Issue #54

Something for that rainy day

Old Harrovian ties

Age hadn’t wearied them, even if the years and a number of other factors had contrived to condemn.

What was remarkable, in truth, was how little we had all changed. A touch of avoirdupois here (remarkable how cotton shirts seem to shrink, with time), perhaps a hint of silver, there…

But everybody looked much the same.

If only we could have remembered their bloody NAMES!

OK, most of them were instantly recognisable because, basically, I suppose, the first team turned up. (You know who you are.)

A few people who had promised or threatened to attend didn’t make it; and some who had said they were not coming turned up anyway.

’Twas ever thus.

Suffice it to say that the Vincent Mulchrone Bar was filled to overflowing before the doors of the Harrow officially opened – the Mulchrone clan (three sons and two grandsons) joyfully occupying one end of the place,

The overflow ran into the downstairs bar and onto the pavement – mainly it didn’t rain – then onto the back door pavement, then upstairs to the other bar and the dining room.

Some people went off to El’s or perhaps El’sewhere, and drifted back; others just didn’t manage the redrift.

If you want to know who was there, well, you should have been there.

The people who were there largely don’t remember.

But I will tell you this.

There were gentlemen in Fleet Street that day who were not wearing ties.

For most, if not all of them, that would have been a first.

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First off this week we have news of another social event: the London Press Ball.

It is in aid of the Journalists’ Charity (which you will remember as the Newspaper Press Fund).

This provides us with the opportunity to mention that copies of Cassandra At His Finest And Funniest are published in support of the same charity. See the BOOKS section (column one, over there on the left).

At the same time you could check out Forgive Us Our Press Passes by Ian Skidmore, and The Best of Vincent Mulchrone, and you can buy copies of all three for a mere £26.00 if you pay by PayPal. This appears to be beyond most people. For how to do this, see Last Week’s edition.

Anyway, it is Philippa Kennedy who is doing the asking; she is in charge of journalists’ balls, so how could any gentleman – Ranter or otherwise – refuse?

David North remembers being in the Harrow for days that ran into weeks, holding the wake for that long lost (now long-forgotten? – Surely not yet) first-to-go member of the magical London street-cry: Noostarranstannard!

Colin Randall has a long-envelope tale from more modern times with a memory of the days when good people worked for the Daily Telegraph.

But, hey, it ain’t all doom and gloom.

Here is young Don Mackay with a tale from that other newspaper called The Star. This one’s the barmy one (I’m talking newspapers, not reporters – he said hurriedly) – it employed him and Jimmy Nick, to mention more than a few.

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Something for that rainy day

By Philippa Kennedy

So why would anyone want to give money to a bunch of drunken old hacks?

That was just one reply from someone who should know better when I asked him to tap up one of his best contacts for sponsorship for the press ball. The target was a huge name in the city, who has a bit of track record for throwing his own balls and paying big money for auction items at other charity bashes so I thought it was reasonable enough to ask this former editor to at least ask him.

The reply took my breath away and I would certainly never ask this person for help again. The trouble is that some people are so busy turning themselves into multimedia megastars that they lose touch with the lesser mortals who need a little bit more help along the way. Thankfully the Journalists’ Charity remembers them and most of us have at one time or another worked alongside people who have been helped when they have been down on their luck over the years.

I’m telling the story to give you an idea of how hard it is to raise money for the charity whose chairman Bob Warren regularly goes cap in hand to the newspaper and other media groups to keep the two Dorking care homes going.

If you haven’t been down there to see the new home, Pickering House, it’s worth a trip. It was opened last year by the Countess of Wessex and is quickly filling up with residents.

You can check out the charity on www.journalistscharity.org.uk.

Four years ago the London Press Club decided to lend a hand and I offered to revive the annual press ball that had lapsed six years before when the events company became bankrupt.

We’ve had three really successful balls since then and the fourth is on the horizon.

It will be held in the Natural History Museum on Wednesday 15th October.

Some of you may be prepared to come on board and help, either by putting together a table or by finding us raffle prizes or the all-important money-can’t-buy auction items. The auction is the main fundraiser for the evening.

You see, journalists, on the whole, tend to think it’s not really their problem.

We are so used to being invited on freebies, getting into slap-up parties free and not really putting our hands in our pockets for anything, that it’s a real struggle to get help.

People mean well and many put themselves out considerably, but the majority don’t and you can’t keep going back to the same people year after year.

We’ve got a great committee; many of the names will be familiar – Ray Massey, Richard Compton Miller, Bill Hagerty, Virginia Eastman, Gill Martin, Jason Fraser, Sue Ryan, Bob Warren, John Kay, Bob Satchwell, David Selves and organisers Lois Beaumont and Bridget York.

We’ve also had brilliant support from Robin Esser, Murdoch Maclennan, Mark Bolland and Kelvin Mackenzie and every year the major newspaper groups help us get started with a small fighting fund donation. I’m the chairman and currently working for Martin Newland’s new English language newspaper in the UAE.

This year the ball will be better than ever with Jeremy Vine presenting and Lord Dalmeny doing the auction.

Ray Massey, the Daily Mail’s motoring editor, has managed to persuade VW to give us one of their new Golf cars to auction and the rest of the committee is working hard on raffle and auction items. Ian Monk has secured the services of the glamorous opera star Natasha Marsh who will perform on the night.

I’ve just had a major disappointment with a huge construction company out here in Dubai. They initially showed interest in sponsorship but have put it off till next year, so we are without a major sponsor. Luckily Camelot has come on board again sponsoring the champagne reception so the ball can actually go ahead.

It’s a difficult, delicate and frustrating job trying to put something like this on so if any of you feel you could help in any way please get in touch now.

You can reach me on philippa.kennedy@thenational.ae. We need raffle prizes, meals for two at restaurants, theatre tickets and innovative money-can-t buy auction items. John Kay has just come up with ‘a day working on the Sun’s Bizarre column’, for example… Jason Fraser has persuaded Jean Claude Novelli to cook dinner for 12 at someone’s home;;; Richard Compton Miller has tapped up his best society contacts including the painter Basia Hamilton who is donating a portrait. Two years ago she did something similar and Lord Rothermere bought it and was going to have his children painted. Bob Satchwell has managed to get General Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the Defence Staff to give us a day out with the cavalry on Salisbury Plain, including firing tank guns.

We’re all frantically contacting all our best contacts to secure flights, holidays, airline tickets or invitations to top sporting events but we still need help and support.

Gentlemen Ranters must have a goldmine of contacts between them and if even half a dozen of you produced something for us, or bought a table, it would help us. Of course, if you are a member of the London Press Club you get special rates.

You just never know when you might need help from the Journalists’ Charity and all we on the ball committee are doing is to try to make sure there will always be money in the coffers for that rainy day.

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Fallen Star

By David North

Newspaper archaeologists who Google The Star (London) are in for a disappointment. There’s a two-line Wikipedia entry saying that it was an evening newspaper launched in 1788 by John Murray and William Lane, and that’s it, apart from an appeal for more citations. When I last looked, no-one had responded.

Those who worked at the paper in its final years would not be surprised. The Star was founded as a champion of the working classes. In the early 1900s, George Bernard Shaw and the crusading journalist H N Brailsford were regular contributors. As late as 1947 it was selling more than a million copies a night. But by the mid-1950s the glory days were over. The owners, the Cadbury family, put most of what they spared from their vast resources into its sister paper, the more glamorous News Chronicle. Star hacks waged their fight for survival against the Evening News and Evening Standard in the shadows.

I joined the subs’ desk in 1958 from Reuters’ European Desk, where I was becalmed after failing to get a correspondent’s job. Sid Mason, the news editor, offered me The Hague. But it turned out that was a single man’s post and, when I let on that I was about to marry, he quietly dropped the idea. After what seemed a very long time, a friend offered to get me an interview at The Star and I jumped at the chance.

Looking back, it seems a shade over-optimistic to have supposed one could survive in that pressure cooker without any newspaper subbing experience. But the chief sub, one Herbert J (‘Bert’) Pankhurst, promised to show me the ropes and I took him at his word.

The Star subs’ room was a long, stuffy place that overlooked Bouverie Street and smelled of dust, stale glue and printer’s ink (the press room downstairs was later cited as a health hazard). Its principle feature was a long wooden table ending in a T.Bert, he was never known as anything else, dominated proceedings from the head. On his right, sat Ian ‘Jonah’ Jones a chunky former fighter pilot with a swashbuckling approach to copy-tasting and a limp that grew a little more pronounced at the end of each day’s 30,000-word stint.

I’m ashamed to have forgotten the name of the splash sub (Jack Cummings, was it?), although I can see him clearly enough.‘Jack’ was a quiet, modest person. But I’ve never known anyone so adept at handling a long, complicated story. He could be a pleasant companion during a break in the action or over an after-hours beer. But mostly he kept his head down and his eyes on the job in hand.

In this he was no exception. None of us had much time for chatting. There were five editions a day, and three of them involved major page changes. The first sub came in at 7am to work on a pile of shorts, and it was hard to keep your eyes open if, like me, you had gone to bed exhausted and got up before 5am.

The first edition went away at 8.50. ‘Lunch’ was a 25-minute break at 10. Some of us would go out for a breath of air, but Bert invariably ate his egg and chips at his desk while scheming pages. From then on there was hardly a let-up until 3.50, when the last edition went away, or until well after 4 if there was a replate, as there was when the recently-retired Formula One champion Mike Hawthorn killed himself dicing on the Guildford Bypass in 1959.

I always see The Star in sharp black-and-white, partly because of its pared-down prose – ‘Two men died in a three-car crash in Putney High St. today’ –and partly because of the heavy sans typefaces it used. These made headline writing a hard skill to acquire. The Mount Everest of them all was Star Square, homemade for the splash. If memory serves, it counted a mere five or six characters alongside the title and a few more across the full width of the page. I never managed to scale that particular peak, finding it hard enough to handle 18pt tempo bold caps (a favourite for down-the-page tops), which counted 9 and a bit, but not with an M or a W.No wonder words like ‘cosh,’ ‘rap’ and ‘thug’ spattered the pages.

The universally acknowledged king of the splash was Jock Black, Bert’s predecessor, who famously lasted eight years in the chair before retiring hurt, a victim of the inhuman stresses of the job and his nightly attempts to drown them at the the Star local, the dirty bar of the Harrow. Jock’s reputation was such as to strike shock and awe into the heart of a beginner and I dreaded his return.But when he did come back as assistant editor he proved to be fangless. He still came up with a splash headline once every so often, but his trademark bellow, ‘How many dead?’, which he used often, mostly inappropriately, induced first boredom and, finally, urgent requests to shut up.

While Jock was short, mercurial and, somehow, a bit shifty, Bert was a rock.. He was tall and rather distinguished with his dark suits, neatly-brushed, greying hair and moustache. His progress to and from the stone, where he presided over Page One, was stately. But his anger was formidable: ‘Who did such-and-such?’ he would roar, provoked by a cocked up intro or a bust, badly shaped or, worse yet,a ‘dirty’ headline – one that had a double meaning. The culprit would own up, receive a royal bollocking, resume his seat and carry on as before.

There was fire and brimstone in those eruptions but no malice. Provided you kept your head down and did your best, Bert stood between you and anything anyone else threw in your direction. On one occasion, I dismembered a staff reporter’s attempt at stylish writing and put it back together as I had been taught: bang, bang, bang! The man complained to the editor, Ralph McCarthy. But Little Noddy, so-called because he was short and fussy, got no change from Bert. ‘If he hadn’t done it that way, I’d have kicked his arse,’ was all he said.

Such solidarity, and his evident mastery of his own and everyone else’s jobs, earned Bert the respect and affection of the disparate crowd he cajoled into working their socks off: Pat O’Leary, a London Celt; John Brien (or was it, is it Brian? Sorry John!), a serious, meticulous type; and Ron Shaw, who turned me into a lifelong Duke Ellington enthusiast. There was John Cross, who was on the verge of retirement and drifted in around noon by special dispensation; and, briefly, there was a man called Tom, much admired for his ability to write side-splitting headlines. One evening, Tom had rather too many at the Harrow before heading home to his digs. He didn’t show up the next day, or the next. But the following afternoon he walked in with his arm in a sling saying he had had a fall. Everyone was sympathetic but, not long after, he took to disappearing between editions, sometimes failing to reappear until next day. Inevitably, one day he just vanished.

From time to time, word that The Star was in financial trouble caused a ripple of alarm in the subs’ room. Then a major story, a fat paper or some other distraction would drive the subject from our minds. October 17, 1960 was one of those days. The next issue was scheduled as the largest in memory and everyone stayed late to get the overnight pages ready. We had just about finished when a messenger summoned us to the reporters’ room at 5pm. It seemed that the editor had something to say to us.

It was the first time I had visited that part of the building and I looked around with curiosity at the fittings. There were a lot of unfamiliar faces too, most looking puzzled, some apprehensive. We weren’t left guessing for long. Little Noddy came straight to the point: there would be no paper next day. The Star had merged with The Evening News. A couple of byliners would go over. The rest of us were on the street.

The wake in the Harrow lasted several weeks. There was a lot of fear and loathing—because we had lost our jobs, because ‘they’ had made us work a long day for nothing, and because Laurence Cadbury had sold out to the News, an enemy we despised for its namby-pamby writing and right-wing views.

As it happened, few of us were out of work for long. Fleet St. rallied round quickly and, mostly, generously. John Brien went to The Times; Ron, I seem to recall, to the Daily Herald. I found a niche at The Guardian after an interview in El Vino with Richard Scott, then diplomatic correspondent, and Gerard Fay, London Editor, and later lunch with editor Alastair Hetherington at his home in Didsbury. Alastair offered me two pounds a week less than I’d been getting at The Star but I grabbed it. I’d always wanted to work for The Guardian and believed, naively, that a great paper must needs be superbly organised.

Months later I bumped into Bert in Fleet St. Safely installed in a corner of the Beaverbrook empire, he looked rested and relaxed and greeted me warmly. ‘How are you doing?’ I asked him. ‘Not so bad,’ he replied. ‘I get up at 7.30 and have two eggs for breakfast. I have time to read the papers when I get to work – and I get an hour for lunch.’

Somehow that said it all.

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Good people

By Colin Randall

Perhaps it was in an unguarded moment that The Daily Telegraph’s editor Will Lewis admitted in a Guardian interview that some ‘good people’ had been lost during the post-Conrad Black purges that have swept the paper.

It was clearly an uncomfortable part of the conversation and Will appears to have said little if anything to amplify his view. But the words doubtless cheered up a few casualties of the cuts, provided they were able to persuade themselves that he had them in mind.

Paul Hill and Patsy Dryden, two of the latest victims, richly deserve to be included among the ‘good people’. But what about those who, presumably with Will’s acquiescence, made it more or less inevitable that they would leave? With the whole Victoria multimedia newsroom shaking during Paul’s banging out ceremony, by all accounts an event of high emotion, how proud did they feel of their roles in one of the more regrettable episodes of the Barclays’ reign?

Paul and Patsy are not journalists, but served as the foreign desk’s support staff. They did so with enormous professionalism and conscientiousness.

Indeed, it is hard to believe that there could have been two individuals in Fleet Street with greater knowledge of the workings of a major foreign news operation, and of the newspaper employing them.

You probably need to be in your 60s to remember a time when Paul’s voice was not the first you’d hear as a Telegraph reporter ringing in from this or that corner of the world. He gave 37 years to the paper and was invariably the first person in each morning by a mile. Before nine o’clock, he also knew more about what was going on in the world than anyone else on the paper. Nothing more strikingly sums up his dedication and comradeship than his willingness, several hours after his shift ended on the day he discovered his career was over, to fix up a correspondent with a flight out of Africa.

Patsy had served the Telegraph for only half as long, but she too was a cheerful and efficient foreign desk administrator, highly regarded by the people who worked with her, from office-bound staff to reporters scattered around the world.

Journalists often grumble about the misfortune of blameless confrères who fall foul of an incoming editor’s madcap whim, or find themselves cast out in the name of economy. They should be positively apoplectic that the loyalty shown by Paul and Patsy was, in the end, rewarded with rank ingratitude.

Technically, of course, both chose to leave.

But who, in the circumstances, would have done otherwise? Paul and Patsy were summoned to meetings (grossly overmanned meetings, incidentally; does it really take two executives to tell one employee his or her fate?), informed that their jobs would be merged into one and invited to apply for it. My understanding is that the overtime arrangements that gave them a reasonable income, but also ensured smooth operation of the desk, would have disappeared under the terms of the combined new position.

It would be unfair to pretend that no one with a scrap of decency can be found occupying a position of any seniority at the Telegraph. It would not be unfair to express the hope that such a person raised a voice to ensure that when the severance terms were hammered out, the Telegraph belatedly recognised its debt to Paul and Patsy.

  • Colin Randall left the Telegraph after 29 years, in an earlier round of cuts, and now works for The National in Abu Dhabi. He also publishes the Salut! group of websites (http://francesalut.com).

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Caped crusader and the Penguin

By Don Mackay

Despite having the privilege of knowing the Prince for nearly 30 years, I only had a drink-misted idea of how he got his world-wide nickname in the first place.

But I did have the honour of being dubbed his ‘apprentice’.

As part of the launch crew of the Daily Star (first edition was November 1 for Nov. 2, 1978) I first met the Caped Crusader of Truth.

After months of ‘real time‘ dummies once production was up and running, the Prince decided to take a few weeks hols. I was tasked to do police calls, courts etc. in his absence.

The first call was to Scotland Yard’s press bureau and as I introduced myself as Don Mackay of the Daily Star, an Irish-tongued smoothie press officer (if memory recalls it was the now newly-retired Bob Cox), replied: ‘Ah, the Prince’s Apprentice!‘

But it did remind me even the Prince was a mere mortal like the rest of us.

About a year or so into the Daily Star, Jimmy Nich was dispatched to the Old Bailey to cover the attempted murder trial of an accused tagged in headlines as ‘The Penguin’.

Although a grown man, he had a child’s mind and threw his teenage girl victim off a speeding train.

By some fluke she survived and managed to crawl about half-a-mile along a railway track, despite having severe head injuries and practically every bone in her body broken,

But the only description she could give police was her attacker ‘waddled like a penguin’.

Eventually the Penguin was arrested and Jimmy Nich covered Day One of the resulting trial.

Day Two, saw the Caped Crusader wander into the newsroom after morning conference and announce: ‘The Prince has landed. I’m off to the Bailey to do Knacker of the Yard’s job for him – again.‘

But he hadn’t noticed green-steam coming out of news editor Brian Steele’s ears.

‘Where the fuck have you been, Prince? The Penguin has walked, on a technicality, about an hour ago!’

The Prince went into thought-mode, as he could see an almighty bollocking coming.

Instead of heading Bailey-wards, he legged it to King’s Cross railway station.

God must be a hack for he smiled down on Jimmy that day.

There walking along the platform, was the Penguin with his ageing parents.

Nicholson, not even bothering to try to ring the desk, got on the train and sat behind them. Posing as a keen Telegraph cross-worder, he used the white spaces to take down every quote from the Penguin… ‘Daddy, why did those men do that to me ?‘ – and then followed them off the train and blagged an exclusive with the parents.

As he rang the desk and told them, all was forgiven.

Jimmy was told to file asap.

The desk was delighted.

But by 5pm, the level of steam had grown even higher than that of post-morning conference. There was no sign of the Prince’s words.

The first the Star desk knew of his copy, was when a Daily Express messenger came up from the second floor of the black glass Lubyanka. ‘Downstairs thought you might want to see this,’ he said as he handed over an already subbed black of Jimmy’s exclusive.

For those who don’t know, in those days the Star filed to Manchester.

The Prince had asked for a transfer charge call to 01-353-3000 and told the switchboard: ‘Ok, Big Noise, this is The Prince. Give me copy.’

And he filed to the Express, from which he had transferred only a few short months before.

In the mire, and out of it, only to find yourself back in it. All in one day.

Remarkable by any standards, even in those great days.

Only a prince among men could achieve that.

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