Letters to the Editor

From Peter Morris:

When Arthur Brisbane was about to complete fifty years of journalism, Mr. Hearst, his employer, urged him to take a six-month vacation with pay.

This magnanimous offer Brisbane refused to accept, saying there were two reasons for his doing so.

‘The first reason,’ he said, ‘is that if I quit writing for six months, it might affect the circulation of your newspaper.The second is that it might not affect circulation.’

 

 

Old queens

From Jeffrey Blyth:

The naming of Cunard’s new liner the Queen Victoria reminds me of the evening many years ago aboard the Queen Mary in Southampton (when I was shipping correspondent of the Daily Mail) having a drink with a Cunard boss who confided ‘We are sitting aboard the Queen Mary, but this isn’t what we originally planned to call her.’

He then told me that back in the thirties when Cunard were building their first big trans-Atlantic liner they wanted to call the ship Queen Victoria. A top executive was dispatched to London to seek the permission of King George V. At Buckingham Palace he began by telling the king of the plan to build Britain’s first superliner. He went on ‘Your majesty, with your approval we would like to name the ship after Britain’s greatest queen.’

Before he could say more, the king interrupted ‘ Of course, the Queen would be delighted. I can’t wait to tell her…’ The Cunard official could not bring himself to tell the king he had misunderstood. Cunard officials in Liverpool were equally nonplussed. And that is why there was once almost a liner called The Queen Victoria .. but there wasn’t.

 

 

Record-breaker

From Alasdair Buchan:

At this time of year when hard drinkers like to step aside and let the amateurs have a look in, it was fascinating to learn that journalists are not alone in their excess.

A Guardian profile recorded the amazement of everyone who knows him that Shane MacGowan, singer of the greatest Christmas song A Fairytale of New York, had managed to live for 50 years. Among the tales of his drinking career was this: ‘His girlfriend, Victoria Mary Clarke, was once called to his house to find blood gushing from his mouth after he had tried to eat volume three of The Beach Boys’ greatest hits.’

‘[Shane] had become convinced that the third world war was taking place and that he, as the leader of the Irish republic, was holding a summit meeting in his kitchen between the heads of state of the world superpowers, Russia, China, America and Ireland. In order to demonstrate the cultural inferiority of the United States, he was eating a Beach Boys album.’

What’s this to do with your readership? Well, several years ago Paddy O’Gara, famed Mirror art director and no mean hedonist himself, once let out his flat for some months and was outraged to get it back in a state resembling a piggery. But he got little sympathy since he had known from the start that it was Shane MacGowan who was renting it.

 

 

Flying tonight

From Geoffrey Mather:

Harry Pugh’s lively and lovely description (Last week) of sausages flying in the Crown and Kettle Manchester Express pub reminded me that he, too, has legendary properties. In the early stages of an event there when a buffet was called for, he was on his own, at the bar, a pint in front of him, surrounded by food, and I entered the door at that point.

‘Harry,’ I said, ‘looks a bit moody.’

‘Not at all,’ said my companion. ‘It is not yet nine o’ clock. At nine o’ clock he will erupt.’ I waited for nine o’ clock with interest. At that time, almost on the dot, Harry reared up and threw an object towards the ceiling – a sandwich, a small photographer, the landlord: I can not, at this stage remember. But the event is still vivid in my mind and I am only sorry that Harry, a drinking companion of erudition and merit, is not a regular visitor to my present pub where objects heading for the ceiling are, sadly, rare.

#

December 21, 2007

Oh, vicar

From Ken Ashton:

On headlines (Donald Walker, Last Week), the Sun on the canoe man takes some beating… THE LIAR, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE.

On made-up quotes, (Garth Gibbs, Last Week) only this week I was discussing this with our very ’umble vicar, who didn’t believe quotes could be twisted.

Suppose I ask you if you are having an affair with the parochial council secretary, I posed.

I’d deny it, he said.

So my quote would be ‘the vicar of Meliden today denied he is having an affair with the PC secretary…’

You couldn’t do that, he said.

That’s what you said, I told him.

Ooops, he said.

 

 

The bouncer

From Edward Playfair:

Ian Levack (Last week) bounced back from so many setbacks that it is difficult to believe that his demise is little more than a minor inconvenience that will soon be sorted out.

On the Mail we loved our eternal teddy boy because whatever fate threw at him, Levack hit back at twice the speed.

But he did find ’em…

Only Ian would buy a holiday villa to rent out in Northern Cyprus just as civil war broke out.

Only he would open a baby clothes shop in a block of flats for pensioners.

And only he would launch a smart restaurant in Stilton in partnership with a gentleman whose short-term financial planning involving setting fire to the place and collecting the insurance. Which he did and didn’t. And, sadly, all Levack collected was more experience…

In spite of all these games of adventure and chance, as a sub old Ian was surprisingly set in his ways. One night there was a big plane crash and Levack was virtually the only sub not in the pub.

‘Fast as you like, Ian,’ I said.

Ten minutes later – nothing. But he was busy scribbling away.

‘Need that now, Ian,’ I said.

Nothing.

‘Give me a start, Ian,’ I said.

Crack!

A wad of copy hit my desk:

The drinks trolley was swaying down the aisle…

Passengers were calling for another round of gin and tonics.

But seconds later the plane crashed into the side of a mountain and all 300 people on board were killed.’

I looked at the author.

‘Ian, don’t you think we should go straight into the fact that 300 people died, rather than a delayed drop?’

But Ian was emphatic.

‘I’m not prostituting myself for anyone – particularly the Daily Mail,’ he said.

For all these memories, Levack, we salute you.

 

 

Shelley the heartbreaker

From Rosalie Macrae:

Oh, so very sad to hear of the death (Last week) of my old colleague Shelley. When I was invited by Morley Richards, Express news editor, to join what was then a magical club, Shelley was the epitome of mean, moody and magnificent and I could have never imagined that very soon we’d be bitching away about our mainly male colleagues in the Shoe Lane soup kitchen. (Sir John Hunt’s daughter Sally was the most magnificent, but not mean or moody, waitress the boys had ever seen). Apart from the very moody Helen of the Yma Sumac voice in Nings who was snapped up by Dixon Scott when spurned by…Shelley.

She broke a lot of hearts then but Mark Jackson is the one who stands out as he used to gaze at her and write sonnets which nobody had been inspired to deliver to me since one of the Sketch artists.

Back to Shelley. You will remember, old friends, that she spoke Russian which Beaverbrook thought was the biggest achievement of any of his (mainly) innocent harem. She was sent there when it was still a secret, frightening place. (I remember my own first foreign trip was the visit of young and sulky princess Anne to the graveyards of the Plantagenet dynasty and she couldn’t summon up a smile for the Cherbourg schoolchildren who had a day off to serenade her and plead ‘Will ye no come back again’ and she was muttering on the deck above me to her lady-in-waiting that she wished they would just get going.

Shelley’s best friend then was the beauteous Liz Few who married Keith Morfett and we danced till dawn at her house when he came home from Cyprus. Then she became Jack Hill’s wife down in Southampton. The week before I joined the Express Liz was overheard by a Telegraph chum saying that she didn’t know what the Express was coming to, hiring people like me.

Driving up to Nottingham with a barefoot Shelley at the wheel of her Morgan was a happy memory. As was her marriage to John Weaver which took everyone by surprise, as did her temporary domesticity and four children, one after the other. I stayed with them on a break from the ParisExpress office with my little boy, Daniel.

Shelley went up to Manchester and soon had her own television programme there. The last time I saw her, cheekbones as Ramplingesque as ever, was at a lunch organised by Sheila Terry, wife of Mike. She was as stunning as ever, and with her Bacall-y voice had Manchester at her feet. Not quite Broadway but she could have if she’d wanted. She was totally embroiled in the Lowry story which she made her own. He adored her.

Had I had any Sapphic leanings I would have been another sonnet writer, believe me.

 

 

Special breed

From Howard Reynolds:

I can’t now remember exactly when, but Shelley and I flew to Dublin after some IRA prisoners escaped from Mountjoy (Peter Davenport, the Mail’s superb Dublin staffer, must’ve been on holiday, otherwise there’d have been no point in sending us.)

We stayed at The Gresham and, next morning, met up at breakfast with others who’d come down from the North. The talk wasn’t of the Mountjoy escape but of a Belfast-based photographer who had, it transpired, also stayed the previous night at The Gresham but who, unlike us, had been disturbed by a malfunctioning ‘vibrating bed’ that was only supposed to massage its occupant(s) on receipt of a 10p coin.

The photographer had been panic-stricken on account of the fact that, if awoken in Belfast to a world that shuddered all around you, the least likely explanation was a, er, vibrating bed.

Pretty funny. But Shelley didn’t laugh. Didn’t say anything much. A bit later, I asked if she was OK? Not her usual self, etc. She grinned. Said it was, oh, one of those things: you spent your life focusing in on the minutiae of someone else’s existence but then… Then the context could really hit home.

She wasn’t being dramatic. (Not Shelley’s style.) She wasn’t being morose (ditto). And she certainly wasn’t being disapproving (ditto, again). She was just saying, in that calm and level way of hers, how as a journalist you placed yourself at the heart, but rarely the soul, of events – unless, of course, you lived a life where, if the earth moved at night, the explanation was not so much sex as Semtex.

Like the rest of us, she had seen the joke. More quickly than us, however, she saw far beyond it. But then, her experience of horizons wider and further was greater than ours – although you’d never have known. Because Shelley never said.

Of so special a breed then, I found it hard in later years to reconcile all that provenance, that authority, that talent, with a Manchester-based Granada TV chat show.

But, hey; how stupid was I? Shelley wasn’t ‘reconciling’ anything. Wasn’t dumbing down. Wasn’t selling out. Shelley was just, well, doing something else. While the rest of us were still getting to the single destination we’d set ourselves, she’d already been there, seen it, done it, got the t-shirt, packed it away in a bottom drawer and then set off again to somewhere else: news reporter, feature writer, biographer, television interviewer, author, curator…

That Granada chat show marked the only occasion when we failed to see eye to eye. Literally.

As an invited member of the studio audience, I wound up with a front row seat for the recording. I think I was with the Sunday Mirror’s Wendy Dutton, but Wendy will remember better than I because all TV chat shows are, to me, not only instantly forgettable, but so painful to endure that every minute lasts an hour.

And so it was that, at some point in the proceedings when they changed the clappers or whatever it is these people do for a living, I headed off to the loo, instantly (and understandably) forgot about the show, and disappeared into The Stables next door for a drink.

Shelley was not angry. Then again though, she was not, exactly, amused.

My absence had buggered up something called ‘continuity’. So at the start of the show, a moon-faced moron (me) was staring with glazed eyes at the camera, and then next it was a fat lady from Oldham. Same chair, different person. But because they have something called cut-outs, or drop-outs, audience reaction shots aren’t always shown in sequence.

So the Granada TV flooring manager or clapped-out girl was distraught because it rather looked as though something infinitely more interesting than even Shelley’s performance had occurred off-camera, viz, a murder; a resurrection; a murder all over again.

Anyway. When we met later, she chided me. For reasons I cannot now begin to fathom, I think she did so in French. Actually, I know it was in French, one of several languages in which she was fluent (thank God it wasn’t Russian) so I at least managed to comprehend the n’est pas about n’est pis when my TV show is being recorded, comprendez?

Yup. Or rather: Oui.

Sadly, my French is still as merde as it always was. But at least where Shelley’s concerned, it’s not a case of goodbye nor even good night.

Just: a tout à l’heure.

In whatever language, mon amie, you’re going to be greatly missed.

#

7 December 2007

Bloody typical

From Anthony Peagam:

How sad to learn of the death of Ian Levack. And how typical that he should’ve been rushing about on a tennis court when his number came up.

In the mid-1960s, at Fleetway, he and I were downtable subs at Woman’s Mirror. Ray Hyams and Ken Seymour were there too, and Brian Checkley was chief-sub.

Phil Ashcroft, a chum from earlier days at the Argus Press, was in the art department with John Bigg, Dave Shapley and Jeff Bodecott; Ray Nunn reported the Royals; Godfrey Winn was a columnist (‘approved’ subs of his copy, male or female, received nylons or perfume at Christmas); Pamela Carmichael was

 

features editor in the footsteps of Pelham Pound; Peter Reed was deputy editor; Jodie Hyland then Joy Scully were editors.

And every young man was wildly in love with either beauty editor Jane Bacon or cookery editor Katie Stewart.

Not much later, Fleetway folded the magazine into Woman’s Illustrated because it was selling ‘only’ 1.3 million a week…

Ian Levack was a relentless nicknamer (I was immediately ‘Pogrom’, or ‘Pog’), and painfully good at exploiting personal weaknesses. So we all much enjoyed the day when he disappeared for a day’s trial at TVTimes, throughout which we bombarded the switchboard with urgent calls for ‘Mr Levack, visiting from Woman’s Mirror’. He was not amused. But he got the job.

My memory is that Ian had a newspaper stand at Hanger Lane Underground station, and would personally sell papers before and after each day’s work in Farringdon Street.

Years later, when I edited TVTimes, people still spoke of him. Though the ex-Fleet Street staff assembled by my predecessor, Peter Jackson, included any number of characters of its own, many of whom – Terry Pavey, Dave Lanning, Eric Linden, Eddie Pedder, Bruce Smith, George Brand, Ted Nunn – are happily still around; Peter Jackson too, of course.

 

 

Babbling Brooks

From Mike Gallemore:

I’ve just read CD’s memories of Arthur Brooks – wonderful: Colin can still write. I remember we used to stick some of Arthur’s unsubbed classics on the wall for everyone to have a laugh. Arthur being Arthur thought that the subs had done it so a wider audience could appreciate the original writings before it was ruined in translation.

That was Arthur. When a sports sub got the short straw and had to sub one of Arthur’s masterpieces, as he was going through the copy he would invariably shout out for all the subs to hear, including the news subs on the other desk, ‘Hey, get this belter from Arthur,’ and the entire office would break out in laughter.

On one occasion Arthur had slipped in through the door behind Alan Ridgill to take his seat at the back, just as one of the subs was delighting the desk with some of Arthur’s latest gems. As the room erupted Arthur stood up, straightened his tie, ran his fingers through his hair and, with a hint of a bow, said: ‘Not bad, eh.’

Arthur was the original author of such timeless phrases as, ‘he covered every inch of the pitch like a night frost’… ‘he rose like a salmon in the sunlight’ and ‘teak tough tiger-tackling Norman Hunter’…

What an operator.

 

 

Slick operator

From Eddy Rawlinson:

Every week I look forward to Friday morning and taking my weekly revels… sweetens the day. I loved the stories about Arthur Brooks, the darling of Dobcross, Diggle and Delph, by Colin Dunne and Ian Skidmore. It’s good to see Arthur remembered long after he uttered his last ‘Say no more’ and bowled along to higher plains.

Arthur’s well groomed hair could be described as well lubricated. So much so that when the Torrey Canyon went down George Harrop was heard to say there had never been that amount of oil in the sea since Mirror Week at Blackpool when Arthur went swimming in the sea without his bathing cap. He was a great all rounder, covering sport, including bowls, features, news and later working on the news desk in Manchester. A real wizard of words and again, to quote one of his sayings, ‘Say no more… you’ll be making me blush’.

 

 

Say no more…

From Colin Dunne

Sorry, sorry, sorry. That’s three apologies for the cock-ups in my piece about Arthur Brooks. The first is to Rumania for saying Arthur got mixed up in one of their revolutions, when it was someone else and somewhere else; and the other two are to Ted Macaulay and Alastair McQueen for attributing Ted’s joke to Alastair.

It did remind me why I moved from news to features all those years ago. If I get more than three facts I come over all dizzy.

 

 

Late addition

From Nick Jenkins:

Where have I been all these months? I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to discover your brilliant site. I’ve just spent the last two or three days working my way through it and enjoying all the reminiscences. So many memories, so many names…

Funnily enough, the first two names I saw in your Letters column took me back to my start on London papers – at Reveille, where I pitched up on the subs’ desk from the Mirror training scheme in Plymouth in the footsteps of former trainees Nick Kent and Geoff Stimson. The great Ken Smiley was a regular casual there, as were Iain Stevenson, Derek Prigent and Bill Fletcher. It was a real education for someone as green as me, and the occasional casuals all played their part too. Ian Levack did some shifts for us – and his reputation as a man of many get-rich-quick schemes impressed us.

Ken Udall, whose smiling demeanour was so accurately described by Revel, was editorial manager at Reveille. I’ll always remember being called into editor Cyril Kersh’s office, where the two of them offered me my first permanent job. ‘Would you be happy with £7,200?’ asked a grinning Ken. Would I? I’d been on £2,500 as a trainee, and nobody I knew earned anything like £7,200.

And my salary went up several times in the following year before MGN finally pulled the plug on Reveille and I was catapulted on to the Mirror news subs’ desk.

And so many other names… the delightful Giles Wordsworth (more famed for his get-poor-quick lifestyle), Vic McManus and his famous extended break – a story often retold, Tony Hatton, Mike Terry… Mike is still very much with us and I spoke to him this summer, but reminiscences here reminded me of my favourite Mike Terry story.

Allegedly, some kind person offered Mike a lift home from the pub one night shortly after his arrival in Manchester as Mirror northern editor. ‘Where’s your home, Mike?’ this person – perhaps with an eye on personal advancement – asked. ‘Mottram,’ he replied, so off they went on a lengthy drive.

In Mottram, Mike was woken up and directed his driver up some bumpy lane. They arrived at a building site and the puzzled driver asked where his home was.

‘Here,’ replied Mike, ‘but I haven’t moved in yet because it’s not finished – that’s why I’m staying at the Midland in Manchester.’

No doubt Mike could supply a more accurate version of that story. Or maybe not.

It was also fascinating to me, of course, to read Ian Bradshaw’s stories involving my Dad, Alan, who sadly died this June. Thanks for that, Ian.

#

December 7, 2007 

Ian Levack

From Jim Levack:

A few weeks ago my father, Ian Levack, rang me to tell me about this ‘marvellous new website’ that lauded the great and the good of Fleet Street.

With children and a job news editing a provincial evening newspaper, I didn’t get round to looking.

The website was, he assured me, the next best thing to being ‘back in the day’.

Sadly his untimely passing this week has prompted me to look in the hope of contacting any old pals who can help me fill the gaping hole in my life his loss will leave.

From the day I first saw him skip down the marble Sunday Express steps his shirt sleeves rolled up, he was an inspiration as a journalist to me.

He was also an inspiration as a dad… and my best mate.

He always spoke his mind and we sometimes disagreed, but he had a heart of gold and was a doting granddad to his three grandchildren Nick (14), Alex (12) and Jess (seven).

He suffered a heart attack as he played tennis in Ealing at the age of 73.

I am anxious to hear from anyone who knew him and who is interested in seeing him off next week (week beginning December 10) – please call me on 01926 773711 or 07982 755558.

He recently spent a few very happy sessions with his old pal Ray Mills (whose widow I would also love to hear from) – I pray that the pair of them are having a good old reminisce in the Harrow in the sky.

Please get in touch.

 

 

When you’re Smiley…

From Don Walker:

I had no intention of being disrespectful to or dismissive of the great Ken Smiley in my recent memoir ‘Play It Again, Harry’ – as seemed to be hinted by your correspondent Colin Henderson in this column.

Indeed, I spent many mirth-filled hours in the company of Ken as we knocked the Mirror TV pages into shape on otherwise turbulent Thursday evenings. We also attended a marvellous Count Basie concert together with his delightful wife Ann at the Southbank and, when Ken used to prepare the bingo numbers from home, had many hysterical phone conversations about jazz in general and Harry James in particular – Ken and I both play the trumpet.

I am also delighted to hear Ken’s still with us, especially as I was responsible for killing him off some years ago…

On the Mirror features subs table one evening I announced I was leaving to concern myself with new technology and Nick Kent (another great pal and admirer of Ken’s) said: ‘It’s sad, because another Mirror man has left us today -Ken Smiley.’

We all groaned and I took this announcement to mean Ken had died. I told Rod Dines that Ken was dead and, unknown to me, he told the brilliant sub and top designer Brian Sutherland. Brian, who was a close pal of Ken’s, thereupon rang Ann and the following conversation took place:

‘Ann, it’s Brian here.’

Ann, cheerfully: ‘Oh, hello Brian.’

‘Ann, I’m very sorry.’

‘Are you – what about?’

‘About Ken.’

‘About Ken? What about Ken? Do you want to speak to him? He’s just here.’

‘What! I thought he was dead!’

‘Dead? No, he’s just decided to stop working up the bingo numbers for the Mirror.’

As Mark Twain DIDN’T say, reports of his demise were grossly exaggerated.

+

 

 

November 30, 2007

Still writing

From Susan Last:

Great web site! My father Gilbert Johnson is now 77 – he was a journalist with the South Yorkshire Times, the Hull Mail, the Daily Herald, Daily Express and then The Sun from its beginning.

He covered many murder stories including The Yorkshire Ripper – and after Sutcliffe’s first murder my father said ‘we’ve got another Jack the Ripper’ – and so he was named. He was in court when an old lady of 65 was sentenced to murder – he worked on the Profumo case – interviewed Louis Armstrong – and on and on. I saved many of his front pages – which still make great reading.

We lived in Leeds for some time – when our house was filled with reporters and photographers. All great characters – all great drinkers and every day filled with yet another drama! Our life was quite unlike that of my school mates and my father a complete one off!

He still writes now – and his pen is never better. How I wished I had followed in his footsteps – what a great life.

He was thrilled to read rantings from some old familiar names and would make some great contributions himself.

 

 

Bloody hell fire

From Gilbert Johnson:

It’s great to hear those immortal names all over again! Vince Mulchrone – Gordon Amory – Ian Skidmore – Colin Dunne. Some of the guys I don’t see on the list like Phil Finn; he went to New York for the Express.

Eddie Laxton – is he still out there? The northern news editor for the Express – a former star of the Wasps Rugby team.

Barry Henson, I caught up with him in Leeds at his 70th birthday party. He was the youngest photographer ever to be employed by the Express. The flamboyant Trevor Reynolds was a great pal, who inherited the grievous burden of having a famous father Brian – killed on the way to cover the Japanese surrender at the end of World War 2. Ken Yates of the News Chronicle was a former Japanese POW who bought a special sort of style to the second oldest profession and like us all needed no induction to the greatest game through so called ‘media studies’.

There are so many more but I should mention Vic Clements, who flew 2 missions with bomber command when life expectancy was just 3-4 weeks. This just about prepared him for working with me as photographer on the Daily Herald and The Sun. His greatest lament came with a remark at an office party: ‘Could you ask anything more of a human being, than to work with Reynolds and Johnson?’

All the light and all the darkness of everyday life was lived by those newspapermen who sat at the ring side but never saw themselves as part of the drama, only the reflection. It took its toll however, illustrated by a party at the Express for the first man ever to retire. Surviving the minefield of drunkenness, personal tragedy and ill health that was the day to day inheritance of us all, who were derided by one socialist politician who said we ‘had the minds of sewer rats and the morals of prostitutes’.

God, I believe, will judge us more kindly than this sorry individual who subsequently went to prison after the Profumo case.

All the very best to you all.

 

 

Gentle reminders

From Paddy Mulchrone:

Great to glimpse the grand old days of yore via gentlemenranters.com. The site is a window on a world the brothers and I learned about through postcards from himself from all over the world.

Tales of missed dinners, planes, trains and deadlines (v.few of the latter) are rattling around and occasionally turn up in gentlemenranters. Delightful.

Your site makes up, in no small measure, for what Martin, Mike and I are missing in talking to the old man over a pint. Never really got the chance, and as I told Colin Dunne recently, the last pieces of the jigsaw are falling into place nicely.

Thank you, and all your correspondents, for their gentle reminders of himself.

 

Wonky handles

From Martin Mulchrone

I am sorry to say any trip to the Harrow, whilst clouded in very fond memories, normally resulted in our having to walk to Waterloo Station so I could be ill in peace on the way to the station.

I do remember on my 18th birthday being taken to the back of the Harrow and then on to Studd Millington to be measured for my first suit. It was a school day. On return to the Harrow Vincent was stopped by a news crew asking for his reaction to a lighting strike at the Express that afternoon. He did his piece to camera. The following day my Mother pressed a ‘Martin wasn’t very well’ note in my hand for Fr Andrew our house master. Fr Andrew accepted the note, tore it up without reading it, and said to me ‘You were on the nine o’clock news last night behind your father and you didn’t look well!’

Vincent was very proud of that day as I was humbled. Alan Dove and Len were on great form and Flo provided bangers and mash and loads of onion gravy.

Wonky door handles are still under-represented and we – Martin, Patrick and Michael (sons) and six grandchildren – would be delighted to see it used again and any other piece you think appropriate.

Thank you so much for bringing back some very special memories.

 

 

Happy memories

From Michael Mulchrone

It is great to read articles and comments about my Dad. Unfortunately he died when I was 17 but I am fascinated to learn of his activities and antics through the web pages of the Last Pub in the Street.

I laughed remembering the wonky door handle Vincent could not repair. Philippa Kennedy mentioned it in her article about him. Vincent was also a Rugby fan and often took Louie and us three boys to watch England vs Ireland at Twickenham with a hamper of food and Champagne in the boot. It was not long before a crowd of regulars surrounded the car to fortify themselves before the game.

Philippa Kennedy was among them on one occasion, there to watch her brother Ken Kennedy hook for Ireland at No 2. He visited the car briefly with his girlfriend, the then Miss South Africa.

As a School boy rugger player I did not know where to look! Look up to Ken as an international Rugby star or risk falling in love with Miss South Africa with my furtive glances.

It was not really until after he died did I start to appreciate how much Dad was admired and how much his good-natured humour touched so many people. I am proud that he was my dad.

Thank you to the contributors for bringing back a lot of happy memories.

 

 

The highlife

From Colin Henderson:

Dapper, always amusing wordsmith Ken Smiley was considerably more than the ‘trumpet-playing Mirror sub’ mentioned in Don Walker’s entertaining piece (November 23).

Ken Smiley’s Jazz Band did a host of BBC broadcasts in the Forties from Belfast, where Ken grew up. And the Who’s Who of British Jazz approvingly credits his ensemble as ‘establishing a reputation as one of the first non-American bands in the jazz revival’. Ken’s trumpet went on to be his passport in a colourful journalistic career, featuring many a jam session with established jazz stars on both sides of the Atlantic.

He joined the Daily Mirror in 1952, subbing under the iron rule of Dick Dinsdale. Before long Cecil King had taken him to West Africa — the Mirror owned titles in Nigeria and Ghana. Ken played a lot of trumpet there and mastered the art of playing highlife – an African jazz form. In Ghana, as editorial adviser to the Daily Graphic, he was ‘adopted’ by the on-tour Louis Armstrong, Satchmo’s clarinet player Edmund Hall rooming at Ken’s house.

After his West African stint, Ken returned to the subs desk in London before joining the New York bureau. He was in the UN when a furious Khrushchev famously took off his shoe and banged it on a desk, and he covered the high-jacking of the Santa Maria off South America, being first hack to board the reclaimed vessel. But the highlight of his time in Big Apple was buying a new horn and having Bobby Hackett, a Glenn Miller frontman, as the first person to play it.

Ken covered the Queen’s tour of Ghana in 1962 and later became syndication manager for Odhams — always showing up for his Saturday subbing shift on The People. After turning freelance he went to Ghana again to help revive the ailing Daily Graphic. From there he moved to Sierra Leone to start a news service. He ended up running the state radio and television stations.

Ken, also a golf nut, was back in the UK in the mid-Seventies, freelancing, mostly with the Mirror, until 2000. He now lives in Eastbourne with wife-of-37 years Ann (secretary to Bill Moore, People deputy editor under Sam Campbell and Bob Edwards).

‘Ken’s now a little frail,’ reports Anne. ‘But he is still as amused by life, journalism and music as he always was. All that horn blowing did him no harm at all.’

#

Legends of the lost

From Charlie Catchpole:

Reading the various travelers’ tales you have carried (vis-a-vis the difficulties sometimes experienced by journalists in staying awake on homeward-bound trains: Taking the strain, November 2), I was reminded of the misadventures of legendary London Evening News reporter Cyril Ling.

Cyril, habitually over-tired, was in the habit of nodding off aboard the last train out of Waterloo, thereby missing his stop (Surbiton, I think) and waking far away in somewhere like Farnborough, which necessitated a costly cab ride home.

So he befriended a member of his local station staff who worked night shifts, told him he always sat in the front carriage and slipped him a few pounds to wake him up and ensure that he disembarked.

This arrangement proved a great success until the occasion when Cyril was assigned an early-morning job the next day in Southampton, and decided to spend the night in a hotel in that fair city

En route, the train pulled in to Surbiton where, true to his word, Cyril’s friend entered the carriage and shook him awake.

‘No, no! I’m going to Southampton!’ Cyril protested.

‘You’re not, Mr Ling. You’re going home,’ insisted the dutiful railwayman, hauling him out on to the platform and slamming the door shut behind him.

Cyril watched in dismay as the train’s rear lights disappeared into the darkness. It was, of course, the last train to Southampton.

Better still was the fate that befell the equally thirsty Frank Draper, veteran reporter on the LondonEvening Standard.

Frank awoke one morning to find himself in some strange but undoubtedly foreign hotel room. The view from the window offered no clues.

Eventually, helped by the list of services beside his bed (which was in several European languages including, fortunately, English) he was able to phone through to the Standard newsdesk.

‘Where are you, Frank?’ asked the frantic news editor, worried that his reporter had not made contact before.

Frank replied: ‘I was rather hoping, old boy, that you could tell me…’

 

 

McDonough memories

From Alastair McQueen:

I was deeply saddened to read [Last week] of the death of Mike McDonough, one of the great Fleet Street characters I encountered in my youth. I first met him in the early days of the Irish troubles in Londonderry when he was working on the Evening News.

Jon Churchman of PA and I had been doing a marathon stint there covering riots and quaffing large – very large – amounts of gin when Mike arrived and was poured off the train from Belfast. He was accompanied by a lady colleague who at one time had been a starlet on the Daily Express, and between them they had virtually drunk the dining car of the train dry.

That night the usual riot broke out and off scurried Churchman and I followed by a struggling McDonough. When filing from phone boxes became impossible because the windows kept coming in round us and the crowd decided we were next for a kicking we returned to the City Hotel.

Heading for one of the phone boxes in the corridor next to reception we found the bold Michael, phone to the ear… and sound asleep, snoring for the world. Jon took the phone from his hand and spoke into it – and the copytaker was still there. He asked the copytaker how far Mike had got with his copy and proceeded to add some more before handing the phone to me and I added the rest. Mike slumbered on for a while and other people filed their copy to a background of his snores.

A few nights later Jon was out covering yet another riot and making his way back to the hotel when he saw a small group gazing intently at the red phone box outside The Guildhall. You’ve guessed it… there again was Mike, sound asleep standing up with the phone to his ear.

And again the copytaker was patiently waiting for him to continue. Jon again finished the story and managed to shake Mike awake and get him back to the safety of the hotel. Mike was indeed a legendary boozer – but he was also a great friend and a thoroughly decent colleague.

From Gareth Thomas:

I was much saddened to read of the passing of Mike McDonough. A man of intelligence and humour is always a loss. I did only five or six jobs as a fledgling photographer with him in the Caribbean and Florida but, after a bad start, became very fond of him and he of me.

I emailed him sporadically and, strangely, thought of him for the first time in ages, two days before his death.

 

Stolen intros and outros

From Ian Skidmore:

Mulchrone was lucky [Last week] that a sub gave him an intro I have never read bettered.

On two occasions my intros were pinched by subs for use as headlines. When the OC of RAF Tern Hill had two cranes that had escaped from Chester Zoo shot, because they were crapping on his Spitfires, the subs pinched ‘The Stains From Cranes Fell Mainly On the Planes’.

My intro for a riot at a Sikh wedding following the removal of a turban, ‘It Was Just One Of Those Singhs’, was pinched for a headline. I stood on the kerb with a policeman while twenty Sikhs fought around us. Sensible policeman. He was waiting for them to tire themselves before stepping in. ‘But if that fails,’ he told me, ‘we can send for a gunboat.’

And another thing. The late and lamented Mike McDonough may have countered ‘pissed again’ from Larry Lamb with ‘So am I’. I have witnesses that I said the same to the unlamented Fennah on the Mirror. But I must in truth admit we both pinched it from a Punch cartoon of the thirties.

 

 

Pudding club

From Dermot Purgavie:

Further to Colin Dunne’s reminiscence [see Archive: November 2] of Vincent Mulchrone at the international black pudding festival in France, Vince told the story of a butcher from Bury, or wherever, who had flown over to compete for the honours with his own famed recipe.

Strolling around after inspecting the contending puddings anonymously laid out for judging, he encountered another Lancashire butcher well known in blood-sausage circles. ‘Hello, Syd,’ he said. ‘I knew you were here – I recognised your knot.’

 

 

Wrong seating plan

From Bill Fredericks:

If one may presume to correct a correction, Paul Callan [An apology, last week’s Letters] may well have been famous for what he describes as his ‘quite, quite brilliant impersonation’ of him, but Douglas Long was never chairman of the Mirror.

Percy Roberts was chairman and chief executive until 1980, and was succeeded as chief executive by Douglas Long, with Tony Miles as chairman and editorial director. In January 1984 Clive Thornton became chairman for six months, after which a new guy arrived, all the others left and the rest, as they say, is history.

#

November 9, 2007

Callan: an apology

Revel B is wrong on two points when he recalls (Lost opportunities, October 26) going for a job on the pre-Murdoch Sun – which he did on my advice.  First, I did get a summer relief job, having been interviewed by the news editor, Ken Graham.  If it all worked out, he promised, there would be a staff job at the end of it.

I worked mostly on the graveyard shift – 9 pm to 4 am – except when they plonked me over to features.  I had joined the paper with such (later) luminaries as Harry Arnold and Paul Foot. But my fate was sealed:  I was becoming famous for my quite, quite brilliant impersonation of Douglas Long, then associate editor and later chairman of the Mirror.

Dougie had learned to ‘talk posh’ in the Indian Army and one night in the Cross Keys, after rather too many, I was drawling away in his somewhat affected manner. Suddenly, all around fell silent. There, inevitably, was Dougie standing behind, his face locked in an evil smile.

‘That’s very good, Paul,’ he said, ‘Quite like me. Have a drink.’

The next day I was gone!

The second point:  Revel should know, after all these years, that I would never, never have borrowed a fiver. It would have been a tenner.

 

 

Never let the facts

From Peter Smith:

Colin Dunne’s tribute to the great Vincent Mulchrone (Last week) is to be applauded. Without doubt he was the finest reporter and newspaper writer of his generation (and no-one could surpass his expertise with an expenses form).

But in studying his intros like a swotty O-level student I’m afraid Colin was not always on the right track: that famous ‘Two rivers…’ intro on the Churchill lying-in-state was not the work of Mulchrone. I well remember an irate Vincent protesting loudly (over a glass of champagne) in the Mucky Duck that some ‘bloody sub’ had stuck this intro onto his piece and it had nothing to do with him.

He considered it excruciating and disclaimed all responsibility for it. Years later, after I had left the Mail, a few of us met by chance in Paris and, as usual, the subject of ‘bloody subs’ cropped up during the evening. And again Vincent mentioned the ‘Two rivers’ intro. It still rankled with him all those years later.

I’ve often wondered what his unsubbed intro was. I’ll bet it was much better.

And… Bill Hardcastle [Book review, October 26] was never presenter of the Today programme, He gained his ‘great fame’ as presenter of The World At One.

An additional fact: Mike Randall’s famous quip that he had been ‘smiled in the back’ was because his successor as editor was Arthur ‘Smiler’ Brittenden.

 

 

Mostly right

From Neil Murray:

As the surprisingly unnamed chief sub in Don Walker’s tale Last week (don’t you remember me, Donnie? You were my deputy for three years) about Vic McManus and his apparent train trip to Preston during a subbing shift at the Mirror, I can confirm that Don has most of it right.

In fact, Vic was on the afternoon shift (I was on the morning one) and asked assistant chief sub Laing Leith if he could take his break early to see off his son at Euston. Laing checked with me and it was only when he came back, a couple of hours later, to ask if I’d had any word from ‘that b…… McManus’ that I realised Vic was still missing.

The phone call did follow, claiming he was in Prrrreston (you have to roll Rs because that was the way Vic spoke), as did a postcard a couple of days later, with a view of one of Preston’s delights and full of Vic’s apologies. Only trouble was, the card wasn’t franked. So did he end up in Preston or a Euston bar? I don’t suppose we’ll ever know.

 

 

Bobbing along

From David Bradbury:

May I contribute this (Intro, and Black Friday, Last week)?

Remember, remember, the Fifth of November:The last of a nasty fat slob.I think we ought toGo down to the waterAnd drink to the drowning of Bob.

 

 

Punished enough?

From Michael Watts:

Has anyone an inkling (I haven’t) of when the fashion for punning headlines really took off in earnest? One enjoys a pun as well as the next man, particularly when it is spot on. So many today, however, are either pretty excruciating or, worse, so inapposite that the story or feature below them becomes difficult to understand – because the desperately forced pun has misled us as to what it’s about.

In fact, puns have now become so ubiquitous that things have almost reached the point when it ain’t a ‘proper’ headline without one.

Alongside this tedious obsession, of course, has been the inexorable increase in headline size (which must surely now have reached its limit?). An indication of how far we have come is to be found in the OUP’s Language Report by Susie Dent. When, on 12 November 1918, The Times reported the end of the First World War, ‘coverage of that event unsurprisingly dominated the paper, but the biggest actual headline was HARRODS BLOUSE WEEK’.

 

 

Invincible

From Neville Stack:

Colin Dunne’s brilliant memoir about the late, great Vincent Mulchrone [Last week] prompts me to add this anecdote from the Frantic Fifties.

Mulchrone was pretty damn great all those years ago in Manchester when we served together on the now-defunct crap weekly City News.

We met up regularly over the years and consumed many a pint before he turned to wine.

As a reporter on the Mirror I worked next door to him on the Mail. Both being technically paddies and therefore expendable, we were often sent to Ireland (this being during the FIRST troubles).

Vinnie, though an Irish man, he had been a volunteer pilot in the RAF during the war and flew Dakota transports in Burma. One trip we were on together was in an Aer Lingus DC3, probably war surplus.

Sitting in the window seat, he pointed out with feigned nonchalance that rivets were popping out on the wing.

We spent a nervous half hour before landing safely in Dublin. The other passengers didn’t notice anything amiss, being well-fortified before the trip on the Guinness, which was then also brewed in Manchester. But they may have wondered why mechanics were swarming all over the wings and why the pilots staving off nervous breakdowns with drams of Powers in the airport bar

When I congratulated Vinnie on his cool, he said ‘I was more worried about being nabbed by Irish customs for smuggling in a load of contraband contraceptives for my pals at the Irish Times.’

We lost touch when he went to London office and then to Paris. I looked him up there and he had just returned from an alp, where Seventh Day Adventists had gathered to welcome the predicted End Of Days.

His story was exquisite.

While other reporters mocked them, Vincent (as he had become known) commiserated eloquently with their devastating disenchantment.

So professional, so clever, so goddam good.

#

November 2, 2007

Lost Lovelock

From Harry Pugh:

I didn’t see any obits following the sad death in Spain of Jimmy Lovelock. But formal obits often miss out the best stories. Here are couple about Jimmy, at 19 the youngest newspaper editor in Britain. He was a mountaineer, pot-holer, womaniser extraordinary and for many years the proprietor of Stockport News Service.

One boozy night in Manchester Jimmy was deemed too pissed to drive so I was requisitioned to take him home. He insisted on being taken via the slumbering streets of the Wythenshawe estate. Suddenly he ordered: ‘Stop here.’ He leapt from my car and loped off down a garden path.

I thought he was going for a pee. But then I saw him using his mountaineering skills to climb a drainpipe and vanish through a bedroom window. A burglary? Unlikely. An assignation with a lady? Much more likely. Anyway, I didn’t see him again that night.

There’s another tale when Jimmy was invited to be guest speaker at a mountain rescue team’s annual dinner in the Lake District. After a fine dinner, a lively speech and much drinking, Jimmy made his way upstairs at the Wasdale Head Hotel and along the corridor to his room. He opened the door and tried to switch on the light but nothing happened.

He got undressed and slipped between the sheets where he was surprised to discover a warm body which he quickly divined was female. From the darkness a husky voice said, ‘It’s all right, Jim. Cuddle up. I’m your fee.’

Great guy. Great fun.

 

 

Old sports

From Ken Ashton:

I’ve just discovered travel documents for a Liverpool game in Amsterdam in December1966, when a fresh-faced Johann Cruyff destroyed the Anfield giants. I wonder where these Press bods are now…

Me – I think I’m here, therefore I must be – Alf Barham, Guardian; Eric Cooper, Express; Don Evans, NoW; Frank McGhee, Mirror; Bob Willims, DT; Colin Wood, Mail; Norman Wynne, People; Horace Yates, Liverpool Echo; Gerry Loftus, Granada; Dave Warwick, ITV.

#

October 26, 2007

Memory jogged

From John Smyth:

Amazing how alcohol fuddles the brain. I was vaguely aware that some drinking went on at the Mirror, but then Phil Bunton’s Ranters piece (Last Week) brought it all back to me.

While casualling one night on Mirror news subs, I took a break in the White Swan with the late Tony Hatton, who introduced me to Tennants Super Lager. Now, Tony liked a drink – the legend goes that leaving the Newspapers Workers’ Club early one morning his Humber Super Snipe was in collision with seven other cars – but he cautioned me not to have more than two or three TSLs.

Naturally, I ignored this advice, and my bravado increased with each can. I careered back to the office, but the one-star rejig I was given by chief sub David Lamb appeared to be unfathomably blurred, or written in hieroglyphics.

I spent the next next two-and-a-half hours in the jaws of death, ie the Gents, returning at 2.30am to find Roger Wood had taken over from Lambie on the night turn.

Woody, jovial as ever, greeted me: ‘If you’ve finished, John, get away.’

At the Daily Sketch in the Sixties, the snooty editor Howard French made sure that people didn’t get crazed at gatherings in his office by cradling the wine bottle in his arm and tipping out a smidgeon into each glass.

French had a droopy moustache like comedian Jimmy Edwards, but was far less engaging. A young Sketch art-bench recruit was drawing up a page when he was introduced to the commandant.

French extended his hand and the young man made to shake it. But French sneered: ‘No, I need to use your pencil.’

That rookie, Peter Grover, was eventually rewarded by becoming French’s night desk supremo.

 

 

New reader

From Paul Callan:

Courtesy of Alastair McQueen, I have only just discovered ‘Ranters’ – and what fun it was to read contributions from former Mirror colleagues I thought had long made the journey to the Great News Room. Still alive, eh?

I experienced much the same treatment as I left St Bride’s the other day after attending Nigel Dempster’s memorial service. One Who Shall Remain Unnamed – the swine – eyed me up and down and said: ‘I wouldn’t bother to leave, if I were you Paul.’

Incidentally, all Ranter’s talk of the Stab prompts me to ask: whatever happened to all those pictures of Mirror men ‘on the job’ (as it were)? There was one of me – very slim, devastatingly handsome, yet modest – talking to three topless lovelies on the beach during the Cannes Film Festival. I’d love to get me hands on that (and them, too).

For those who might ask what the hell I’m doing now: I’ve been with the soar-away Express since 1991 – still writing features, comment and news colour. Can’t do anything else. Oh – earlier this year I was also made theatre critic (which I love doing).

And guess who I run into very regularly at theatrical press nights? Yes – Bill Hagerty, who is the Sun’s critic. I just knew Bill and I would end up as intellectuals…

Warmest regards to my many old mates from those great Mirror days.

 

 

I also owe Harold

From Bryan Rimmer:

The Laugh-Out-Loud Colin Dunne isn’t the only scribbler who owes a lifetime of long, liquid lunches to Harold Wilson. Seems the cunning old bugger made a habit of giving hacks a helping hand. Albeit unwittingly.

My own experience came as a teenager (yes, it was a previous century) toiling on the Consett Guardian in the wake of Vic Wakeling and Jon Lander.

Consett had a new Labour MP, David Watkins, who had taken a bit of a shine (no, not of the Elton John variety) to this vertically-challenged and spotty youth. He told me about a job writing features for a glossy magazine produced by the British Iron and Steel Federation. For younger readers, if there are any, this was pre-British Steel and pre-Corus. Yes, pre-historic.

The job was in Lunnon – a place I’d only read about on the back of cornflake packets. Consett outfitters weren’t too big on the bowlers and brollies I thought had to be worn, so I climbed on a train to London clutching me mam’s pack of sandwiches and dressed in a brown suit with green stripes. A bookie’s runner would have been proud.

Watkins,a bespectacled Welshman not long out of the Valleys, had invited me to meet him at the Commons. And they didn’t come much commoner than me.

He took me on a tour of the great Palace of Westminster during which I was slack-jawed with awe. Then the bonus. ‘Come and have lunch,’ he says. As I’d only ever eaten dinner at this age, I wasn’t sure what to do.

But, once I’d figured out which tools to use, the meal went well enough. Then, out of the corner of a nervous eye, I noticed at the next table the Prime Minister. With wife Mary.

David, bless him, seized the moment. ‘Let’s go,’ he muttered. And led me over to the Wilsons and did the introductions. To this day I can’t remember what the PM said, except that he and Mary were gracious enough before getting back to their troughing.

Watkins pointed me in the direction of Tothill Street and off I tottered for the interview. It was to be with a director of the BISF and, before being shown in, the editor of the magazine asked me if I’d had a good journey and had I lunched.

Yes, I replied, I’d just had lunch at the Commons and met the Wilsons. The ed did a very good impression of a Roger Moore eyebrow dance and led me into the director’s office.

‘This,’ he said, ‘is Mr Rimmer who is here about the feature writer’s job. He’s just come from lunch with the Prime Minister.’

I started the following week.

 

 

Close, but no cigars

From Harry Pugh:

Great to see Colin Dunne’s name appearing regularly in Ranters. But I was never so glad to see his by-line as I was one day back in the early 80s. I’ve not seen Colin since then. But I’d like to say a belated thank you.

Here’s the story. A celebrity butler was starting a school for aspiring butlers. I was then working on The Star. The features editor told me to sign up for the butling course – but my instructions went further.

Not only was I to go on the course, I had to persuade some friendly aristocrat to take me on so that my newly acquired butling skills would be given a real life test.

I rang Skiddy’s old friend, Lord Langford, at his North Wales castle. After some thought, he agreed that I could come and buttle at his daughter’s wedding party. He added: ‘I do like a good cigar. A box would make a very adequate present.’

I continued making the complicated arrangement then out came The Sun. Colin had written a full-page piece on the butling course without any of the nonsense of putting it into practice.

How pleased I was when my bosses, having been beaten by The Sun, decided to scrub the job. I was spared the embarrassment. Alas, poor Lord Langford didn’t get his Havanas.

Thanks Colin. I owe you one.

 

 

Still running, the Cashin show…

From Chris Buckland:

The first time I met Fergus Cashin was in El Vino (where else?). He was fuming because his review of the film Decameron hadn’t appeared due a printers strike (what else?) at the Daily Sketch.

Still, he had the typed copy in his pocket. The film had been lambasted as pornographic in excitable news stories, though nowadays it wouldn’t raise an eyebrow if it was shown on kiddies TV.

I still recall Cashin’s intro:‘Decameron? Sexy? I’ve seen more sex on a windy night when De Cameron Highlanders were marching down Princess Street in their kilts.’

#

More Billy…

From Alastair McQueen:

Bryan Rimmer’s encounter with Billy Connolly – Ranters last week – reminded me of another tale about the so-called Big Yin.

It happened when his marriage collapsed and his soon-to-be ex-wife filled column inch after column inch with tales of how he had left her abandoned and potless with a tribe of kids.

Connolly was due to appear at a show in London and every paper in Fleet Street had an ‘exclusive’ tip that he would be at the theatre for rehearsals on the Sunday afternoon. A vast pack of Fleet Street’s finest duly gathered to find the front of the theatre locked tight. They hung around the stage door and found Connolly had eluded them and was already inside.

As opening time was fast approaching the Gentlemen of the Press retired for much-needed refreshment before gathering again when the final glass was emptied.

Connolly erupted from the stage door shortly afterwards, fists flailing, and began to attack the assembled artistes in light and shade… until two very handy lads in the shape of Big Bad Billy Kennedy and Peter Stone of the Daily Mirror stood their ground, put down their cameras and said: ‘Come on, then, you Jock bastard, let’s see just how good you are…’

Connolly stopped dead in his tracks for a milli-second and then fled back into the theatre quicker than he had emerged (and later told his audience he had been attacked).

Years later the Brian Hitchen, then editor of the Sunday Express, dispatched me to Bradford – the one in Yorkshire where curries used to be cheap – on a story and I was taking my ease and a little light refreshment in an hotel bar.

In came Connolly, ordered a pot of tea – by that time he was on the wagon – and looked round the lounge. He sat at a table next to me as I studied my paper and supped the wine Mr Hitchen’s organ was so generously providing for me.

Connolly looked at me and tried to strike up a conversation. I couldn’t believe my luck.

I said simply: ‘I haven’t a clue who you are, Jock, but if you are trying to pick me up you’ve failed. And I certainly don’t want to be seen talking to a fucking weirdo like you. If you don’t leave me alone I shall ask the staff to kick you out.’

To say he was dumbfounded – speechless, even – is an understatement. He just blustered and sat there. He was joined by a couple of his entourage ten or fifteen minutes later and was grandstanding with them, effing and blinding all over the place.

A couple of middle-aged women were at the other end of the room and quailed as they listened to his language.

I asked a waiter to fetch the manager and complained about Connolly’s language and forced the mealy-mouthed little shit to approach Connolly and quieten him down. He was very unamused.

When I was checking out on Saturday afternoon I happened across Connolly in the foyer and he gave me one of those looks.

‘I’m off now,’ I said. ‘You can read all about yourself in tomorrow’s Sunday Express, you foul-mouthed Scots —-. You should always be careful who you try to pick up in a hotel bar. I’m a Sunday Express reporter.’

Again he was totally dumbstruck. His face was puce.

It was a petty episode, but one that I enjoyed… revenge for all my old photographic mates he thumped over the years.

 

Ken Lennox:

Most of my Connolly stories are not printable, but I was sent to Glasgow airport to catch Billy’s arrival some time after he had become a big telly star. He duly arrived and started to duck and dive but I managed to catch him and gave him the disco lights at full power. Connolly stopped beckoned me over, smiled, bent forward and whispered in my ear.

‘Have you put Vaseline on yir Nikon?’ I gave him my best puzzled look… ‘Cos it will make it easier on you when I shove it up yir arse ya bastard.’

Since that little episode twenty plus years ago I have never left home without a little dab of lubricant on the rougher edges of my cameras.

 

 

More Terry…

From Tony Robinson:

I remember Terry Lancaster (THE STAB, Last week) giving a talk about work as a lobby correspondent to my intake of Mirror Group trainees in Plymouth. In the course of a wide-ranging address, he told us about the foreign secretary George Brown… how he had one day asked a Foreign Office official to set up a telephone chat with him and how the hours marched on towards deadline time with no return call.

So in mid-afternoon, Terry phoned the official to see what was going on. And the conversation went something like this:

‘I’m afraid the foreign secretary is not available.’

‘What’s the problem? I thought we had an understanding that I was going to talk to him.’

‘Well, I’m afraid the foreign secretary is rather tired.’

‘Tired? At four in the afternoon? How tired can he possibly be at four in the afternoon?’

‘As tired as a newt, sir.’

 

 

From Colin Henderson:

One of the many skills of the kind, generous and highly amenable Terry Lancaster was his high-speed typing, an art honed in the New York office of the Daily Express. He and Rene McColl vied with each other to produce the most amount of copy in the shortest time for the Beaver. Terry reckoned on a good day he was the fastest, but envied McColl for the quality of his pieces, not to mention his exes.

On The People, then selling close to 5.5million, Terry hated sending altered copy to the printer — he was always amenable to subs’ changes.

If even a few words had been changed he would get back to the typewriter and feed in the paper and blacks to produce in seconds a pristine final draft.

He disliked doing personal knocking pieces and one week, after somehow managing to monster Callaghan, he found himself at a cocktail bash attended by Sunny Jim. Terry’s description of how he worked his large bulk around a column in the centre of the room to keep out of Callaghan’s sight while being observed by a gleeful Harold Wilson was one to savour.

When not on his near-permanent hotline to Wilson’s kitchen sink cabinet, Terry was very much at home in the case room — it reminded him of his family’s printing business in Salisbury. Crouched over the stone, shirt undone with ink all over his large stomach and prominent belly button, and with a fag on the go, he loved cutting-in his column. Such was his rapport and popularity with the lino operators — as yet unsullied by the malignant influences at work over on the Mirror — that they would come over to pick up his cuts and corrections, while the upmakers would always produce extra galleys and page-proofs for him without hassle.

 

 

More Costello’s…

From Ian Bradshaw:

In his memorial tribute to Costello’s Micky Brennan did not include one of the funniest things I have seen happen in New York’s most famous newspaper bar.

Herbie the waiter was serving a lady lunch when she complained about her lumpy mashed potato. Herbie, using his great paw like hands, scooped it up off her plate and disappeared into the kitchen, only to reappear with another handful of mashed potato which he slammed down in her gravy splattering her suit. It did not pay to complain!

 

 

More Val…

From Neil Marr:

In disgruntlement, I must report having taken extreme exception to your correspondent Andrew Leatham’s allegation in ‘The Stab’ last week that ‘It’s rumoured she (Val McDermid) once even out-drank the legendary toper Neil Marr.’ This is not the case. Ms McDermid once laid me flat on my back at the Manchester Press Club as we discussed Fife, but I soon recovered and continued my previous liquid entertainment while she made some weak excuse about having to go to Grimsby (urgently) and, tellingly, left at least half a pint of Tetley’s in her glass. I can only assume that your correspondent, spotting me in repose, got the wrong end of the stick and rushed to spread the malicious rumour that I had been beaten in drink rather than in the fair and friendly fistfight it was.

#

Prince fillip

From John Stapleton:

Delighted to read about the long-overdue award to the legendary Jimmy Nicholson (THE STAB, last two weeks).

My first encounter with him came on the Daily Sketch in Manchester. ‘Got wheels, squire? I need to go on a mission,’ he said as my £5.10s a day shift was about to end. And yes – Jimmy really did talk like that in those days.

‘Take me down there I will put you in for a double shift,’ he added. Who could resist? So in my 1955 Ford Popular I chauffeured Jimmy to a back street in Salford where I was told to wait.

Two hours later the Prince of Darkness emerged from the shadows and asked to be taken back to the office. It was months later that I learnt I had taken him to the home of a lady friend. Naturally, I never got my extra £5.10s.

Years later I presented a live OB from Manchester for the BBC Nationwide programme about the launch of the Daily Star. It included a film profile of Jimmy, cape and all.

Asked why as chief crime reporter he would be based in London when the paper’s main office was in Manchester he replied: ‘Because you don’t get many assassination attempts in Cleckheaton, squire.’

What a star.

PS I think your blog is wonderful. And Colin Dunne is a national treasure.

 

 

A worthy touch

From Gordon Amory:

Alun John (Last week) may have called for a Swansea when drinking in Fleet Street and in need of a ‘large industrial port’, but on Tyneside we’d ask for a Southampton for a large port, a Blyth for a small port, and a Hartlepool for a small-but-crusted vintage port.

margaretHowever we were mainly beer drinkers, and to serve us in the Express local, the Crown Posada, we had Polly the barmaid, a sweet old lady who was forever eighty and reigned over all before starting yet another career across the road from the office in the Black Gate.

She was always delighted when the press arrived and called their orders on hot summer evenings with a light thirst-quenching pint befiore setttling down to more serious drinking.

In the early days it would be: ‘A pint of Worthington with a touch of lemonade’. This was later abbreviated to ‘a Worthy touch’ before eventually and perhaps inevitably becoming… ‘a Princess Margaret’. 

Polly liked the cheekiness of that but of course the Princess was worth one in those far off days (as her photo on the cover of Tim Heald’s biography reminds us).

 

 

Dash it all

From Michael Watts:

Having thought the Shorter Oxford’s reported reason for dropping hyphens somewhat specious, I heartily commend the robust response of Dr Syntax. However…

1. One has to bear in mind, re the former, that today’s dictionary editors regard it as their duty to be descriptive and less prescriptive than in the past.

2. Ironically, rather than dropping hyphens, I’m actually using more these days – employing them as and when, for the sake of clarity. There could be no better example than ‘a black-cab driver’ or ‘a black cab-driver’ as opposed to the ambiguous ‘black cab driver’.

3. On the other hand, those in the pro-hyphen camp must accept that styles change. For example, it would now look very odd to see ‘Oxford Street’ (or any other thoroughfare) rendered as it used to be… ‘Oxford-street’.

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October 5, 2007

Diamond geezers

From John Dietrich:

My eye was temporarily confused while scanning the Internet this morning and I momentarily mis-read a mention of somebody called Gerald Ratner as a reference to Gentlemen Ranters.

A silly mistake.

One of them is a shop window packed with sparkle, with precious gems and jewels to tempt the eye and wallow in the tradition, heritage and heirloom luxury of a bygone era.

And the other one is a Mr. Ratner.

Keep up the good work.

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September 28, 2007

El vino veritas

From Michael Watts: On the question of what wine John Junor asserted was drunk only by poofs/poofters (please yourself), Graham Lord insists that it was not white, but rosé.

Yes, I remember that variation too. Indeed, I preferred it – (a) because, as we agree, he was known to drink white wine himself, and (b) because rosé (especially with its bonus of being ‘pinko’) seemed a more appropriate target. But on checking it out at the time I was disappointed to learn that the ‘white’ version was correct.

Although, of course, it is not impossible that he could have said both. To be raised, perhaps, when conference is called Up Yonder.

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September 21, 2007

Was Maxwell poisoned?

From Ken Welsby:

I don’t think we have to look far for the definitive answer to the question posed last week in the diary, THE STAB. If I remember rightly, the last hack to talk to Maxwell before he left on his final flight and cruise was none other than a certain Revel Barker.

Did he see a black-cloaked stranger clutching a mysterious phial? Or a mini-skirted Mata Hari secreting a mysterious potion into that oversized coffee cup with the words ‘I am a very important person’ inscribed on the inside?

Never mind what’s happening on some rock in the Med, we’re more interested in what happened off the Canary Isles that night in ’91 – and the events leading up to it!

Keep up the good work, ranters all – the best read of the week.

 

 

I think we have been told

From Graham Lord:

Mike Watts reports that John Junor used to insist that ‘only poofs drink white wine.’ In fact, as he says, JJ drank gallons of the stuff himself: it was rosé that he scorned as being unmanly.

 

 

Decorum

From Geoffrey Mather:

‘At the Daily Telegraph many years ago I understand that strict adherence to the style book got the paper into a ridiculous tangle,’ wrote your correspondent, Austin Wormleighton (Running amok with the Style Book, September 7).

The Northern Daily Telegraph (no relation: it is now the Evening Telegraph, published in Blackburn) had a similar style book and the word ‘rape’ was banned.

So we came to a war in the East, and the enemy, said the paper, rampaged through a village robbing, looting and committing misconduct.

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September 14, 2007

‘Most-bombed’ bar?

From Paddy Byrne:

I’m aware that The Times speaks highly of this website, but that doesn’t make the Thunderer beyond criticism… does it?

Its Ireland Correspondent last weekend described the Crown Liquor Store – opposite the Europa in Belfast – as having ‘the unnerving distinction of being western Europe’s most-bombed public house.’

Can that be true?

Can any old Ulster firemen out there remember this beautiful old pub, with its glorious Victorian features, colourful stained and leaded glass, beautiful ceramic tiles and ornate oak carvings, being bombed… ever?

Look at the photo. Does it look most-bombed, to you?

Its only ‘distinction’, surely, was that it was where everybody sought refuge when an explosion occurred across the road.

If it had also been even considered as a likely target, I somehow suspect that we would all have had the gumption to have retreated to a safer place. It was always my (possibly unfounded) assumption that even the bombers showed respect for the pub’s remarkable architectural character, and that the bombs may even have been deliberately placed so that nary a window in the place was even cracked.

Can a pub that has never been bombed be described as the most-bombed? Isn’t it more accurate to describe it – along with nearly every pub in the known world – as among the least-bombed?

Are we even talking about the same place – opened 1826, originally called the Railway Tavern?

Is it remotely possible that the paper’s unnamed Ireland Correspondent (David Sharrock) could have got things so wrong – or is it my ageing memory that’s at fault, again?

 

 

Garbutted

From Paddy O’Gara:

Like all of us, I was saddened by the news about Christine Garbutt. Her take [see Last Week] on the poker games was accurate, as far as I recall.

She certainly kicked me around Holborn Circus once or twice; Mike Molloy as well. ‘I’ve been Garbutted,’ he ruefully commented after one game.

The poker table was a story in itself. Mike bought it from the old Press Club and it had originally belonged to, and had been presented to the club by, EdgarWallace.

Six-sided, green baize topped, with brass pockets for coins – not much used in our games – it was a handsome and substantial piece of furniture. I openly coveted it.

During one game Mike, who was having a rare bad night, asked how much he owed me. When I told him, he scribbled me a receipt on the back of a cigarette packet and said, ‘I know you have always admired the table, now it is yours, and we two are straight.’

As it never moved from his office, this was something of a pyrrhic victory, but we were, and still are, chums, so what the hey.

Some weeks, or months, later, however, Mike presented me with a cheque for the amount that I had originally ´paid’ for the table.

‘So, now the table is yours, again,’ I said.

‘No, I’ve given it to Bob Maxwell as a present,’ said Mike.

I didn´t say it, but I did feel a teeny bit, if not actually Garbutted, certainly somewhat Maxwelled.

 

 

Memorable heads

From Harry Pugh:

There have been a couple of mentions of Fergus Cashin, and I wonder if any fellow ranters can vouch for the truth of the following story.

When he was a young sub Fergus was offered a trial by the Daily Mirror. He was handed a story about a teacher who was a keen angler. He applied for and got a teaching job in Cheshire. And he asked the interviewing board what the local fishing was like. He was told there wasn’t any. So he said he wasn’t interested in the job and went back home.

Fergus came up with the headline: No fish, so Goodbye Mr Chips. Everyone was delighted, and he landed a permanent job.

In my brief spell talking to kids at posh public schools about careers in journalism (I was dropped in favour of a dollybird from a local radio station) I put this forward as an example of brilliant headline writing. But it didn’t mean a thing to our present generation of sixth formers. They had never heard of the book or the film and the only chips they knew about were those in the school canteen.

Does anybody know – was it actually Fergus Cashin who wrote this memorable headline?

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September 7, 2007

Chechez la femme

From Sue Bullivant:

It occurred to me over my morning gin and tonic that there seems to be a marked shortage of lady ranters servicing your organ. Delighted as I am to play Samantha to the editor’s Humphrey Lyttelton indefinitely, there surely must be some genuine hackettes out there with something to rant about or a tale to tell?

Come on girls, let’s show ‘em.

 

 

Brewery background

From Bryan Rimmer:

Mike Molloy, a fan of Spike Milligan and John Mortimer, decided he wanted a series for the Daily Mirror about Milligan and also a piece on the pair of them talking. He got me to organise a dinner in Soho attended by Milligan, Mortimer, himself, Joyce Hopkirk and, of course, yours truly with a tape recorder. That made one piece.

Setting up the series involved me in half a dozen interviews with Milligan – all of which required dinners or lunches with him and his girlfriend (later, wife) Shelagh.

Once these had been completed, Joyce, who was in charge of features, thought it would be a good idea to have one final, thank-you meal with Milligan – but at the Mirror with Molloy as host. She duly arranged this.

Preparing for the appointed hour we assembled in Molloy’s office for drinks and waited… and waited. No sign of the reliably prompt Spike.

Eventually, Molloy got Joyce to ring the directors’ dining room to see if there was any sign of our illustrious guest. She was told that, indeed, Mr Milligan and lady had been – and gone. He had been taken to the dining room, as instructed, while we all boozed in the editor’s office. Spike, unattended, threw one of his famous wobblies and stormed out. Molloy was furious and that’s when he told Joyce: ‘You couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery.’

By the way, there’s a post-script to the saga. Spike obviously didn’t blame me. At Christmas that year he invited me and a few of his mates to a splendid Christmas lunch at some rather grand eatery. One drink led to another dozen and we all fetched up at Ronnie Scott’s, where Spike insisted on joining Ronnie on stage. He then fell out with Shelagh and stormed off home without saying a word to the rest of us. However, he did leave instructions for all drinks to be charged to him. Not quite a brewery piss-up, but one I’d settle for any time.

 

 

Favourite royal

From Stanley Blenkinsop:

There can be no doubt about it: the Queen Mum (Ranters, passim) was always the newspaperman’s favourite Royal.

Two incidents in particular – both on Tyneside – confirmed her special regard for press photographers.

In 1953 she was formally opening the eponymous Queen Elizabeth Maternity Hospital at Gateshead. The town’s chief constable decreed that photographers must stay at least ten yards from Her Majesty. Pompously, he refused their pleas to reconsider.

Result: the press corps lined up, laid down their cameras and flash guns and stood ‘at ease’.

Within moments the Queen Mum realised no-one was photographing her with the new mums. She sent a lady-in-waiting to ask why.

Told of the chief constable’s quarantine order, she called him over and snapped: ‘The gentlemen of the press must be able to do their job properly. They are to come as near as they need to the mothers, their babies and myself.’

She then repeated the interrupted tour and at the end walked over to Fourth Estate ranks to ask: ‘Do you have all the photographs you need, gentlemen? If not, I will do it all again.’

And she did…

Surprisingly no paper – national or local – carried the story.

Eight years later – 1961 – she was back on Tyneside to launch the liner Empress of Canada (also named in her honour). This time she was in a wheelchair because of a recent fall that had badly injured one leg.

As she was pushed through the huge crowd to the launch platform she realised that sitting in the chair meant many people could not see her properly.

‘Please bring my crutches and I will walk – these people have come to see me as well as the ship and I do not want them to be disappointed.’

And she hobbled slowly up the ramp to deafening applause.

As the cliché says, we will not see her like again. A right Royal ‘pro’.

 

 

Where am I now?

From Harry Taylor:

A fascinating read, and thanks to Grey Cardigan for mentioning Ranters in his column for Press Gazette. I had never heard of the site.

I am so old that I was a sub at the Mirror when it was at Geraldine House, which lay off Fetter Lane just up from Fleet Street. Jack Nener was editor and the dreaded (but respected) Dick Dinsdale the scourge of the subs’ desk. I was a sub at many papers – the Sketch, the Mail, the Sunday Telegraph – during what I laughingly call my career, including, from 1963 to 1965, that illustrious organ the National Enquirer when its offices were in New York at 60th Street and Madison Avenue. The managing editor there was Ted Mutch, a former Mirror sub, now alas in the Great Newsroom in the sky.

If anyone remembers me from whichever paper I would be delighted to hear from them. I can be contacted at Henry.Taylor@FreeUK.Com. Among your letter writers I recall John Garton, who did some Saturday casual work for the Sunday Telegraph – in the late sixties, I think. The last I heard of him he was working for one of the tabloids in Florida.

Anyway, good luck to all Ranters. More power to your keyboard fingers, and of course your drinking elbows.

 

 

Legion of the lost editors

From Alan Hart:

This is not so much a rant as a cry for help. From May, 1971, until October, 2000, I worked as a staff reporter for the News of the World in Manchester.

During that time I served 14 different editors, starting with ‘Tiny’ Lear and ending with Rebekkah Wade. In there somewhere are Bernard Shrimsley, Ken Donlan, Barry Askew, Derek Jamieson, Nick Lloyd, Patsy Chapman, David Montgomery, Wendy Henry, Piers Morgan and Phil Hall.

I used to know their names by rote, like the English monarchs from 1066. Can anyone help me here?

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August 31, 2007

The funny side of the Street

From Alun John:

First, congratulations on the look of the new site, not only a move back from Docklands, but a move into some rather handsome premises at the heart of Fleet Street itself, perhaps just off Fetter Lane in one of those little courtyards – a stagger from the Stab, a walk from the Wine Press, an easy step from El Vino and within a few yards of The King and Keys, just within the sound of The Bell.

Its new location shouldn’t stop people from the whole of Fleet Street dropping in, though.

I told a couple of stories of the early days of the Mail on Sunday, but surely there must be hundreds of others waiting to come out of Tudor Street?  Didn’t they have any fun on the Daily Mail? They certainly seemed to, when they drank in Aunties or The Harrow; perhaps the move to the West End killed their ability to spin yarns. But there used to be a whole raft of stories tumbling out of the place. Vincent Mulchrone, for one, could – and would – hold forth for hours at opening time in the Back Bar.

What about The Times andthe Telegraph? Is Small-Earthquake-in-Chile-Not-Many-Dead the limit of their humour, reminiscence and tale-telling ability? Oh, how we laughed over that one, when we were children.

James Elroy Flecker wrote: ‘What shall we tell you? Tales marvellous tales, Of ships and stars, and isles where good men rest’. Why is it that only about half the Street has them, or can tell them?

 

 

No sooner said than…

Richard Davies. Gold Coast. Australia:

One of the obituaries to Bill Deedes mentioned that he managed to find a form of co-existence with the ‘difficult’ managing editor Peter Eastwood. That’s hardly surprising since Bill was a real gent and never looked down his nose at self-made hard men like Eastwood.

And since it’s considered bad form to speak ill of the dead in the context of Deedes, let’s extend that posthumous courtesy to Eastwood. Peter managed to prove only half of the dictum that managing editors can’t manage or edit. He was clearly not cut out for the role as poacher turned gamekeeper but he had been a formidable night editor to whom many journalists owe a great deal.

I was a very green sub-editor under his reign and suffered many a well-earned rebuke from the top desk. Once I précised Harold Wilson in reported speech with the words: ‘Mr. Wilson believed such and such a thing.’ Eastwood, his glasses misting up in anger, stabbed at the proof with his pen and seethed: ‘Mr. Wilson believes no such thing. He SAID he believed it. He was lying. He always lies.’

Incidentally, outside the newsroom in his own sanctum and before he became gripped by management fervour, Eastwood too was courtesy itself.

On the subject of Fleet Street Nice Guys, my very belated tribute to the late, great Fergus Cashin.

I was an even greener sub when our paths crossed on the old Daily Sketch. I was a downtable knockabout sub and he was Lord Almighty in the pecking order but he was a good and patient colleague on the desk and on the stone.

It was out of hours that things went awry.

Like the night a taxi driver reported to the dogwatch boys that he had a recumbent Cashin in the back of his cab and could we tell him where to take him. The night man innocently gave the great man’s address and the snoring Cashin was driven off into the night.

Only the next night did Cashin fill us in on what he remembered, and he was a scabrous raconteur. It seems he had moved home the week before but forgot to tell us.

So… he had been dropped off in front of his old home. As he told it, he followed a well-worn routine, took his shoes off and tip-toed up the garden path, prised open a ground floor window and climbed in. Unfortunately there was an entirely new set of residents at home by then and – as FC told his breathless audience in Aunties – he hauled himself through the window only to land on a young girl’s bed.

As he grabbed for a familiar hold he knocked over the kid’s goldfish bowl and, in the dim light afforded by the street lamp through the curtains, tried to console the screaming youngster while stuffing gasping goldfish into his pockets and trying to find his shoes. It was a terrific story, some of it confirmed by the local police station and everything (as usual) was eventually smoothed over.

  • Richard Davies worked on the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph and spent a year subbing and reporting in Africa. Was on the Mirror as a casual (1965), then full-time on the Sketch (1965-67), Telegraph (67-69), Reuters, India, Africa again, Telegraph again then Australia, where he’s now subbing for Queensland Newspapers, an outpost of the Murdoch empire.

 

 

The reek of truth

From Stanley Blenkinsop:

Mention of the late Sunday Express editor Sir John Junor (It wouldn’t be summer without sighting Lucanby Sam Leith, August 17) reminded me of his weekly column – high spot of the paper in its broadsheet heyday.

In it he commented with great enthusiasm on stories of the week.

If the known details were in some doubt but he felt the tale was interesting or amusing, he would presage his remarks with the phrase ‘There is a reek of truth about the story that…’

Almost weekly Junor, who died in 1998, berated homosexual males as ‘nancy boys’ and ‘poofters’ which today would be considered politically incorrect.

After he was knighted for services to journalism a Home Counties titled hostess invited him to dinner at which he headed a gathering of the great and the good.

During a lull in conversation, the hostess called out; ‘Do tell us Sir John why you are so critical of homosexuals in your column. What is it about them that you don’t like?’

Junor in his Scottish accent: ‘I cannae tell you that, ma’am.’

Hostess: ‘Of course you can, Sir John. I’m sure we would all love to know.’

Unanimous murmur of agreement round the candlelit table.

Sir John: ‘Right, I’ll tell you in four words – shit in the foreskin!’

Collapse of festive gathering.

Over the years I have been assured by veteran Sunday Express luminaries that the anecdote is true. At least, as Junor would himself have said: ‘There is a reek of truth about the story…’

 

Capital letter

From James Mahoney, Canberra:

How good is this? Congratulations on a wonderful read. And it has served an additional purpose: it is an example for my public relations students on how the net has transformed communication.

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Old crusaders

From Norman Luck:

Congratulations on setting up this soap box for old hacks. I am convinced it will be a great success as more and more of our ex-colleagues and rivals discover the web site. As editor of the Express Old Boys and Girls Social Club newsletter which is mailed or emailed to more than 600 former Daily and Sunday Express hacks and hackettes around the world every quarter, I have drawn attention to your latest venture in my latest publication (due out this week) so I hope that helps to boost readership. Good luck, God speed and whose round is it?

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August 24, 2007

From Stanley Blenkinsop:

Gentlemen Ranters – verily a site for sore eyes with such splendid stories to revel in…

I presume the name was partly inspired by Eddie Rawlinson’s self-described and so fascinating ‘rants’ over the years.

But ‘gentlemen’?

I am mindful of Harold Macmillan’s comment soon after his appointment as Earl of Stockton when the former Prime Minister revisited his old constituency, Stockton on Tees, then in County Durham. I was there as a reporter for the once World’s Greatest.

Supermac, then in his eighties, turned to the head porter in the town’s biggest hotel and asked in his distinctive tones: ‘Where is the men’s lavatory? – I’m afraid my memory’s going.’

‘Follow me to the gentlemen’s room, my lord,’ said the flunkey.

The Earl: ‘Look here, my man, I am not asking you to decide my social status – I am asking for the men’s lavatory.’

But back to Gentlemen Ranters, which is where we came in. I note (Archive: Editorial… Whiffenpoofs and Ranters) its connection with Rudyard Kipling’s poem Gentlemen-RanKers.

The four verses chronicle the problems of gentlemen for whom nineteenth-century life had turned sour, forcing them to join Victoria’s army incognito and being unable to gain commissions because of their slump in social status.

Perhaps many of Kipling’s words DO apply to we gentlemen-ranTers.

Example: We have done with Hope and Honour, we are lost to Love and TruthWe are dropping down the ladder rung by rungAnd the measure of our torment is the measure of our youthGod help us for we knew the worst too young…

Something familiar there perhaps? Or –

Can you blame us if we soak ourselves in beer?When the drunken comrade mutters and the great guard lantern guttersAnd the horror of our fall is written plainEvery secret self-revealing on the aching whitewashed ceilingDo you wonder that we drug ourselves from pain?

There is even a mention of Black Sheep, that splendid Yorkshire beer which many of us know so well. But the gentlemen rankers were sheepish about it all, apparently…

We’re little black sheep who’ve gone astrayBaa—aa–aa!Gentlemen rankers out on the spreeDamned from here to EternityGod ha’ mercy on such as weBaa! Yaa! Baa!

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August 17, 2007

From David Banks:

In what old Mirror colleagues insist on referring to as my ‘less than glorious’ period of editorship of the Daily Mirror I was ‘required’ to farewell a large number of journalists: some of them Big Names, some of them Good Operators, some of them eminently losable.

Anne Robinson (Misfired, by Brian Bass, last week) fell into a couple of those categories, as did Paul Foot and Alastair Campbell. My recollection of Annie’s departure, however, does not coincide with the claims she made when interviewed on TV by Piers Morgan.

Bulimia? A big, fat porky, if you ask me. Annie wanted a pay rise which I was loath to grant, given that she already out-earned the editor and the Mirror Group was in receivership. We conducted a gentlewomanly negotiation but my resolve was irrevocably firmed when a little bird on Mahogany Row told me that ‘certain employees’ were paid an extra salary, kept secret from the editor, from Bob Maxwell’s purse (or, as we soon discovered, from the pension fund!).

Princess Diana was never mentioned. Neither I nor, as far as I know, anybody, ever took irate calls from the Palace. The only bulimic activity that occurred was mine when I puked at the thought of staff making a mint while the Mirror followed Maxwell to the seabed.

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From Gordon Amory:

I enjoyed your rants last week – none more than Eddy Rawlinson’s tale (Pubs and publishing) of the Motoring Gazette. I recall those happy days of the late fifties when we were colleagues at the Daily Express and he would talk with great enthusiasm about publishing a motoring freebie – and I would be invited to make an investment.

These were the days before give-away newspapers took off and I had my doubts as I saw a couple of printers go bust in the forties when they tried to compete against local paid-for publications, such as those owned by the Westminster Press and Kemsley’s.

I eventually moved to Newcastle and Eddy took over the pub so neither (?) of us became millionaires.

The story of Bill Rowntree and Knox Johnston (Gentlemen, that reminds me, Revel Barker, July 27) also reminded me of a story told to me by Harry Benson during his early days as the Express staff photographer in New York.

He got a call from the London picture desk one morning: ‘Get a plane down to Chile, you should be in time to get Francis Chichester coming round the Horn…’

But London would do that: ‘Well it’s only a couple of inches on my map, old boy!’

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Where are they now?

From Eddy Rawlinson:

Does anybody remember a young sub on the back bench of the Manchester Evening News in the mid 1950s – a guy who even in those days we realised was going places?

I ask because he asked me to take pictures for what was to be his first book. It was about Ken Stanley, a renowned table tennis player in those days.

I would love to find out whether the book was ever published, and if so how it sold.

He left the MEN for the Northern Echo then I heard he went to London. Harry something. Welsh-sounding surname.

Anybody heard what became of him andif he is still around he could let me know by writing to Gentlemen Ranters?

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Remembering Tony Wilson

From Ian Skidmore:

I see the late Tony Wilson is hailed as ‘Mr Manchester’ by the Sunday Times. He was an even worse TV presenter than that master of self indulgence, Bob Greaves, who had been a fine reporter. I once heard Wilson begin an interview with an author by saying ‘Of course, I haven’t read your book…’

Of course?

I do not know what Granada did to its presenters. There were those two newspaper brothers (Daily Sketch and free lance), nice Jewish guys whose names I forget whose heads were turned by working for Granada. Even Smithies, a man of extraordinary talents as a photographer, singer and crossword compiler, had delusions of grandeur.

He told a priest to whom I introduced him that Bernstein hired him to revamp Granada and never made a decision without first consulting him.

But Wilson Mr Manchester? Not Lowry, Howard Spring, Walter Greenwood, or that whole school of Manchester writers? Not Barbirolli, Charles Halle? Not Lord James the educationalist and former High Master of Manchester Grammar; not Gerald Illes or indeed the Founder of Belle Vue, John Dalton, Alan Turnig who virtually invented the computer, Chaim Weizmann who won World War One with the invention of artificial nitrate and was given a new kingdom, Israel, as a prize. Not the Guardian’s own C.P.Scott or Neville Cardus, not Harry Evans. Not stars like Robert Donat, Alan Bates, Pat Kirkwood. Not those lovely gangsters who started the Manchester night club scene and kept the London bosses at bay – in one case tying one naked in a tree with his face pointing south? Not the little man, double barrelled name with a Smith in it somewhere (another name that escapes me), who gave us the Unnamed Theatre and a host of other amateur companies that were better than the professionals? Not the man who first brought London shows by people like Novello and Coward, and shows like West Side Story?

The guy, Paddy —— (yet another whose surname I forget) who started wonderful jazz clubs, superb chefs like Roland Genty and a score of others and pastry cooks like the genius in Sinclair’s whose chicken pies used entire farm yards. Whitney Rowlands, George Harrop, Strangler Lewis, Bob Blake, Albert Clarke Storey, Ronnie Jeans, Frankie Charmain…

Wilson was not to be mentioned in the same breath. His contribution? – A record label and a night club? Both went bust. If he was responsible for turning Manchester of the 40s and fifties with its orchestras and little theatres, wonderful pubs, talk-fests and out of town premieres, regular visits by all the musical greats, Basie, Brubeck, etc and jazz clubs into the puffs’ paradise it has become he should be rotting in hell.

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From Harry Pugh:

My best memory of Tony Wilson was in a pub in Holyhead where all the scribes had gathered covering a story about the arrest of a former RAF pilot for spying. Wilson left the company with his crew but then dashed back into the pub where he breathlessly announced: ‘I forgot my handbag.’

Howls of laughter all round.

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August 10, 2007

From Allan Davies:

Understandably, there have been quite a few email criticisms of the Daily TelegraphRichard Stott obit. ‘Mean-spirited’ and ‘snidey’ are two of the descriptions that come to mind. It was also inaccurate.

To describe Richard as Maxwell’s protégé was an insult. And Maxwell did NOT appoint Richard to the editorship of the Sunday People – Tony Miles did that, on January 14, 1984.

Maxwell didn’t arrive at the Mirror until six months later and I remember a leader written by Richard during that time, signalling his opposition to the looming Maxwell takeover. Hardly the action of a man waiting to welcome his patron!

Fortunately, all the other obit writers recognised the real Richard Stott and the true nature of the stormy Stott-Maxwell relationship. But there are people out there who read only the Daily Telegraph and two of them are my friends. When they commented on that obit the day after its publication I guided them to the Gentleman Ranters version.

Playing a small part in putting the record straight made me feel just a little better.

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From John Edwards:

Talking of obits (Richard Stott, July 30), anybody recall that Cudlipp got Aneurin Bevan to write a 3,000 word obit on Churchill for the Daily Mirror?

Bevan died first.

The Mirror, with the most convoluted piece of reasoning you ever saw or heard about, printed the Churchill obit on Bevan’s demise as part of his own obit.

From memory the strap said something like ‘How great the man was is shown here in his appraisal of Churchill’s life, a man whose politics he hated but whose ability he admired.’

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From Ian Skidmore:

Your stories of the Queen Mum (The Queen and I, Revel Barker, last issue) reminded me that my greatest failure – apart from booze – as a reporter was that I failed to stand up a story told me by Sir Kyffin Williams RA.

He claimed that the QM was the daughter of a Welsh servant by the Earl of Strathmore. Kyffin, who was a bit of a snob, knew more about aristocratic scandals than Dempster had dreamed about. When I wrote his – as yet unpublished – biography I checked some of the more alarming ones out and found they were true.

The only printed reference I have seen was in Kitty Kelley’s book, Royalty, but there were all sorts of interesting clues. We all know of the mystery that surrounds her birthplace and her christening and how the Earl was fined for not registering it. Less widely known was the nickname the Windsors gave her. It was ‘Cookie’ and she was incandescent when they gave the name to one of their dogs.

In one of his diaries James Lees Milne recalls a conversation he overheard between them when the Queen told the Queen Mother, ‘The difference between us is that I was born royal.’

When I interviewed Lees Milne I taxed him about it but he said he had no memory of writing it.

I was consoled and flattered that in the last days of his life he found time to mention me kindly in what proved to be his posthumous diary.

Revel claims to be one of the two pressmen to whom the Queen Mum spoke.

Inadvertently she spoke to many more. I remember a story when I was on the Mirror and the Royal Yacht was cruising round the Highlands. For some reason the ship to shore radio from Britannia was on the same wavelength as the trawler fleet. The trawlermen – of all people – complained at the bad language the QM used when talking on the line.

The Daily Record listened in to a man, I with admiration.

I do not seek to denigrate her. I have loved her since I covered a royal visit to Manchester in the very early fifties and noticed how as she walked along a line of waiting dignitaries she always gave a quick glance at the photographers to make sure they were all in position.

…Unlike the Duke of Edinburgh who has rightly been called the most upwardly mobile Greek since Icarus. I had the temerity to ask him at Oulton Park during a polo game what he had scored.

‘Who is fucking counting?’ he replied.

Tommy Lyons, whom heaven preserve, said ‘If the c**t is going to talk to you like that, don’t tell him that a dog has just pissed in his hat.’

Tommy rarely took photographs as a matter of principle; but I recall the Express had one of the luckless Prince with dog piss rolling down his face.

May I say how flattered I am to find myself in such august ranting company.

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August 3, 2007

From John Edwards:

The Telegraph wavered on Stotty. But only a little bit. Most of them – Revel’s in particular – got Richard spot on. That was the man I knew, the one I was reading about.

Obits on journalists are extremely difficult.

How many times have you to been called after a death or when a leaving ceremony is close and asked for anecdotes on one of your best friends and can think of none? Plenty of times I’ll bet. Or the ones that you do come up with are very weak and not entertaining.

A little creep from our business wrote a poisonous obit of one of our colleagues fairly recently.

He had obviously never met the guy. Knew everything tenth hand and, it seemed to many, went to his keyboard only for the money.

Journalists’ obits are usually the most peppered with inaccuracies, resurrect false accounts of heroisim and genius and generally create a fantasy character out of a pretty ordinary bloke.

No names but quite recently one of ours just well enough known to have obits in the nationals had an entirely new personality created for himself.

He was quite definitely turned into the greatest journalist of the twentieth century. The Mail as good as said this.

If his name hadn’t appeared in one or two of the pieces I personally would only just have recognised the guy (a close friend) they were writing about. Mr Hitchen and I agreed on this at the time.

That might be the definitive test of a good obit.

Would you know the person who had died if his name didn’t appear anywhere and all you had was the text?

Beware putting too much faith in obits of our kind. Or anybody’s for that matter.

My father kept a diary for 30 years.

When he died the obit in the West Wales Guardian said he had kept a dairy for 30 years.

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From Jim McCandlish:

You’ve really got something started here. Great stuff.

I worked on the Daily Mail in Scotland in the sixties and ended up on the Enquirer in Florida by way of Bermuda, Canada, Hong Kong etc.

We’re now organizing the wake for the Weekly World News. It will be in the Banshee Room of Brogues Irish Pub in Lake Worth, Florida, Sunday September 2 at 3 pm. There will be food, drink, music and much tall tale telling. All hacks and partners welcome…

Looking forward to the next edition of Gentlemen Ranters

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From Geoff Sutton:

It was all (Richard Stott, obit, this week) about real tabloid journalism, not bullshit about Big Brother tossers and celebrities that no-one has ever heard of.

And we had a lot of fun.

I think we all miss it.

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From Douggie Brand:

Revel Barker (Gentlemen, that reminds me, last week) brought to mind Francis Chichester sailing up the Thames to Greenwich in 1967. I happened to be spending some time in Wren’s edifice, doing a Naval Staff Course before heading out to Singapore to take over 2 SBS from Paddy Ashdown, (but that’s another story).

Chichester, in Gypsy Moth was on the last leg of his journey and the buzz was that he was up for a knighthood to recognise his attempt to sail around the globe single handed and non stop. (A noteworthy attempt, but no cigar). It further transpired that the deed was to be performed at the Royal Naval College at Greenwich. I had assumed that being an undersized Royal Marine officer who look like a sack of potatoes in uniform, I would be assigned to supervision of car parking, at a suitable distance.

To my discomfort, I discovered, at the last minute, that I was responsible for the gentlemen (and ladies) of the press. (Were they mad?)

The basic plan was that Chichester would dock alongside the College and would be escorted inside to be royally dubbed by HM, in private. The malcontents from the street of dreams were displeased by these arrangements which they voiced in their usual fashion. What they didn’t know was that the plan had been changed, which I neglected to tell them until the old boy was taken to a podium outside for a public Knighting. In fairness, I did ensure that they all had front row seats. This was my first experience with those that wielded the mighty pen but certainly not my last.

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From John Blauth:

Brendan Monks [Letters, last week] is correct re location, photographer and date. But wrong about the image; fairly typical of a picture editor, if I may say so, to mistake repetition for truth and reality.

This search came about because, years ago, on a subbing course, in one of our textbooks were the cropped and un-cropped versions side-by-side, to show how easy it is to make a picture tell a false story.

More detective work required.

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From John Garton :

Reading Paddy O’Gara’s memory [In God’s Name, last week] about a Mirror chaplain, I recalled one of my favourite O’Gara stories. Talk in the Stab one day had turned to how aggressive smudger Peter ‘Pedro’ Stone could be, when roused. Paddy disagreed, saying that he always got on well with him. ‘But then,’ he said, ‘I once took a thorn out of his paw…’

By the way, I’m constantly amazed by Ranters’ memories of all those golden years. Apart from isolated moments, my mind’s a blur. It’s like they said about the Sixties: If you remember them, you weren’t there…

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July 27, 2007

From John Dietrich:

Dr Syntax (Ms appropriation, July 20) is spot-on in bringing the heavies to task for describing Kate Middleton – or any single young woman – as Ms.

The Observer Style Book says: ‘Use Ms unless subject specifically styles herself Miss or Mrs.’

I think they have got that instruction completely arse-to-cock. For a married woman to be required to point out to a reporter – ‘specifically’ – that she is called Mrs is ludicrous. A former prime minister of my distant acquaintance referred to herself, when the situation arose, as Margaret Thatcher. So it would have been Ms Thatcher, in copy at the Obs, then, would it – the lady not having ‘specifically’ referred to herself as Mrs?

The paper’s stable-mate, The Guardian is far more sensible: ‘We use whichever the woman in question prefers: with most women in public life (Ms Booth, Mrs May, Miss Widdecombe) that preference is well known; if you don’t know, try to find out; if that proves impossible, use Ms.’

The Times says: ‘Ms is nowadays fully acceptable when a woman (married or unmarried) wants to be called thus, or when it is not known for certain if she is Mrs or Miss.’

And that is also ok, if she actually says she wants to be called Ms – except that, as the good Doctor points out, it provides a get-out for any incompetent or lazy reporter.

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From Brendan Monks:

Trust the ‘blunts’ to get a simple picture caption arse about face (Ah yes: I remember it well, July 20). The photograph of the two ‘toffs’ and the urchins was in fact taken outside Lord’s Cricket Ground and not under the portico at Waterloo Station.

It was captured during the Eton v Harrow annual cricket match at the famous old ground in July 1937.

The picture is not cropped or altered in any way and the boys on the right are not looking at ‘something completely different that is going on off-stage’… they are really, REALLY looking at the boys from Eton because they might as well be men from Mars, and even today I’m sure Etonians dressed in their school ‘uniform’ would also cause some amusement in certain parts of our capital.

It was taken for Picture Post by photographer Jimmy Sime … why did he take it? I think the fact that it is a great image and he must have had a very good eye for a picture might just be stating the bleedin’ obvious.

By the way, the Eton v Harrow match is still played yearly at Lord’s to this day.

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From Austin Wormleighton:

Congratulations, very well done; shows what can happen when good memories and good writing come together.

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From Grey Cardigan:Congrats on the new blog. There’s some interesting stuff on there already (which may or may not get stolen at some point!)

Feel free to link to The Grey Cardigan column in the Opinion section at www.pressgazette.co.uk .Your readers might enjoy it.

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July 20, 2007

From Colin Hills:

Excellent. I am really enjoying the articles and the memories. I look forward to the weekly update but hope the pressure on the deadline doesn’t get to you; maybe it will provide the necessary spark of adrenaline in recalling those venerable days?

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A great idea and a good read! – John Izbicki

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Retired Old Hacks prove that they are not so much in their dotage, as in excellent anec-dotage. Congratulations. – Richard Evans

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Wonderful. – Mike Gallemore

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Not bad for a bunch of Old Hacks! – Henry Hain

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My only concern is that you may have set the ‘bar’ too high in your Blog Pub. I fear it will be difficult to sustain such a standard of excellent writing and story-telling. But, here’s hoping! – Anthony Lee

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A masterstroke, if I may say so. – John Blauth

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Well done on the blog. – Quentin Letts

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This is great, look forward to future editions. – Sue Bullivant

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[Living In a Democracy by Paul Bannister, July 13] Wonderful writing and fascinating details. I want more, please. – Dawna Kaufman (Los Angeles).

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The blog is brilliant. I have forwarded the link to all my friends who can read. – D J Brand

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I have just had almost two hours reading the new Gentlemen Ranters blog site and it is great. I am sure that it will be a success. I shall make its existence known to my friends. My best read in a long while. – Derek Jebson

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Read it all at one go. Great stuff. A wonderful mix. – John Garton

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[There Stands The Enemy by Ian Skidmore, July 13] Ian on Nye Bevan reminds me of a visit by Arthur Scargill to South Wales during the 1984 miners’ strike. It was a cavernous sports centre and the press area was a very prominent, raised structure surrounded on all sides by strikers and their families and supporters. In the middle of his typically fiery speech, Arthur turned and pointed at the assembled hacks, film crews, etc. Deriding the stream of NUJ donations to the strike welfare fund, he raised his voice to a virtual shriek and exclaimed: ‘Don’t send us your shekels. Stop spreading your lies.’If he’d added the single word ‘Attack’, we’d all have been dead. – Colin Randall

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