Got a grouse?
By Alasdair Buchan
I can’t now remember the name of the young reporter on the Glasgow Herald but he’s quite entitled to still bear a grouse about the wind-up he suffered on the 12th of August, 1968. How can I be so exact about the date? Because the lad was given the job of doing a Glorious Twelfth round up.
Before the days of Nouveau Beaujolais, it was an annual standby of the Herald to run a story about who got the first grouse from the moors to the dinner plate. So the news editor told him to phone around to see what price they were charging for that night’s grouse. He was newly arrived from an Inverness paper and not yet Glasgow-aware so the reporters told him to call Roganos, the Malmaison, the Grand and the Great Eastern hotels.
With the first three the answers were fairly predictable but when he called the Great Eastern he got quite excited. The conversation went like this: ‘Are you serving grouse tonight?’
‘Oh, aye, we always have it on the menu on the 12th.’
‘Great, how much will it be?’
‘Two bob a plate.’
‘As cheap as that. Really?’
‘Aye, really. Our residents are no made of money.’
He had his lead and started battering the typewriter.
At this point, I should reveal that despite its grand name the Great Eastern Hotel on Duke Street was Glasgow’s biggest ‘model lodging house’. These were large institutions where each night, for 3d, the homeless could get a bed for the night in large dormitories and a cup of tea and soup from the Sally Army before being evicted promptly the next morning.
They were foul, smelly, infested places, and the inmates’ idea of a grouse related to bedbugs, not birdies.
The only ‘switchboard’ was the doorkeeper’s phone and clearly, the man had assumed the call was a wind-up and had been answering with heavy sarcasm.
By a curious coincidence, the news desk wasn’t paying proper attention and the story got through to a sub who, again, was an out-of-towner. It was set and heading for the presses before a proofreader (please explain what they were to the younger readers) saved the day.