he had in his pocket. After the meal, during which he had nibbled at a biscuit and sipped at the house water, ravished with hunger he excused himself and went to the lavatory to count out his few pounds.

On the way he was stopped by the maitre d’. Yates sensed everything was over. He would be disgraced; the paper that had hounded him would have a field day. He was about to confess he couldn’t pay the bill when the manager interrupted him.

‘Mr Yates, we are so grateful to you for introducing Miss Kitt to our hotel. Of course, there will be no charge for the meal…’

#

Here’s Chalkie

By Garth Gibbs

Missing from Britain’s holiday resorts for more than a couple of decades, along with reliable summers, has been a beachcomber called Chalkie White.

For all you Johnny-and-Janie-come-latelies, Chalkie White was a character based on Andy Capp’s cartoon mate, a man more famous even than Pete Doherty, Amy Winehouse or Jade what’s-her-name.

He was known throughout the land as an easy touch for £50 in brand new fivers if only you could recognise him (his eyes were the giveaway) and could then utter the password of the day, i.e. ‘I’m right, you’re Chalkie White’.

Chalkie White (the idea) was born in Manchester where the Daily Mirror was big on promotions. In those days circulation departments were not allowed to throw quires of newspapers down mine shafts to boost sales or send them to the Channel Islands where they could be dumped in the sea and floated out to St Malo. Each copy had to be sold.

To help their circulation drive, the Mirror hierarchy in the north ran an ad in the Manchester United football programme which went something like, ‘Andy’s at the game but he’s lost his mate. Can you find Chalkie White?’

And you could, maybe, but only if you had a copy of the northern edition of the newspaper. There was a clue: a letter-box picture of Chalkie’s eyes.

Down in London, of course, they don’t rate many northern ideas that highly, and were amused at the presumption of this particular one. But adapted, for summer sales, it could be a runner…

So in the early seventies it was decided to go national with Chalkie White. After a while they found the right man: one Bill McFadzean, who was training to be a teacher and was something of a thespian in his spare time. Bill was known far and wide as Mac.

Mac was on his way to a wedding when John Jenkinson, the extremely popular Daily Mirror promotions boss, first tracked him down.

Says Mac: ‘Suddenly my grannie got a call and the following order, “Tell Bill McFadden to get off the train at Peterborough and to forget about the wedding. Tell him to go to the station’s Left Luggage office. There will be an envelope waiting for him. Inside will be a set of keys. In the car park he’ll find a Land Rover. Inside the vehicle will be further instructions”.’

The further instructions told Mac where to go. ‘He would arrange for envelopes to be waiting for me and assistants in various hotels, money for expenses and a fan of fivers to give away.

‘In those days you had to get people to buy the newspapers. You didn’t pick them for free with a cup of coffee in John Lewis.’

But there was an old tradition that helped the circulation departments: holiday makers bought three or four different newspapers as a matter of course. The great British public flocked to the great British beaches – crummy by today’s standards – and flopped into deck chairs. Then, as they patiently waited for the pubs to open, they read the newspapers while the children built sand castles, if they could find any sand.

Chalkie’s day was planned with military precision back in London. First the publicity men would go into action, saturating the chosen beach with publicity: you could win £50 if you could spot Chalkie White. But there was a catch, you had to have a copy of the Daily Mirror so you could see what he looked like, or, anyway, what his eyes looked like. Then gangs of newspaper sellers, some looking like remnants of Dad’s Army, others bored or broke senior citizens and many snide and punkish-looking schoolboys, started sweeping the chosen area with sales pitches. They got a penny for every copy of the Mirror they sold and some ended up making more than the £50 prize-winners.

Everything worked brilliantly in the beginning. But then the planners got cocky and careless.

Says Mac: ‘Sometimes we would turn up at places that used to be seaside resorts, but were now as deserted as a fourth division football match.

‘Some of the planners in London had never been beyond Watford and all they had for guidance was a map. You could visualise them pouring over an A to Z of England and saying, ‘Gosh, that curve on the map looks like a good spot. Let’s send Chalkie there.’

‘Once we were sent to Redcar, it’s like Middlesbrough without the class, and great if chemical fumes turn you on. In fact those two spots should be twinned with Chernobyl.

‘On another occasion they announced Chalkie White would be on the beach at Whitney on a given day. But there isn’t a bloody beach. There’s a harbour but no beach. Even the locals were confused. They were running around asking each other whether there was a beach somewhere that they didn’t know about.

‘But the worst was when we were sent to Ramsgate. On the morning we arrived there the Mirror front page announced that Ramsgate had the smelliest beach in Britain.

‘That really went down a treat. The poor bloke who was trying to organise the publicity for our arrival was almost lynched. He had to hide in a telephone box and yell for help.

‘When we arrived we were spotted by bunch of hicks who made it clear they did not wish us well. We were advised to leave the town at once.’

In the early days of Chalkie White, circulation reps would liaise with local agents so that when the citizens finally stirred they would be greeted with banners announcing: Chalkie White is here today.

The trick was to keep Chalkie’s identity a secret for as long as possible, so more newspapers could be sold. But this wasn’t always easy. In some of the towns, especially around Wales, if they see a stranger twice their eyebrows twitch and you’re nailed.

‘After a while you learn to more or less to stall getting caught. In the first two or three weeks you got nabbed as soon as you put your head out of the door,’ said Mac.

Towards the end of the eighties Chalkie White got bigger and bigger with a proliferation of T-shirts and hats emblazoned with slogans like ‘The Sun always shines on The Mirror’. Eventually it grew into a road show and, after the arrival of Robert Maxwell, evolved all the way into oblivion.

John Jenkinson says: ‘Chalkie White worked brilliantly, but it was not a totally original idea. It was nicked from the old News Chronicle. They had a Spot This Man competition just after World War Two and the man you had to spot was called was Lobby Lud. I wonder if anything like this would work today. Goodness me, the circulation departments would be ecstatic if it did.’

#

Spy story

geoffseedBy Geoffrey Seed

In those Life On Mars days of the early 1970s, hacks held their beer and toed the line if they wanted a place in the company of cops.

Only the trusted gained entry to those back street police drinking dens with discreet little snugs smoked yellow by tobacco, where the trade was gossip and the towels might not go on till the dawn.

Information was the currency in this freemasonry of detectives and anointed journalists. But the Bobbies ran the bank.

Not always, though. And that’s when it could get nasty.

‘Life on Mars’ was filmed around Manchester where I worked at the Daily Mail from 1969. Back then, I did gauche rather well.My attempts to drain pint after pint and pass as coherent and seasoned must have amused many a greybeard copper and crony reporter, propping up a favoured bar like mourners at a wake.

Some of my journalistic milk teeth got knocked out in the violence and tear gas at the start of Northern Ireland’s long night, waiting in McGlade’s or the Europa to attend the next bloody atrocity. Assassination, official deceit, political expediency… all this tends to corrupt the innocent, especially if one’s elders and betters say newspapers must sometimes hide the truth for a greater good.

But slowly and against the odds – long hair, counter-culture friends – I developed police contacts across the country. I could get names matched to car numbers, criminal records, leaked documents and once, even access to all the files on a contract killing being investigated by a detective who then passed out under his desk, drunk.

Within these ranks, I would come to encounter the foulest of racists, bullies and liars but the most decent of men, too – men who remain close to this day.

By 1974, I wanted out of the Tory Mail. Despite Charlie Wilson’s efforts to keep me, I joined Granada TV, hired by Gus Macdonald, a politically committed ex shipyard worker turned film-maker and the epitome of radical media chic.

My newsroom colleagues included Anna Ford – beautiful and talented and later to achieve national fame at ITN and the BBC. But for me, she was just the friend who acted as my go-between with the woman I would marry.

Years later, I discovered MI5 had a very different take on Miss Ford.

These were politically seismic times. A weakly led Britain was suffering the global oil crisis, transnational terrorism, inflation, devaluation, paralysing strikes – even rumours of a militaristic coup.

Viewed from the bridge of HMS Spook, the UK was headed for the rocks.

By 1975, I was set to join World in Action – arguably the most influential investigative current affairs show ITV ever had.

That summer, I attended a house party given by a female I knew who’d just made detective sergeant. Another guest button-holed me – an affable, savvy northerner, decent suit, mid thirties, more civilian than cop. I’ll call him Mr Kay.

When Mr Kay went to the loo, two people came across with a warning.

‘He’s Special Branch’ said one. ‘Go careful, keep your distance.’

I didn’t, of course.

Over the following weeks, I met him in various Manchester wine bars and pubs where licensing laws seemed not to operate. We talked widely and of politics. He feigned working class Labour sympathies. We discussed my fortcoming job at World in Action and a possible programme on neo Nazi groups.

I thought I was grooming a well placed new contact. But it was me being softened up.

In my naiveté, I didn’t realise this till our last boozy meet in the Midland Hotel. Mr Kay began appealing to my patriotism – how could we stop communists and extremists wrecking our country.

‘Do you want to live under such bastards?’ he asked. ‘’Cos I fucking don’t.’

Then came the deal.

‘Look, you want information, so do I. You give me what I want and I’ll give you stuff you want.’

So what did Mr Kay want?

‘I want to know about people at Granada’ he said. ‘The Lefties there, I’m interested in them.’

He named Trevor Hyett, a presenter on the nightly news programme, Granada Reports. Hyett, like many at Granada, was certainly of the Left. He was also in a personal relationship with Anna Ford.

If I’d been less of a rash young dope, I would have agreed to Mr Kay’s proposition then had us covertly filmed and recorded later for a World in Action special.

But I simply walked out and never saw him again. I felt so angry, so affronted that anyone could think I’d betray my friends. It all stank of the Stasi, of Eastern Europe’s secret police and the very totalitarian regimes Mr Kay said he opposed.

Another CID contact – no amateur corner-cutter himself – said Mr Kay always claimed me as his ‘Granada snout’ though to whom, I could never know.

It’s impossible to prove a negative. It was equally difficult to rid myself of feeling dirtied, almost violated. And I couldn’t tell colleagues for fear they’d always harbour suspicions about me in the future.

Journalism has always been excellent cover for spying. But what was asked of me was so personal as to be acutely offensive and with no discernable national interest.

I’m now aware of reporters who did take the Special Branch shilling then. I also know of another who escaped prosecution for perverting the course of justice following the direct intervention of his M15 handlers.

I chose the don’t-get-mad-get-even route to revenge myself on Mr Kay. In 1984, I got Channel 4 to give me development money to make a film marking SB’s centenary.

If he’d tried to recruit me, what else had his bosses been up to?

As I moled away, I picked up allegations of phone tapping, bugged meetings and SB informers high up in various unions.

It would also emerge that Trevor Hyett may have been targeted to get at Anna Ford for reasons I still don’t understand. When she first sought work at the BBC, her file was allegedly marked with a Christmas Tree – the symbol used by the Corporation’s vetters to indicate some sort of risk…according to the security services, of course.

It was nonsense and Esther Rantzen’s husband, the late Desmond Wilcox, had the veto overturned.

But my footprints weren’t going untracked.

Scotland Yard heard I was seeking confidential information from ex SB detectives. A superintendent was assigned to head an Official Secrets Act investigation.

I was tipped off and became very concerned. What SB didn’t know was my research had moved on from them to their masters at MI5.

I’d found Cathy Massiter – the first MI5 officer willing to go on television with a damning critique of the agency’s surveillance of trades unionists and organisations like the National Council for Civil Liberties and CND

She’d hinted at dissident views in a letter to New Society which only I – and the Daily Express’s legendary Harry ‘Chapman’ Pincher – appeared to follow up. He wrote to her. But I knocked her door. After making sure Harry’s communication was binned, I took her away for weeks of debriefing.

That’s how I learned, amongst many fascinating things, why Mr Kay tried to snare me. Faced with perceived internal threats in the early 1970s, MI5 ordered Special Branch to get more intelligence by recruiting new informants, not least in the media.

Having interviewed Massiter on camera, I then got further tips that SB were closing in. I had to protect her, at least till transmission. Her revelations, and those of my two other MI5 sources, undeniably broke the Official Secrets Act.

Channel 4’s lawyers said those directly concerned with the programme – including presenter, Hugo Young of The Guardian – could go to prison.

Late one night, our entire production – files, edit suite, personnel – was driven from London to the West Country home of friends of mine.

We went to ground till the show was cut, dubbed and ready for Channel 4. Given its legally contentious content, the Independent Broadcast Authority had to see it, too.

Needless to say, the IBA’s supine apparatchiks banned it, exposing a brave and honourable woman to the weight of the law while risking nothing themselves.

Channel 4 immediately sold the programme rights back to me and a colleague for £1.

Thus freed (or abandoned), we’d no choice but to go on the offensive – Westminster viewings for MPs (most of whom were sober), giving foreign TV interviews, selling scripts and, with the help of ex Pythons, Michael Palin and Terry Jones, showing cinema versions of the banned film.

We feared a Special Branch knock every day. But it didn’t come. The Government, bruised from earlier OSA cases against Sarah Tisdall and Clive Ponting, let it be known through the Lobby there’d be no prosecution this time.

The IBA then reversed its decision and MI5’s Official Secrets was broadcast. Ten years on, I could finally smile and raise an empty glass to Mr Kay… and whoever pulled his strings.

#

Wendy – ‘innocent at large’

By Peter Reece

In my day (membership of the Old Farts’ Press Club still available) contact with a press office was the very last place you would search for any crumb of information that might bolster the authority of an entertaining tale – and that particularly applied to press liaison with the police.

Press offices were in their infancy, and correctly considered the last refuge of hapless wimps.

Charlie Horan was head of Manchester CID, and drank like a fish with hard nosed detectives in a pub that never seemed to close, next to the city centre’s bleak Bootle Street headquarters.

Certain self-styled criminologists – particularly, Don Blankley of the Express, and ‘Detective Chief Superintendent’ Brian Crowther of the Mirror were also welcome at The Abercrombie. Recall any episode of Life On Mars and you have the picture.

Sadly, I was missing the day when Charlie stood on the pavement of some crime scene or other while he wondered what next to say about a mutilated corpse that was no more than a couple of yards away. Suddenly the attention of the assembled press was drawn to a cyclist peddling furiously up a steep hill towards them.

The exhausted young rider fell at Charlie’s feet and from the gutter issued the gasping and now immortal introduction: ‘I’m from the BBC.’

Hey-ho, those were the days – there were few rules of engagement and as long as you didn’t upset Charlie, his office door was always open. But God help you if you upset him.

Apparently I did. Charlie was also nominal head of Special Branch and on his shoulders fell responsibility for the security for any visiting VIPs, government ministers and, particularly, the rare appearance of royalty.

With royalty, one rule was sacrosanct – press folk never posed a direct question. It was a taboo and judiciously observed.

That was until the day I sent Wendy Henry to try and chase up a titillating Fleet Street rumour that concerned Princess Anne and her dashing Dragoon Guard hubbie, Mark Phillips.

I admit with enormous pride that I was the first to recognise Wendy’s talents as an aspiring reporter when many of my colleagues thought I was mad to employ a chubby little rag-tag, ill-dressed, militant Trotskyite who had once been arrested for throwing a bottle of milk at the prime minister of the day, Edward Heath.

And despite dire-warnings from various influential news editors (as in ‘influential’ to my income) that one day soon she would get me into serious trouble, I kept the faith until she became Fleet Street’s celebrated first female editor of a national newspaper.

However, on the day in question she was a raw and untutored talent and I should have known better than to send her to chronicle the royal progress of Princess Michael of Kent on a visit to Manchester.

Wendy came back with some fabulous quotes. From a task that was nothing more than a routine diary job she turned in an exclusive and very saleable tale. The story was being dictated to any number of national news desks when my telephone rang.

It was Charlie, with a curt and bellowed summons: ‘My office… NOW!’

I sprinted across the city to Bootle Street as fast as my frightened little legs could carry me. There I was given the biggest bollocking of my life.

On Charlie’s desk was Wendy’s Special Branch file which looked the size of a modest telephone directory, and he thumbed his way through it angrily.

Charlie’s authority was on the line and he was determined to give me a tongue lashing at least equal to, or in even greater measure than, the one he had just suffered at the hands of Scotland Yard, his own Chief Constable and the Royal Protection Squad.

What the f*** did I think I was doing employing Wendy Henry as a reporter in a responsible news agency serving all the nationals, radio and television, was the gist of his wrath.

He left me in doubt as to why. Wendy, then an innocent at large, had stepped through the crowds, dodged the grasping hands of the royal protection men, grabbed the Princess by the sleeve and clung on until she had answered any number of impolite questions on Princess Anne’s private life.

‘She was perfectly charming,’ said Wendy in her own defence and naive innocence. I knew she was lucky not to have been arrested for assault.

I gave Wendy a good bollocking too – much of it second-hand from Charlie, after solemnly promising the CID chief I would never allow Wendy on another Royal visit, or embarrass him again.

But then I retired to the pub to lick my wounds, throw down some Boddingtons and muse on one very satisfying thought: ‘That’s my girl!’

#

Man of the people

By Alastair Campbell

Richard Stott is the only person in my life of whom I can remember the first very words he said to me, and, sadly, the very last. The first, ‘are you the kid who hit Bob Edwards?’ followed by an offer of shifts on the Mirror. And the last, this time delivered with the knowledge he didn’t have long to live, and so without the usual Stott gusto – ‘take care old man.’

In between he was responsible for many acts of kindness and friendship, many moments of great fun, and many years of superb tabloid journalism.

That first meeting was in the early 80s in the White Hart, otherwise known as the Stab in the Back, whose transformation into a Pizza parlour is a rare blot on the otherwise unblemished modernisation of Britain under Labour. When then Sunday Mirror editor Bob Edwards came to visit the Mirror trainees, I was a bit the worse for wear and said with a playful tap on his cheek that if he had believed Revel Barker’s ‘Soviet troops to quit Afghanistan’ world exclusive that week, he would have put it on the front. By the time the rumour machine worked its way back to London, the story was that he had made a pass at Fiona and I had laid him out. Even on the more prosaic truthful version of events I was told my drunken joshing of a Fleet St legend meant I would never get inside the Mirror building.Another Fleet St legend in the form of R Stott came to my rescue.

I was in the Stab because Fiona was seeing Annie Robinson, then women’s editor, for an interview. As I waited for her, the door swung open and in stomped this loud, rotund character with red cheeks, a red scarf and a sidekick I later learned to be John Penrose. Being a trained observer Richard worked out the nervous solitary youth in the corner was I. He came over. ‘Are you the kid who hit Bob Edwards?’ By the time I had spluttered what in my later life I would come to know as a non denial denial he had bought me a large Scotch and offered me six weeks of shifts. My first big break.

Two words spring to mind in assessing what it was like working for Richard. Professional. And fun. ‘Bit of fun old man.’ It always was. He was of the old school of journalism, someone who lived by, rather than merely paid lip service to, the creed that facts are sacred and comment is free. He loved journalism because he loved life. To him both were a joyous roller coaster of interesting people, relationships and events. He loved life because he loved people. He fought for the good and loved to expose the bad. Especially Don Revie. God he loved doing that.

As for professional, amid the 24 hour blather that passes for modern political journalism, I am reminded of the time I wrote a rather sad Sunday for Monday trailing the Budget later in the week. ‘Have you seen the Budget?’ he asked. No, I said. ‘Then why are you writing this crap?’ Difficult to imagine a conversation like that in the ‘not wrong for long’ era of rolling news and the internet.

He could be stern when he had to be but it didn’t last long. I once filed that Jill Morrell, girlfriend of Beirut hostage John McCarthy, was going to stand for Labour in a by-election. It came from sources I believed to have certain knowledge. It was totally wrong. I felt sick and Richard knew it. He let me feel like that for a day or so then called me in and said: Hopefully you’ve learned a lesson. Now forget about it.

Then there was the story Bill Hagerty told at Richard’s funeral, when he felt district men Syd Young and Frank Palmer had too cushy a life in their patches and needed to be brought up to London to learn how it was done at the sharp end. So they spent a bit of time hanging around the newsroom, hours and hours in the Stab, lunch and dinner in fine restaurants, and two weeks living it up in the Tower Hotel, at the end of which Richard called them in, poured them a large one and said ‘now – let that be a lesson to you.’

Bill did a terrific tribute at the funeral and theirs was a strong friendship, rooted in work but also in their trips to Lords and the Oval with another of his closest friends and colleagues, John Jackson. The obituaries were nice, but I feel he would be annoyed that his prowess as a schoolboy boxer and cricketer was not properly acknowledged. He was, after all, selected to play for Clifton College at Lord’s. The trouble was that his dear old dad, who liked a few, proudly turned up and insisted on plying the teenage Richard with strong drink prior to play. As a result, Richard always insisted, he could see at least three different balls approaching, played the wrong one and was out for a duck. Of his trips to Test matches in later life, he always said being a spectator was preferable to playing because you could watch and drink at the same time.

My favourite definition of a friend is ‘someone who walks through the door when the fairweather people are putting their coats on to leave.’ Richard did that for me several times when I was in frontline politics, but above all in 1986 when I had a psychotic breakdown. He had been furious with me for leaving the Mirror to join Eddy Shah’s Today. But when it all went wrong, and I ended up in hospital with my career seemingly over before it had really begun, he saw me, told me I was in no fit state to work but, as soon as I was, I could have the first reporting job that became available. An act of kindness I will never forget. My second big break.

The third was to become a political reporter. Richard liked politics and liked many politicians. He may have exposed Ernie Marples’ various nefarious activities but did not despise him, as he did Revie for example. He always had a soft spot for Cecil Parkinson, though the Mirror led the way in the Sara Keays story. He shared my enthusiasm for supporting Neil Kinnock not just because he liked him and Glenys personally but also to balance up against the bile from elsewhere. When it became fashionable in the media not to like Derry Irvine and Peter Mandelson, Richard appeared to become more not less fond of them. He considered Derry a legal genius because of his advice in legal battles – victorious – with Reggie Maudling. He prided himself on having spotted Peter very early on and indeed gave him a column in The People which, as David Bradshaw once said, was the first column in history that was written by more people than read it. But again, Peter was someone who when things got tricky could always rely on Richard to be tough in his coverage, but true in his friendship.

My fourth Stott break came when I was no longer wanted under the Montgomery regime. He was by then at Murdoch’s Today and offered me a job again. As I record in my diaries, given how much he had given me, I felt terrible telling Richard I wanted to leave when TB asked me to work for him, but he understood there were some challenges that could not be ducked.

When it came to publishing extracts from my diaries, he was first choice as editor.We were well into it when he was diagnosed with cancer and he showed incredible courage in facing up to the illness and also never, no matter how ill, lost his enthusiasm for the project. He had two absolute obsessions towards the end. One, still to be here on the day of publication and he was – just. Second, to complete the task of writing what are called running feet, the few words at the bottom of each page indicating what the page is about. It meant doctors and nurses having to treat him surrounded by manuscripts. Towards the end, to save time he was texting me suggested changes. My favourite: “page 361 – let’s make it ‘News from the focus groups – Shagger Cook a hero’.” And if you turn to page 361, there it is.

He said to his doctor that the book – both the process and his enthusiasm for the content (particularly some of the stuff I kept out, which only he read) – kept him going longer than he might otherwise have done. I really hope so. His hand will be felt in future volumes too and I know he would approve of my choice of editor for the full versions, namely Bill Hagerty. I think he would have enjoyed the book being raised in evidence at the Diana inquest over the road yesterday.

Towards the end he was so weak and frail I think he found it hard to be seen by anyone but family and medics. So I was privileged that because of our work together, I had those final meetings with him. I never once heard self pity. Not once did he fail to deliver on agreedschedules. And I’d say one of the best moments of my life was the day the book was physically printed and I took a copy to him at home. He was so proud of his role in it. He just sat up in bed, holding it and looking at it. I never thought I’d make it, he said. I can’t tell you how much this means.

When I took him the American edition a few weeks later, he had just days to go. Effectively, he had been sent home to die. And that was when he said ‘Love to Fiona. Take care old man.’ I knew as I walked down the stairs it was the last time I would see him. Penny knew it too.

I want to close on Penny. Because you can judge a man by his work. And his multiple editorships, numerous reporting awards and quality commentating mean Richard passes that test with flying colours. You can judge a man by his character and again, his kindness, strength, decency and dependability see him pass that test too. But you can also judge a man by his family. He was incredibly proud of their children and rightly so. And he could not have had a more loving wife. Penny was extraordinary in those last stages of his life. Again I found it moving and a privilege to witness the love between them at such a dreadful time. It is very fitting that we are holding this celebration of his life in the church where they were married. Hers, Emily’s, Hannah’s, and Christopher’s is the greatest loss. The rest of us lost a great friend, boss or colleague. Journalism lost an enormous thumping heart, an honest fearless reporter and editor who believed life was for living to the full, who today would thank us for coming and want us to go out with fond memories of the past, great hopes for the future, and never forgetting ‘it’s all a bit of fun, old man.’

#

Double trouble

hodgkinsonBy Liz Hodgkinson

On my very first morning at the Sunday People as Pat Boxall’s assistant, the managing editor came in with an important-looking piece of paper: my contract of employment. It was a truly terrifying document. As well as stating my days off, my pay and expenses entitlements, it said that I was to be available for big investigations and exposures, not just fashion and women’s page features.

So it looked as though I was actually going to have to sweat blood for this money, not just swan around the fashion wholesalers, as I had thought. It was clear from my terms of employment that the paper didn’t really want one of its precious staff places to go to a poncy fashion and woman’s page writer – they wanted an all-round professional, which I most assuredly was not. My background had been in lighthearted women’s page articles. News stories terrified me,I couldn’t do shorthand, I had only the haziest notion of newspaper law, and I was supposed to be fully proficient in all three.

Before very long, I was summoned to the editor, Geoff Pinnington’s, office. He looked at me grimly. ‘We want you to have a go at this,’ he said to me curtly, handing me a typed piece of paper.

I looked at the paper but could not take in the contents. As I stared at him like a frightened little rabbit, he continued: ‘Make it a real hard-hitting investigation, with lots of case histories, facts and information. We want it for a double-page spread. And we’ll need some jolly good stories. With pix, of course.’

Back in the comparative safety of my own little office, which I shared with Ann-Marie, Pat’s secretary, I looked again at the piece of paper, and read it properly. ‘Double Trouble’, it said. ‘The wacky world of twins. Their private worlds, their shared secrets. We explore their mysterious bond.’

Where had this piece of paper come from? What did it all mean? I learned from Pat that it was an ‘idea’ put up at ‘conference.’ Every Tuesday morning, the senior executives on the paper had a conference in the editor’s office, where they would all put up ideas and report on work in progress. Then they would have a drink out of the editor’s drinks cabinet (except for Pat Boxall, who attended this conference but who didn’t drink or eat) and go off (except, again, for Pat) for a four-hour lunch at the Savoy, Simpson’s in the Strand, Rules, or somewhere similar. They would then come back and start drinking again. The real work seemed to begin on Friday afternoon, when they all sobered up, rolled up their shirt sleeves and began to fill the paper at a furious speed. Then, at nine or ten o’clock on a Friday night, after the early pages had been put to bed and the splash decided on, they started drinking again. In those days it was, truly, a man’s world, with very few females to disturb the masculine atmosphere.

Pat looked cross when she scanned the piece of paper, but she said: ‘You’ll have to do it, it’s an Editor’s Must. But,’ she added darkly, ‘you can only do it when you’ve finished the fashion and medical stuff. That has to come first. That’s what you’re here for.’

Twins. Wherever would I start? Well, an obvious place to begin my investigation seemed to be the Institute of Psychiatry, part of the Maudsley Hospital. They always had all sorts of interesting projects going on, so maybe they had one about twins. I rang them and sure enough, one of their PhD students was doing a research project about twins who were, in the days before IVF, pretty rare creatures. I went to see her, and she gave me lots of papers and documents.

I amassed a huge file of scientific and medical information, and eventually produced a long article about identical twins, non-identical twins, research projects currently being undertaken, and what studies on twins could show us about nature and nurture.

In fear and trembling, I presented this to the editor. Then I waited, feeling as if I was on trial, which of course I was. A week later, he called me into his office again. At least, his secretary Ivy, a joke Cockney, stood outside the door and yelled down the corridor: ‘Liz! Boss wants to see you! Now, if you don’t mind!’

I ran down the corridor, heart pounding. Geoff Pinnington now had an even grimmer expression on his face.

‘Well,’ he said. ‘I’ve read it.’

I sat there and waited for his verdict.

‘It won’t do.’

My heart turned over. I knew it: I was going to be given the sack. I hadn’t passed my first initiation rite. I was useless. ‘This,’ he said, holding it up in front of my face, ‘is an academic treatise. It isn’t a newspaper article, let alone a popular newspaper article. What we want are some good stories, wacky stories about twins impersonating each other, being mistaken for each other and so on. This is no good at all for our paper. I’ll give you one last chance,’ he said darkly, ‘to do it properly. ‘

‘He doesn’t like it,’ I told Pat, tears welling up. ‘He wants me to have another go.’

‘Well, you’d better work for the rest of the week on it, then,’ Pat said. ‘I told him you were untrained, as far as that kind of thing went. You’ll have to go back to that Institute and ask them to put you in touch with some twins, to see if you can get some good stories..’

The woman doing the research project promised to help. It wasn’t easy – most of the people she contacted muttered something about not speaking to such a rag as the Sunday People under any circumstances.

But one pair of identical female twins jumped at the chance, and so one evening I went to see them. They lived somewhere outside Maidenhead and were so close to each other that when they married, they insisted on living in interconnecting houses. They were in their mid-forties, but still dressed alike and were absolutely indistinguishable from each other. I interviewed them, we took photographs, and I rewrote the story, cutting out nine-tenths of the academic research bits.

This time, Geoff Pinnington liked it. This time, he actually came down the corridor and into my office himself to tell me. He looked pleased instead of grim. ‘It’s going in on Sunday,’ he said, holding out his hand for me to shake, ‘Well done.’

Of course, I was thrilled at the prospect. My first big story in a national newspaper! A double-page spread! I could hardly wait to see it in the paper on Sunday.

Actually, I couldn’t wait until Sunday. I went to Victoria Station late on Saturday, where they had Sunday’s papers from about eleven o’clock at night, and feverishly looked through the paper at the station. Yes, there it was. It was enormous, with a vast picture of our twins standing stoutly by their connecting door. The huge headline went: ‘The Tangled Love Lives of Twins. The Wives With Connecting Doors.’

I read the story dozens of times and felt pretty pleased with it, I must say. When I went into work on Tuesday, Pat Boxall congratulated me. Then, during the course of the morning, our lawyer walked in. ‘Can you step into my office for a moment?’ he enquired politely in his Oxbridge accent.

What now? The lawyer, a Welshman called Hiram Powell, produced a letter for me to read. It was from the twins’ solicitor. They had objected mightily to the headline Wives with Connecting Doors, and demanded an apology to appear in next week’s paper, and also damages for suggesting that they got up to funny business. They were shocked and horrified, the letter went on, that an innocent interview had been turned round in this way.

The fact that my very first story had produced a letter from a solicitor made me newly terrified. Of course, I would be sacked now, no question of it. My hands trembled as I read the letter. God, I was such a greenhorn.

‘What am I going to do?’ I asked Hiram Powell, going white with fright.

He looked at me or, rather, he looked vaguely in my direction. He chain-smoked, never taking his cigarette out of his mouth from the moment he lit it up to the moment he stubbed it out. Any minute now, an unsteady grey blurry tube of ash would disengage itself from his cigarette and fall onto his waistcoat.

He remained completely calm. He said: ‘We just write a reply to the effect that our headline described what was a matter of fact, not a matter of opinion. Their homes do have connecting doors. As this is not in dispute, and as our experienced reporter reported accurately the facts as given, ie, that your clients, as identical twins, are so close that they cannot bear to live in separate houses, we shall therefore not be printing an apology. Something like that,’ he finished.

‘All I need from you is confirmation that the doors were interconnected, and then we’re home and dry. Nothing to worry about. Stupid cows,’ he added. ‘What do they expect from a paper like ours?

‘After all, they’re hardly likely to take it further,’ Hiram said as he brushed away the ash that had cascaded down his pinstripe suit.

He was right, of course. We sent the letter and never heard from them again.

I returned to checking the week’s dress pattern, and stopped trembling.

#

Furiously frantic freelance

By Colin Dunne

Looking back, it was an odd time of day to opt for a career change. Just before eight in the morning in the Daily Mirror newsroom in Holborn Circus, in the company of two cleaners, about a dozen Japanese, and a big fat chap with a deep voice.

Because it was so early, and because I am a slow-witted fool, I hadn’t quite realised that the big fat chap with the deep voice was, in fact, The Big Fat Chap With The Deep Voice. I didn’t realise this until he came right up behind where I was sitting, with the party of Japanese publishers he was showing around, and boomed: ‘And here’s an early bird who believes in catching the worm.’

Christ! It was Maxwell. And there on the screen, for any passing publisher to read, were the words: ‘Colin Duncan: For the Sunday Times Colour Mag.’ That was when I decided it was time to leave the Mirror group. That, or step off Beachy Head.

It brought to an end one of the most pleasant times of my life in newspapers. A couple of years after leaving the Mirror, I had returned as the London Features Creature for the Daily Record. It was a lovely job. They gave me an office next to the cartoonists on the fifth floor: cartoonists, I promise you, are just the jolliest people to work with. They gave me a time-share in Pat Whykes, the bounciest secretary in the building, who fed me all day with gossip and tea. They gave me the papers, telephones, answering machines, a computer, the full techno back-up, and all they wanted from me was one piece each week.

It could be a major event (Prince Andrew’s wedding).A colour piece on a big story (the Hungerford shootings). Or, all else failing, an interview with whoever was in town (Anthony Hopkins, Michael Douglas, whoever). The pay was excellent and the expenses… well let me simply say that expenses were signed by a man who was 500 miles away. If he believed the Old Bailey was a £22 taxi ride from Holborn, who is to say he was wrong?

They were great people in Glasgow too, and very professional. The only downside was that once a year I had to go to Scotland to eat a plateful of still-warm mouse droppings. Have you ever been to a Burns Night? Why they call it burns I’ll never know – it was raw.

Now the only real problem with this job was filling the time. Out of the whole of England, it isn’t all that difficult to find one piece a week, even for someone who, like me, comes from a long line of sloths.Years in the Mirror features department had taught me how to dawdle. I had – don’t forget – studied under the great Eric Wainwright.

Even so, each week I was pushed to make this job last much beyond Tuesday lunchtime. And that was including time for admiring the cartoonists’ work, chatting up Pat, whistling, combing my hair, and telephoning old girl-friends in Texas. That still left any number of unoccupied hours. There was always sex, of course, which would account for another three minutes. And drink, which, with my phenomenal capacity, would last for another three minutes.

No, there was nothing for it. I would have to do some more work. That was how I launched the career of Colin Duncan, the furiously frantic freelance.

Looking back, I can see now that the choice of name was not the most impenetrable piece of camouflage, but at the time it was a nod of thanks towards the man who schooled me in the skills of the rent-a-pen life.

Do you know Andrew Duncan? You should do. For more than 30 years, Andrew Duncan has been one of London’s most successful freelance writers, damn his big fat wallet. It must be 35 years since he told me he thought the future in journalism was interviewing celebrities. ‘That,’ I said, once I’d stopped laughing, ‘is hardly going to buy you a grand lifestyle.’

Well, it depends what you mean by grand. He has one of the smartest houses in the smartest road in Hampstead. He has a six-bedroom villa in the hills outside Grasse, with pool, floodlit boules pitch, and daily gardener. His three children all went to Bryanston, which is more expensive than Eton. Unless he’s had a lottery win every six weeks, then it’s beginning to look as though I was wrong yet again.

Fair enough, really, because this is a man with a natural talent for the good things in life. At the Sunday Express magazine, many years ago, he pioneered the idea of interviewing celebrities over lunch. There they still talk about the bill he produced for entertaining Kingsley Amis at a time when they had a £10 limit – it was for £500.He later heard that the editor, Dee Nolan, had been relating this story to Lady Dale Tryon (Prince Charles’ chum – do try to keep up!) under the dryer in her hairdressers. Obviously this was a challenge. Soon afterwards, when he took Lady Dale for lunch, he put in a heavily doctored bill for £1,000, including three bottles of Krug. It was paid within 10 days. ‘My only mistake was in returning the money,’ he says.

For many years after that he did The Andrew Duncan Interview for the Radio Times, for whom he still treks across the Atlantic talking to stars who now know him by first name. As does every maitre d’ and most restaurateurs in London, New York, and Los Angeles. Go into The Ivy with him and the glamorous woman at the corner table says: ‘How lovely to see you, Andrew.’ Ivana Trump. Isn’t that infuriating?

He redefined the word freelance. For ‘starving unemployed’ now read ‘smoothy-chops fat cat.’

Years ago, he told me that if you’re any good at what you do, you should be earning money for yourself, rather than a Murdoch or a Maxwell, who already have quite enough. So when I decided to try some spare-time extra-mural writing, he recited to me the Duncan Rules on freelancing.

Always be busy. If someone rings up with a commission, you’re very busy and you doubt if you can fit it in. (This requires a certain amount of nerve when you’re gazing at an empty diary.) After some humming and hawing, you then say that you’ll try to fit it in somehow and ask what the job is.

You are now entering the danger zone. Once you know exactly what the job is, you ask, so casually that you’re almost yawning, how much they’re thinking of paying for it.

Read the next bit very carefully. Whatever the reply, you must say: ‘Oh dear’ in a tone that would bring tears from a stone. Even if they say ‘One million pounds,’ you still say ‘Oh dear’. Their reply is immaterial. You must say ‘Oh dear’.

As a freelance, you can manage without a car, without a computer, without a mobile, but no-one can succeed in freelancing without a truly heartbreaking ‘Oh dear’.

They will respond to this by hesitantly asking if this fee is a little disappointing. With a sigh, you will say that, sadly, it is. They will then offer more.

There is a keen strategy behind this, according to the Duncan Rules. You must establish yourself in the market as one of the most expensive writers. This is because all editors believe they are highly intelligent. Since they are highly intelligent, they will use only the most talented writers. And the most talented writers are, inevitably, the most expensive. When did you last hear an editor say he was looking for a really cheap writer? Never. On the other hand, I have heard editors say: ‘I’ve managed to get Andrew Duncan to do it, but you wouldn’t believe what I had to pay him.’

What you must then do is to walk into W H Smiths and stand in front of the magazine section. Look at those magazines and newspapers, dozens and dozens of them, probably hundreds of them. Full of words. Some repeated, admittedly. But many of them correctly spelt. Someone is writing all those. More pertinently, someone is getting paid for it.

That’s all you need to know.

It does help, of course, if you can write as well as Andrew Duncan, and also if you possess his blithe charm. I was with him once when he had to cancel a lunch he had arranged with the same Dee Nolan, Australian-born editress. ‘So, Andrew,’ she cooed down the telephone at him, ‘who’s more important then me?’ He gave an elaborate sigh. ‘Heavens, Dee, where shall I start?’

I wasn’t quite ready for such dangerous exchanges. On the other hand, I knew that I was lucky to be embarking on self-employment when I was already employed. As a freelance, I decided to take the name Colin Duncan, which was probably too close to home.

Slowly I began to find my way into the freelance world, selling a story here, missing out there.Woman’s Own. Good Housekeeping. Radio Times. YOU magazine. The Express magazine.One by one, I sneaked into their pages. Andrew was right: someone did have to write this stuff and, among others, it seemed to be Colin Duncan, the furiously frantic freelance. The man was a glutton for work.

Again, gradually I came to know those with the power to hand out work – and cheques, the editors, feature editors and commissioning editors. As football fans follow the moves of their favourites, so I trailed those who might give me work. Sometimes you got a double whammy. When Brigid Callaghan left New Woman for The Times, her successor on the magazine rang me with commissions, and so did Brigid from her new job. Not such good news when Frankie McGowan, who had employed me on various magazines from Top Sante to the People colour supp, decided to stay at home and write novels. How selfish can you get? It could get worse, like the editor of the Sunday Mirror mag who rang me to say she was going freelance and could I give her some advice. Once she gave me money, now she wanted to share mine.

It was great fun, but being two journalists at the same time was confusing. It also became professionally dangerous when the Daily Mirror started to use some of my stuff again. There was the odd occasion when Colin Duncan was covering the same story in The Times as Colin Dunne in the Record-Mirror. It was a little hard on the nerves.

So I wasn’t really too distressed when Maxwell almost caught me out. I was only using the newsroom because my own office was still locked, and, luckily, Maxwell didn’t bother to read what was on the screen. Come to think of it, as a man who used to be called Du Maurier he might have been impressed with all this subterfuge. But I’d had enough of the double life, and I decided there and then to go straight.

Goodbye, Colin Duncan. Hello, Colin Dunne, legit freelance.For the next 30 years it was wild fun interspersed with spasms of terror. Boredom never got a look-in.

Even with the Duncan Rules, I could never hope to match Andrew in either prosperity or property.I still bump into him occasionally. I cherish the memory of one occasion when a freelance who was noted for his arrogance strode over to join us. With some self-satisfaction, he announced that his accountant had just told him he’d notched up a six-figure income for the year.

‘And are you happy with that?’ Andrew inquired, mildly.

‘Happy?’ He was most indignant. ‘It’s six figures – course I’m bloody happy.’

‘Jolly good,’ Andrew replied. ‘If you find you can manage on that, excellent, although I must say I wouldn’t care to myself.’

The best I could manage, I’m sorry to say, was a rather wobbly ‘Oh dear’. To my regret I never dared to try Andrew’s recommended response to editors who are reluctant to pay generously.

‘Oh I see, you’re looking for one of those cheap writers. Why didn’t you say? I can give you some names and numbers if that’s a help…’

Not that Colin Duncan, I hope. Oh dear no.

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