Issue #30 – Me and my shadow

Me and my shadow

How the Daily Express covered the funeral of northern sports editor Henry Rose

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Me and my shadow

geoffseedBy Geoffrey Seed

The poisoned umbrella murder of Georgi Markov, émigré Bulgarian and BBC journalist, wasn’t the only Cold War assassination in autumn 1978. Another London-based dissident, a Croat writer called Bruno Busic, was ambushed in Paris and repeatedly shot in the head.

I’d just been promoted as a producer on World in Action and was given his killing as my first solo film – investigating the mystery of who’d pulled the trigger. The KGB were obvious suspects as were Yugoslavia’s secret police.

It was serious stuff, le Carre’s fiction made bloody fact. But it had the farcical elements of a Tintin adventure too, especially when Michael Palin and the Pythons came to the rescue.

I filmed Busic’s funeral amid the ivied creepiness of the Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Later, with researchers Ian McBride and Stephen Segaller, I followed a trail of intrigue across Britain and Europe.

Swedish TV had made a programme in the Black Forest about Croat resistance to Yugoslavia’s President Tito. I discovered Busic in the out-takes, materialising for just a few frames from behind a tree as the cameraman whip-panned from a group of Croats with rifles to others doing martial arts. If nothing else, this showed Busic was more than just a propagandist.

Tito’s secret police, UDBA (an acronym worthy of a Tintin story), would say he was a terrorist.

Segaller and McBride (ex-Birmingham Post and Mail) uncovered other murders across the world, allegedly ordered by UDBA, according to Yugoslav émigrés and academics.

In Germany, a group of Croat guest workers offered to take me to see and film an underground army training with weapons in Yugoslavia itself. I agreed to fly to Zagreb with a man called Boris… I kid you not.

I wasn’t to associate with Boris on the plane or at customs or on the bus into Zagreb. I must follow him to an hotel and sit in a coffee shop at appointed times until a new contact emerged to take me up into the mountains.

So far, so exciting.

But Boris forgot the script – well, my script anyway. Walking to the hotel, he disappeared through a door, leaving me staring at two men on the pavement who were obviously expecting us.

When Boris reappeared, they followed us – on foot, on a tram and into the hotel lobby itself. Boris then left.

My two tails became four, became six, became eight. Boris was clearly a plant and I was being set up – or warned off – by UDBA’s finest.

I rang a British diplomat and suggested a drink in the hotel bar. I told him about my predicament. He came and counted twelve watchers. The diplomat, young and jovial, recalled similar incidents with the secret police. One ended in a shooting, the other in jail. I needed my head testing. He needed advice.

He went to phone his boss but discovered he was out drinking for England at a diplomatic party. So we started to party, as well – watched by the men from UDBA.

Several mellowing rounds later, I asked what the diplomat missed most about the UK.

‘Monty Python’ he said. ‘Bloody marvellous, the Pythons. Hilarious.’

When I said I knew Michael Palin ever-so slightly through a mutual pal, his diplomatic eyes widened with envy and respect.

He drooled and almost fell off his stool with excitement, especially when I said I’d been to Chez Palin. Then he had a brilliant wheeze.

‘Let’s do some of the Python sketches,’ he beamed. ‘It’ll pass the time wonderfully.’

He wasn’t wrong. Saturday nights in Zagreb were only marginally livelier than those in Père-Lachaise.

So, under the puzzled gaze of Tito’s goons, the diplomat and I certainly acted out The Parrot Sketch and maybe even did The Silly Walk. I might have made that last bit up as I was unable to write a contemporaneous note by then – but I’d have loved to have read what UDBA made of our performance.

Anyway, thus giddied by fun and friendship, the diplomat invited me to stay in his flat. We were, of course, followed by an UDBA convoy.

He somehow got me the last seat on a plane to London next morning. But when I woke and opened the curtains, the previous night’s merriment was quickly forgotten. The diplomat’s street had been blocked off with cars.

He drove me to the airport – shadowed by UDBA – where his protection ended when I stood at passport control.

The officer looked at my documents, looked at me then signalled to someone behind where I stood. I was then led away and held while all my possessions were searched as more men with guns looked on.

After about forty minutes of this, and without a single question being asked, I was marched across the runway and put on the London flight which had been made to wait.

At Heathrow, I was tempted to do a ‘pope’ and kiss the tarmac but I didn’t.

I got a message about what’d happened to Michael Palin who was then filming A Life of Brian. He must have thought it a bit of a hoot as he sent back some memorabilia from the set which I duly had ferried through the diplomatic bag to Our Man In The Balkans to show my gratitude.

That Christmas – after my film had gone out despite efforts by Yugoslavia’s London Embassy to stop it – I received a card from the diplomat asking that his greetings be passed on to ‘Comrade Palin.’

And they were.

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Getting to the top

By Gordon Amory

When I was working for the Shields Evening News – now long gone, I would do the occasional day at the Blyth News Ashington Post – now a giveaway called the News-Post Leader! Both had quite large editorial staffs in those days, many journalists going on to do well national-wise.

One day when I went to Blyth I was marked in the diary for ‘Demolition of Albion Chimney’ which marked the end of a brick works. How tall it was I’m not sure but it was bloody high and I’ve been told since it was a couple of hundred feet or more. When I got there, the foreman of the works was expecting me.

‘I’ll send Joe up in front of you,’ he said. ‘And I’ll be behind you…’ Before I could object, I had put my half-dozen single metal slides in my pocket and unfolded my VN plate camera. Step by step, I went up the shaky ladder to the top.

Joe got there first and directed me to put one leg inside the chimney, the other on the outside. I sat there to the left of me, to the right of me – taking aerial views of the town.

Then I slowly came down again, one steeplejack in front of me, the other behind.

In those days there was no real projection of pictures. ‘We’ll use a couple x2 and one of the chimney,’ the editor said. We were used to danger then, it was just after the war!

A few years later and I was on the Daily Express. There was an air disaster in Shannon; an Air Italia Douglas had crashed on landing. I was alerted just after midnight. We tried all over the area to get an aircraft to fly me there and just failed to get Westerby’s from Blackpool who did a lot of flying for us in those days. But the Mirror had already employed them.

We managed to get an old boy who ferried mushrooms from Ireland in an old RAF Anson. With a wire team I met him at Speke Airport and we set off, me in the position of the co-pilot, my intrepid colleagues in make-do seats behind me. He did have a road map and he would glance at that as we flew down through North Wales, then a little further south he said: ‘I think we’ll turn right here – see that lever to your right, push that forward – and the other one… pull that back. That’s good, we’re on the reserve tank now…’

They were the only words he uttered during the whole journey. Then he took a swig from an unlabelled bottle and it wasn’t lemonade! My intention was that we would fly over the wreckage before landing but I changed my mind mid-air. When we landed at Shannon I had a good look round and found Dennis Westerby who had flown the Mirror plane and hired him when they had finished.

I wired my pictures from Limerick before having a stiff whiskey (Irish). The picture was used across two inside pages next day – knocked off the front because Princess Margaret had just got engaged to my Daily Express colleague, Anthony Armstrong Jones.

I write this because for years my wife has said I didn’t have the head for heights. I had told her that when we first got married, when she wanted me to do some outside painting. Not a bad excuse eh?

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The hustler

By Ian Bradshaw

As a freelance you get some strange assignments but one of the really odd ones for me occurred in the late sixties. I had just left The Times to go freelance when I received a phone call from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. Hardly an outfit that I would have courted but a contact of a contact knew me from The Times and I was referred.

The inauguration of the Church of North India was a huge event in the Anglican calendar and they wanted it fully documented. The trip was two months in India and Pakistan.

Just starting out as a freelance I accepted although without huge enthusiasm. I hate curry, which proved to be a real blessing, as everyone else on the trip was laid low with various forms of Delhi belly and worse and I survived intact by eating Chinese food which is instantly sterilised in the hot fat of a wok.

It was the briefing that was strange. ‘When you get to Delhi you’ll be staying with the monks,’ I was told, ‘so you must take them some Dunlops.’

‘You mean golf balls?’ I asked in astonishment.

‘Oh yes, 65’s. They are running very low and the authorities won’t let them into the country.’

So how was I to do that? It turned out the normal method was to secrete the balls in a hollowed-out bible.

This might have been fine if you were wearing a dog collar or cassock but I was distinctly uneasy.

I flew in first to Pakistan where customs officials were much more interested in my hundreds of rolls of film.

‘You are allowed 20 only,’ I was told.

Protesting that I was there for two months was getting me nowhere until the arrival of a local looking chap in a sports jacket. He picked up my bags, jabbered away at the officials and rushed me through customs.

‘You’re from London?’ he enquired. ‘I am bus conductor on number 25 bus from East Ham. You know it.’

‘Yes of course’, I lied, ‘Ride it often.’

The trip progressed through Pakistan to India where I was met at the airport by a cowled figure.

‘You’ve got them?’ – was the first thing he said. It was like being asked if you had Durex from the local barber at school.

‘Golf balls?’

‘Yes of course, we’re on the first tee in the morning.’

Welcome to religion in the colonies.

To play golf in India you needed two caddies. One to carry your clubs, the other to run ahead and find your ball and stand over the hole on the greens. The locals used to steal the flags so this was the only way to mark the hole.

I had a great little fellow with one eye and bags of enthusiasm. I believed at the time that he and my carrying caddie were having side bets on the result.

First tee shot and in the intense heat with no golf glove, the driver flew out of my hand and disappeared over a hedge. The one-eyed forecaddie duly retrieved it and informed me there was no penalty for throwing your club out of bounds.

Things got better and we came to the ninth of the nine-hole course all square.

I was left with a nine iron to the green. My forecaddie raced ahead and stood rigidly to attention with his feet splayed either side of the hole doing his best impersonation of a flagstick.

I struck the 9 iron perfectly and it flew off into the midday sun heading straight at the ‘pin’.

One-eye lost it in the blinding light and was gazing heavenwards when the spinning Dunlop achieved re-entry and landed between his good eye and his bad eye. He dropped like a stone and the ball rolled a mere tap-in away from the cup.

I rushed up in horror thinking a funeral might be on the cards but was relieved to see him stirring and then, surprisingly, leaping to his feet.

‘Oh great shot, sahib. I have won all the money, I’m rich!’

And with that he went dancing round the green as if he had won the Open.

I duly tapped in the birdie putt and then learnt that he had won almost three months money from the others in side-bets.

He took me aside later.

‘Very clever of you, sahib, to let go of the club on the first tee. They thought you were a beginner and upped the stakes. You are, how you say, hustler?’ he chortled.

‘Oh it was nothing,’ I replied modestly, ‘I’m just glad I didn’t lose the ball.’

Smuggling golf balls was something I did not want to get into again.

I was something of a hero until a few days later. Breakfast with the monks was undertaken under a strict vow of silence but four straight days of cold, raw, supposedly hard-boiled eggs had done nothing to improve my humour.

The cook appeared with yet another raw offering. I could stand it no longer.

‘Don’t you know how to boil a fucking egg?’ I exploded.

The ‘shushes’ from around the table sounded like a blow out on a car tyre but at least they never asked me to bring in more golf balls.

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Minder

skiddy2By Ian Skidmore

When my friend Andre Auckland was married in Maidstone the speeches from the bride’s side were gloomy in the extreme. The most optimistic began: ‘I suppose they might be happy…’

At length a small man of military appearance stood up and said: ‘I have known Andre for five years and have always found him friendly, co-operative and a social asset.’

His defender proved to be the governor of Maidstone Prison and Andre’s host for half a decade.

Like many of the legends that hung from Andre’s ample belt, this may be apocryphal. Though why anybody made up stories about this benevolent Belgian is beyond me. The reality was terrifying enough.

Andre was my minder on the Sunday Mirror and without him at my side I would have got into far less trouble than I did. How he got to Eccles, Lancs, where he ran, among other more nefarious things, a taxi service, he never disclosed. But he did reminisce about his days in a unit of the Belgian Resistance in Brussels, which met regularly in the café which was the local of the Gestapo. As he explained: ‘It was the last place they would have looked for us.’

He was introduced to the Sunday Mirror by news editor Harry Ashbrook at whose side corkscrews miraculously appeared rapier straight. Andre was ecumenical in friendship: confidence tricksters like Ashbrook, who sold Jack Stonely, one of his reporters, a car without wheels; out and out gangsters, prominent businessmen and two hangmen, were all members of Andre’s fan club.

I met one of them, Harry Allen, the deputy hangman, who said, when he learnt I lived in Chester: ‘Let’s see… that’s Shrewsbury nick. Don’t get much work down there. But the very next time I’ll break the journey at Chester and we’ll make a night of it.’

If you were a friend of Andre’s…

We were doing a job in Leeds when I foolishly remarked that it was Race Week in Doncaster where I used to work on the Evening News. Indeed the St Leger was being run that weekend.

‘We’ll go,’ said Andre, and instructed me what to tell the desk and to be sure they wired £50 to Doncaster post office. There was never any doubt who was in charge when I worked with Andre.

We had a great time in Doncaster. We lost most of the fifty on the course, but all my friends loved him – one of them, a very attractive lady, vigorously in the back of his car. It was midnight on the first night before I had the chance to point out to him that we had nowhere to sleep and that every hotel bed in Doncaster was booked weeks before the Leger.

Nothing to a man who was almost certainly on the Gestapo darts team in that pub in Brussels. He hammered on the door of the Wellington in the Market Square. When the landlord opened it, he explained in broken English that we were from Paris Match and had been diverted at the last minute from Morocco to cover the St Leger; we had not slept for two nights and were exhausted.

The landlord was very sympathetic. He said he didn’t do B & B but he did have a single bed in a spare room that one of us could have and the other could sleep on the settle in the snug. You will not be surprised to learn who got the settle, but when the landlord asked me, ‘Are you sure you will be comfortable?’ Andre broke in to explain, ‘Alas, my friend does not speak English.’

Alas, his friend did not speak French either, apart from four remembered words – sur le pont d’Avignon – which do not go very far in conversations in a Yorkshire pub, even when orchestrated with what I hoped were Gallic shrugs and a vocabulary of grunts.

So for two days I could not say a word, which for a gabby guy like me is not easy. I remember only fragments of the last night but the next morning is etched on my soul. My stomach seethed, my mouth was as rough as a tram driver’s glove, my left lobe was not speaking to my right lobe and my eyes felt like hot raspberry jam.

An aged crone was polishing glasses behind the bar.

‘Pour us a White Label Worthington, love,’ I gasped.

‘By ‘eck,’ she said, ‘not taken you long to pick up the language.’

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Chasing Charlie

By Garth Gibbs

Now, of course, Princes William and Harry enjoy hearing stories of their father’s derring-dos in the good old days and how he was irresistible to damsels around the globe. But their favourite story concerns the time a Miss World girl threw herself at his feet. They particularly like the story because it wasn’t all it seemed to be at the time.

How do I know this? Trust me; I have it on the highest authority.

It happened on one of those delightful days on the ski slopes of Klosters when Charles was young and still glacially pure, well almost. The planning, however, started months before – at the November Miss World contest in London where photographer Steve Wood took a long look at a blonde, blue-eyed Miss Switzerland and told her, ‘Mmm, you’re nice.’

‘Thank you,’ she said.

‘Can you ski?’ he said.

‘I’m Swiss, aren’t I?’ she said.

Her name was Barbara Meyer and she lived in Berne. Barbara didn’t win the Miss World contest, which was just as well as she wouldn’t have been available for what Woodie had in mind. After the contest she returned home and Woodie kept in touch with her.

In January he telephoned her and told her the British Royals were going to ski in Klosters. Would she like to join him there?

Obviously more than a couple of Zurich gnomes had tried this line before because Barbara said yes, but only if she could bring mama, too. ‘You can bring papa as well if you like,’ said Woodie, just to prove how honourable his intentions were.

‘No, just mama will do nicely,’ said Barbara.

Barbara and her mum arrived at Klosters a week before Prince Charles’ party and were met by Woodie and that other great and famous royal snapper, Kent Gavin.

Woodie, who is a pretty good skier and who has perfected the kamikaze art of skiing backwards so he can take snaps of skiers zooming towards him, took Barbara out on the slopes.

He outlined the plan. ‘Hide in those trees over there and when Charles comes whizzing down the slope ski into him. Now you’ve got to be careful. We don’t want you to break his legs, but a direct hit is imperative.’

So for seven days Barbara rehearsed her role and practised sneaking out of the woods on her skis and heading smack into Woodie. She was careful not to break his legs either and to act out the rest, gasp for breath and then collapse delicately at his feet.

On the big day Woodie, Gavin, and Barbara and her mum were having a continental breakfast when Charlie’s detective, John McLean, walked into the hotel dining room and looked around for friendly faces

He spotted Woodie’s party, and he particularly spotted Barbara. He sidled over nonchalantly, ‘Can I join you?’

‘Sure,’ said Woodie nervously and gave Barbara a light tap under the table.

She made excuses and, to McLean’s disappointment, got up to go. When she was out of earshot he said, ‘God, she’s gorgeous. Who is she?’

‘Dunno,’ said Woodie and turning to Gavin, ‘what’s her name?’

Gavin shrugged.

It was a perfect day, meaning the light was great, and a couple of hours later everyone was on the slopes, Gavin and Woodie were perfectly poised near a mogul and Barbara was attempting to be camouflaged in the trees. They waited for the Royal party to come gliding down. McLean led the way. Just behind him came Charles and as they drew level, Barbara bounced out of the trees. Smack. A direct hit. She flounced around in a female frenzy and then fell at his feet, her legs intertwined with his. Charles almost lost his balance but not his gallantry. He picked her up and seemed to be mesmerised by her 100 per cent eyes.

‘There,’ he said. He shuddered he asked, ‘Are you all right?’

She smiled weakly as Woodie and Gavin were shooting away like mad on motorised Nikons and McLean was scrambling back up the slope.

Charles continued to gaze rapturously into Barbara’s eyes and then Woodie yelled to Barbara: ‘Fall down again – for colour!’

‘Oh,’ sighed Barbara slipping into a pretend faint, and dutifully falling down a second time. Charles, who couldn’t take his eyes off her, automatically bent to pick her up just as McLean scrambled through the snow.

McLean might have seen Barbara at the hotel for only thirty seconds but he recognised her at once and his alarm bells started ringing. He yelled over and over again, ‘It’s a set-up sir! It’s a set-up!’ But Charles was still heavily under the anaesthetic of Barbara’s looks and wasn’t even aware that McLean was around. Nor did he hear the whirring of the cameras.

Finally Barbara gave Charles a mini hug, whispered ‘Oh, thank you’ and headed off down the slopes. Charles still watched her but looked like an angler who had just lost a huge salmon in the River Dee.

‘They were setting you up, sir,’ McLean finally got through to Charles. Charles immediately suffered a bout of petulance. The next day he sent for Woodie and Gavin.

‘That was most disrespectful,’ he chastised them. ‘But, I say, she was exceedingly beautiful. Those eyes…’

The fall-down-again-for-colour command caused some gossip in Fleet Street. ‘You sure you guys didn’t shoot colour first?’ In those days the Fleet Street papers could print only black and white. The magazines printed full colour – and paid a bomb for the pictures. So, yes, you guessed it. They’d shot colour first.

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Some have greatcoats thrust upon them

By John Smith

Colin Dunne’s entertaining account of his interviews with prospective employers triggered a couple of my own memories of job-seeking fiascos.

I first began knocking on the doors of Fleet Street almost 50 years ago when I was an ambitious young reporter on the BristolEvening World. ‘No vacancies, but come in for a chat,’ said a letter from Jimmy Anderson, news editor of the Daily Mail.

Clutching my cuttings book, I caught the early morning train from Bristol Temple Meads to London and by noon I was being led through the clamorous Daily Mail newsroom. Phones jangled, typewriters clattered, copy boys scooted past with big mugs of tea and smartly dressed reporters lounged among the metal-topped desks, languidly smoking and reading newspapers. Oh my God, it was just like I thought it would be.

Jimmy Anderson had only recently been appointed news editor and he was obviously finding it hard going. A big, burly dark haired man, he sat in his glass walled corner office surrounded by yards and yards of agency copy that spilled from teletype machines. There was something very frantic in his manner as his eyes skimmed through paperwork on his desk and he talked excitedly into the telephone: ‘I don’t care where those bastards from the Express have hidden him, you fucking find him…!’

Looking up, he found me hovering in the doorway. ‘Who the bloody hell are you?’ he barked.

‘Er, John Smith… Bristol… you wrote to me,’ I spluttered.

‘Did I? Bloody hell.’ He glared at me. ‘What’s that under your arm?’

‘Um, cuttings.’

‘Hmm.’ He snatched the book and kept up a chorus of grunts as he frantically flicked through it with the speed of a householder with a burst pipe searching the Yellow Pages for a plumber.

‘Yes, well, you’re obviously a bright lad,’ he said, impatiently tossing the book back across the desk. ‘Keep in touch.’

Then he got up and led me to a coat rack in the corner. Agitatedly conscious of the phone ringing urgently on his desk, he took a huge Crombie overcoat off one of the hooks, held it open and put it on me. ‘Good luck,’ he said, before racing for the phone.

The overcoat was several sizes too big for me. The hem reached all the way to the floor and the sleeves seemed to dangle down almost as far. I stood there like a circus clown, wondering what to do.

Maybe this was some kind of weird Fleet Street initiation test. The Old Overcoat Trick.

Shuffling across the floor, almost tripping over the folds of the voluminous Crombie, I coughed loudly to attract the great man’s attention. Startled, he looked up from his phone conversation and bellowed: ‘What the bloody hell are you doing wearing my overcoat?’

He jumped up, tore the coat off my shoulders and bundled me out of the office with all the finesse of a night club bouncer.

And that’s how I didn’t get a job on the Daily Mail.

An equally unforgettable encounter had taken place a few years earlier, when I was looking to move on from the world of weekly newspapers.

‘Lively national trade magazine seeks experienced young reporter,’ said the advertisment in World’s Press News.

The sheer brevity of the ad sent my mind racing. Brisk, businesslike. Probably one of those glossy magazines for the oil industry. I could see myself in the board room of Shell, interviewing the chairman about world wide exploration prospects. Or helicoptering out to an oil rig on the Gulf of Mexico – ‘A Day In the Life of An Oil Roughneck.’

Or maybe it was one of those entertainment industry publications. The inside info on the latest Hollywood films. Chatting with Diana Dors on the set at Pinewood.

My letter of application, sent to the Box Number listed, led to a telephoned invitation to come for an interview.

The offices of the publishing company were in a nondescript building near Kensington town hall in London. I walked up a narrow set of stairs which were covered in lino and bundles of magazines with titles like Laundry Machinery News and Tractor Times.

No cover pictures of oil rigs or film stars, I noticed gloomily.

My future editor looked like Mr Bean and spoke like Ken Livingstone.

‘Now, Mr Smith,’ he whined. ‘Tell me a bit about yourself. What are you doing at the moment?’

‘I’m a reporter on the Marylebone Mercury but I think I am ready to move on to something more national,’ I said eagerly.

‘I see,’ said Mr. Bean. ‘So what kind of things do you cover at the moment?’

‘Well,’ I replied, ‘there are the usual weekly newspaper things like courts and council meetings and jumble sales and so on, But because we are right in the heart of London – our office is just off Oxford Street – we have a very up-market readership. The area is loaded with the rich and famous…

‘There always seems to be some film star being robbed of her jewels in a burglary in her penthouse apartment or some duchess losing her pet poodle worth several thousand pounds. Then there are the film launches and cocktails at the film studios in St John’s Wood. And Sir Lew Grade is always inviting us round to his flat to talk about his wife’s latest charity project…’

‘I see,’ sniffed Mr Bean. ‘Well, I don’t think we can guarantee many film stars or cocktail parties. The opening we have is for a reporter on the Ironmongers’ Gazette.‘

There was a long silence which ended with a very audible gulp from me.

‘Just to go give you an indication of what your duties would be on the Gazette, let me ask you this,’ said the editor, lip curling.

‘How would you feel about compiling a chart comparing the qualities of various electric blankets?’

‘I wouldn’t like that at all,’ I said.

‘I didn’t think so,’ scowled Mr. Bean. ‘Good day to you.’

Back in the George Street offices of the Marylebone Mercury I felt strangely gratified when I looked at the assignment diary. Next day I was down to cover St Pancras coroner’s court. There would be the usual litany of people gassing themselves, hanging themselves from the banisters or jumping in front of a tube train. Pretty gloomy stuff.

But it beat the hell out of analysing electric blankets.

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