Issue #56

Things to do on your holiday


1. Write a piece for Ranters.

It goes, or should go, without saying that this website is only as good as its contributions. If you read it regularly, you know the sort of stuff we use; it can be a rant, but it is more likely to be a recollection of the good old days, and sometimes of the bad.

Around 5,000 people visit the site on an average day; if you’d been writing since we started, your copy would have been seen by more than a million people. There are not many who are still actually working who could claim that!

But what it means is that less than one per cent of the readership is actually contributing, while much more than 99% is having a free ride.

OK: no change there.

There are very few reporters, subs or snappers who do not have stories to tell, and who do not relish relating them – after all, isn’t that why they were in the game in the first place?

So please put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard.

We can’t run on empty.

2. Read a book.

We have published (or re-published) four classic books about journalism and by journalists. You can read about Slip-Up, Tony Delano’s excellent account of the Ronnie Biggs fiasco in Brazil, by scrolling down this page.

Details of the other books can be found by clicking on BOOKSHOP in the column on the left.

The books are:

Forgive Us Our Press Passesby Ian Skidmore

The Best of Vincent Mulchrone, and

Cassandra At His Finest And Funniest

On the same site you can also read the Chester Chronicle on Skiddy, Vere on Vincent, and Cudlipp on Cassandra.

Just as you can read Axegrinder on the Slip-Upmovie, Keith Waterhouse on the romp in Rio, and Delano on Biggsy on this page, below.

The books are all just under a tenner each, with a special discount for readers of this site, and even more discounts for buying three or four.

AND authors’ royalties for the Mulchrone and Cassandra books go to charity.

3. Help a charity without putting your hand in your pocket

If you are too broke – or even too mean – to buy one of our books, you could at least help a chum, or help a charity, by ordering the books from your local public library.

The simple way this works is that if you order a copy and they don’t have one, they will buy one for you to borrow; whether or not you read the books is up to you; but you will be missing out if you don’t.

If they buy it, the charity – and/or a former colleague – will get the author’s royalties.

You’ll have done something generous, and it won’t have cost you a penny. You could even do it over the phone.

There – how difficult is that?

4. Have a flutter on the UK Lottery – for nothing

Regular readers (and members of the Ranters Lottery Syndicate) will be aware of our Grab A Grand feature.

All you do is go to the Syndicate website ( and click on the G-A-G logo. Non-syndicate members can play three times for nothing; syndicate members can play twice a week, every week… all for nothing.

If your numbers come up, you win ₤1,000. If they don’t, well, it has cost you nowt.

The catch? There isn’t one except that non-members may get a few emails urging you to join the Syndicate, and probably telling you why you’d be daft not to join it.


5. Join the Ranters Lottery Syndicate.

You can play the UK Lottery twice a week and Euromillions every Friday by joining us in our Syndicate. We now have a number of cards running (which set of numbers are yours depends on when you joined) and winnings in the few months we’ve been playing vary from about 82p to around ₤600.

It is, after all, a lottery…

If you want to learn how Syndicate membership greatly increases your chances of winning, go to the website at

6. Buy a newspaper

Twenty years ago I was sent as part of a small team to Australia on a mission for Maxwell. If you think you’ve heard bizarre stories about Bob, you ain’t heard nothin’ yet.

‘I want you to go to Sydney tonight, to represent me,’ he said.

‘Ok,’ I said. ‘What do you want me to do there?’

‘Can’t tell you that. Top secret… Need-to-know basis.’

‘I need to know what to do when I get off the plane.’

‘A car will meet you and you’ll be taken to a bank.’

‘I need to know what to do when I get out of the car, at the bank.’

‘Oh, I suppose you do. Ok. I want to buy the Fairfax group of newspapers. But remember… this is all top secret.’

So secret was it that while I was in the air that night Bob revealed all to the Financial Times. It was in the local papers when I disembarked at Kingsford Smith International (known to baggage handlers as SYD) before breakfast. Bill McKeown (ex-PA, Fleet Street) rang the bank and asked to speak to me. He was told I was unavailable.

‘Has he come to buy a newspaper?’ asked Bill.

‘Yes,’ said the lady on the phone, ‘He’s just popped out to get one.’

So… buy a newspaper while you’re on holiday. It’ll cost a lot less than the millions we put on the table in 1988. Better still, if you’re retired, buy a copy of your old newspaper. We may be interested in hearing what you think – see suggestion Number One at the top of this page.

7. Use the search engine on this site

Click on Search in the column on the left. Type in your name and see what your contribution to Ranters amounts to.

Or, perhaps, what they’ve been saying about you.

Or type in ‘Eric Wainwright’ and read again Colin Dunne’s brilliant account of the Invisible Man.

Or type in “Whisky” and learn about the different types of whisky.

8. Read a different website.

Founder Ranters Ian Skidmore and Geoffrey Mather maintain their own web logs, and refresh them every weekend.

Skiddy’s lives on

And Geoff is found at

Or take a look Press Gazette . With fewer visitors than this website, they need all the readers they can get.

Enjoy your holiday.

If we remember, we’ll be back to normal next week. But some copy would be helpful, meanwhile.


15 August 2008

Something for the weekend, sir?

We continue in holiday mode on Ranters Island.

Read – below and in the Bookshop (accessed via the Content column on the left) – our recommended holiday reading. And stroll through the groves of Archivia to enjoy some of our back issues.

If you are still feeling bereft of the written word during our temporary respite – or, indeed, at any time – try the regular weekly jottings of two of our original and still regular contributors.

Geoffrey Mather (ex Daily Express) writes his Perspective at

And Ian Skidmore (ex Daily and Sunday Mirror, Sunday People, BBC, author, broadcaster, columnist-at-large, Chester freelance…) nurtures his blog from his own island in the Fens:

Both are usually updated in time for a little light weekend reading.


8 August 2008

Silly season

It’s August. And the entire production staff has gone on holiday. Well, you know what they’re like – they may be the only group of people who put “sick days” on the following week’s rota.

We’ll be back shortly.


In the meantime, if there is anything urgent (or even fairly interesting) to on-pass, we will post it to the mailing list.

If you are not on it, and would like to be, just send a short message to [email protected] and it will happen automatically.

Not much news this week, except that today (August 8) is the last working day for eleven top people at the Daily Mirror: Pat Welland, Lynn White, Robin Porter, Roy Markland and Alan Livermore from news; Steve Castelli from features, plus a gaggle from the games department.

Who’s left who remembers hot metal?

Letting them all go together may be part of the current MGN economy drive. The Mirror ALWAYS treated its top people to a splendid thrash at the Savoy or the Café Royal, so obviously having one big dinner for eleven loyal old copy-correctors is cheaper than having eleven dinners for one at a time.

(It’s the usual address, chaps, when posting the invitation to Mr Ranter.)

And, in the absence of fresh copy, you could take a stroll through the archive, or experiment with the search engine, or learn about how to save money on income tax, or think about buying a classic book about what you know about (all these are in the contents column over on the far left – plus Tony Delano’s Slip-Up, covered last week, details of which appear below).

Enjoy your holiday from Ranting. And we’ll endeavour to do the same.




1 August 2008

The story behind the story

By Revel Barker

Even as this website went to press (or whatever it’s called: to ether?) last week, Press Gazette was carrying a story about Slip-Up – Tony Delano’s virtuoso book on Fleet Street.

Their columnist Axegrinder wrote about ‘a campaign’ to resurrect the film of the book. We didn’t know anything about it here – honest – until they contacted us. And because PG doesn’t put the column on-line until it’s a week old (on the basis that if you want to be up-to-date with the gossip you should buy the hard copy) it wasn’t on the website until today. It is reproduced below.

The book, about how Fleet Street found train robber Ronnie Biggs in Brazil and how Scotland Yard lost him there, and left him there, had been first published by the New York Times in1975 because Delano was working in the US and that was where his agent Knox Burger (no: you couldn’t make it up) had his contacts.

UK publishers were originally wary, not least because Superintendent Jack Slipper and one or two of Fleet Street’s better known names emerged in its pages as total plonkers.

Nevertheless, those journalists who were fascinated by the Great Game (and, in those days, this meant virtually everybody I knew) managed to source copies from New York.

It wasn’t only because the book was an uproarious and factual warts-n-all story about the Street – it was about famous big-byline names, even if some of us from the provinces hadn’t yet met them. They were the BTOs, big time operators, like Brian Hitchen, Brian Vine, Mickey Brennan, Ralph Champion, Eric Piper, Anthea Disney, David Pryke, Brian Park, Arthur Steel, Mike O’Flaherty, Bill Lovelace…

And Dermot Purgavie, who produced the immortal line: ‘There’s an awful lot of copy in Brazil.’

Larger than life characters, all of them.

To cap everything the Rio fiasco was documented by the forensic eye and the ruthless pen of Tony Delano, a third-generation Australian newsman who was variously the Daily Mirror chief European correspondent, chief American correspondent, and editor of Inside Page, would later become managing editor and now is Visiting Professor of Journalism at the London College of Communication (visiting, that is, from his home in the south of France, near Nice). Who says there are no job opportunities for Commonwealth immigrants?

He had created – see the cuttings on the right – the definitive book for us to track down (there was no amazon in those days) to buy and to marvel at. And, in the established nature of things, so-called ‘friends’ borrowed these cherished volumes, with inevitable results.

Two years later the subsequently celebrated Ed Victor decided to become a literary agent, took on Slip-Up as his first venture, flogged it to Andre Deutsch, and we were able to replace our stolen copies from W H Smiths.

When movie producer Graham Benson told Axegrinder that the film of the book was ‘fiction based on real events’, what he meant was that if it had been presented as raw fact nobody would have believed it. A couple of years later, when Mike Molloy and I were working with him on a script based on the life of Robert Maxwell, Hollywood  moguls suggested to Benson that it might be better presented as fiction.

We had to persuade him to explain to them, politely, that the story could not be improved by being fictionalised – rather, the biggest difficulty would be in getting people to believe that the fantastic, incredible and often ridiculous story was actually the way things happened. Thus it was also with Biggs and the boys in Brazil.

It was a natural narrative for a movie and the BBC took it up enthusiastically with the brilliant script adaptation by Keith Waterhouse, who describes his part in it, here.

Screened only once, and then somewhat apologetically, despite rave reviews, the script and the book drifted towards oblivion. There was still great interest among the Street’s cognoscenti, but the book was now out of print and the only people making money from it were second-hand book-sellers (a fine body of men, no argument, but the authors who did the work get not a penny from their sales).

So, to preserve it for posterity, to make it available for joyful reading by those who remember the great days, and as a lesson in both history and tradecraft for future generations, it has been revised, updated and republished.

Delano fills in more of the background here, some of it emerging only under the Thirty Year Rule, including the intriguing information that the Queen had asked Downing Street to keep her up to date on developments of the proposed recapture of Biggs. Fair enough, really; after all, it was Royal Mail that he had stolen, and her likeness appeared on every single piece of paper that he’d nicked.

Enjoy reading the stories behind the story. Then buy the book and read the story about how some of them got the story. And how some of them didn’t.

It is available from amazon (click here) for £9.99 plus postage. Or direct from the publisher, paying by PayPal (click here, for how to do that) for only £9.00 including post and packing to any UK address, or £11.00 to anywhere overseas.


Beeb urged to lift ban on train robber film

By Axegrinder: Press Gazette

The BBC is being urged to lift its own ban on what many believe to be the best film ever made about British journalists.

The Great Paper-Chase – based on Anthony Delano’s book Slip-Up – tells the hilarious story of how Daily Express journalists tracked down great train robber Ronnie Biggs in Rio de Janeiro, lost their scoop and how Scotland Yard detective Jack Slipper then failed to bring him to justice.

With a screenplay by Keith Waterhouse, the BBC made the film in 1988, broadcast it a year later and was immediately sued for libel by Slipper. The BBC eventually paid him £50,000 plus costs, reckoned to be about £450,000.

The film was never shown again, even though Slipper died in 2005, but its producer, Graham Benson, believes the time is now right to resurrect it from the vaults of the BBC.

Benson told Axegrinder: “I think it is a great shame that the film has never been seen again and I would support any campaign to persuade the BBC to end its ban on the film. Shortly after Jack Slipper died I – along with Keith Waterhouse, Anthony Delano and the director, James Cellan Jones – contacted the BBC and urged them to show it again. But we were told by the head of drama that it would not be repeated.

“I have been told by many journalists that we succeeded in recreating life as it was in Fleet Street at that time. We were helped by the journalists who were involved in the actual story – such as Brian Vine and Brian Hitchen – and we filmed in the old Daily Express newsroom.

“We never claimed that this was a documentary. It was a piece of fiction based on real events. There is an awful lot of humour in the film.

“When we were making it, the BBC were right behind us, and they planned to give it a key place in the Christmas schedules. But then Slipper, who had also been advising us, issued an injunction. We made some minor cuts, changed the name from Slip-Up – which he felt implied he had bungled the job – and thanks to the support of Paul Fox at the BBC, it was eventually broadcast and received excellent reviews.

“At the time Slipper sued, the BBC was under a lot of pressure from the Thatcher government, especially from Norman Tebbit, and that is possibly why they settled.”

Benson points to a number of factors that might persuade the BBC to see sense and rebroadcast the film. “With Ronnie Biggs reported to be close to death, the book about to be republished and one of the film’s stars, Larry Lamb, currently appearing in EastEnders, now is a perfect time for the BBC to show the film, perhaps under its original title.”

Waterhouse has called Delano’s book “perhaps the best analysis of Fleet Street at work ever written”.

In the film Colin MacKenzie is played by actor Nicholas LeProvost, Jeremy Kemp is Jack Slipper, and Express editor Ian McColl is played by Fulton Mackay.

Revel Barker, who is publishing Slip-Up at the end of the month, says: “Count me in on any effort to get the film back on the air and out on DVD. Slip-Up is better than Scoop because it has the great advantage of being true. It’s a great tale of a great romp in the days when journalists did that sort of thing.”

The book, price £9.99, can be pre-ordered now by emailing [email protected] .


Slip-Up, updated

By Anthony Delano

This new publication is the fifth edition of Slip-Up. The fourth was published to coincide with the broadcast of a £1m television version with a sparkling script by Keith Waterhouse scheduled to air on Christmas Eve 1986. At the last minute the BBC surrendered to the threat of a defamation writ from the late Detective Chief Superintendent (as he had become) Jack Slipper and withdrew it. The publishers of the paperback also got chilly feet and stopped distributing it.

After inconsequential cuts the TV programme was screened, nearly two years later, as TheGreatPaper Chase. Slipper (his costs underwritten by the mischievous Sir James Goldsmith) issued his writ. The BBC went through the elaborate charade of preparing a defence but on the point of going to court they settled, paying out £50,000 damages and £400,000 in costs.

Slipper was complaining less about minor inaccuracies in the film than about the way he had been depicted by the actor Jeremy Kemp. The BBC, it seemed, wanted to avoid the precedent being established of defamation by portrayal.

Jack Slipper did not enjoy reading the book but he never sued over it. I talked to him about it on a couple of occasions and he would admit that but for a few insubstantial details it was all too true.

Slipper was an engaging character and it was impossible not to sympathise with him on two counts. The Kemp portrayal was exaggerated; a caricature, in fact. Also, Slipper’s superiors in the Metropolitan Police were at least as much to blame as he was for the fiasco in Rio de Janeiro, indeed forever imagining that the hare-brained scheme they let themselves be talked into by the Daily Express could ever have succeeded.

Also, once Slipper had slipped into the mire of confusion and embarrassment that resulted, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Home Office – even Scotland Yard – could have done more to rescue the situation but they preferred to leave poor old Jack twisting slowly in the wind.

The furore that raged through the great departments of state stayed behind closed doors at the time. But when, in 2005, the files became available under the 30-year rule, the tracks of civil servants and diplomats running for cover stood revealed.

The Yard had asked one Home Office department to approve the cost of the Rio expedition and another department if there were extradition arrangements with Brazil. The first said yes, the second no, but neither bothered to enquire what the police might be up to. The police, in any case, were not quite sure themselves. As J. S Dixon of the FCO put it, Slipper seemed ‘to have had no clear instruction or idea what to do when [he] reached Rio’.

The garish front pages that blazed out all over Britain were a distraction for the Conservative government, embroiled in an election campaign which it lost, allowing Harold Wilson to replace Ted Heath for his second term as prime minister. Downing Street said nothing in public but insisted on monitoring the telegrams streaming between the FCO and Brazil. One from the British Ambassador, Derek Dodson, warned that any remaining chance of extracting Biggs would evaporate if Slipper were sent back to Brazil, or indeed to any other South American country.

Nor did Number 10 let on that it had been asked by Buckingham Palace to prepare a summary of these extraordinary goings-on for the Queen. And without mentioning it to Press or Parliament, Foreign Secretary Alec Douglas-Home instructed the Police Commissioner, Sir Robert Mark, to make a formal apology to the Brazilian authorities.

Ronnie Biggs was, of course, eventually brought back to Britain – in 2001 – after 27 years of nose-thumbing notoriety in Rio de Janeiro.

That, too, was a Fleet Street escapade, although hardly a great achievement, despite the days of headlines it generated in The Sun. The paper merely did what Biggs had been asking forever since the Slip-Up era: take him home. The most remarkable aspect of that episode was the alacrity with which the Home Office, after assiduously ignoring Biggs’s existence for years, issued a passport for him at the request of a Murdoch newspaper.

Since his return poor old Biggsy has lain moribund in a prison hospital at about twice the cost per day of a four-star hotel.


A bit of a slip-up with Jack Slipper

By Keith Waterhouse

Slipper of the Yard. It could have been the title of a series back in the grainy, pioneering days of black and white commercial television when suspects were known to the Old Bill as Chummy, and Chummy himself, upon having his collar felt, said: ‘All right, Guv, you’ve got me bang to rights.’ Had Jack Slipper opted for a career in showbiz instead of the Metropolitan Police – a decision he might in later life wish he had taken –he was perfectly typecast for the role of the archetypal copper.

He was every inch a copper from his neat moustache to his size 12 shoes. He looked like a copper and talked like a copper. ‘Long time no see, Ronnie,’ he said as he walked into escaped train robber Ronnie Biggs’s hotel room in Rio after a nine-year search.

No cops-and-robbers screenwriter would have dared pen such a corny line.

But Slipper was proud of it. He’d rehearsed it. He was a copper’s copper.

Slipper’s CV with the Flying Squad was spectacular. He was among the small team that solved the Shepherds Bush police murders when three officers were shot. And the £12m Bank of America robbery. All this and the Great Train Robbery, too. He rose to become Detective Chief Superintendent.

And then along came Biggs. And this is how I, peripherally, come into the story.

Learning that the fugitive bank robber was holed up in Rio, Fleet Street’s finest, with Slipper of the Yard leading (and sometimes following) the pack, descended upon Copacabana Beach. When every national newspaper is chasing after the same story bedlam ensues.

When it turned out that no one at Scotland Yard had thought to ask if Britain and Brazil had an extradition treaty (they didn’t) and that the Home Office knew nothing of the Brazilian escapade, bedlam degenerated into pandemonium. And, defeated, Slipper of the Yard came home.

There was a classic news picture of a despondent Slipper returning to London with a vacant aircraft seat next to him where Biggs should have been sitting. Actually, it was occupied by Slipper’s sergeant, but an enterprising snapper, Michael Brennan, waited for the right moment when he went to the toilet. The caption was ‘The Empty Seat’.



Photo: © Michael Brennan   

Meanwhile, another resourceful UK journalist, the writer Anthony Delano, was preparing a blow by blow account of the whole hilarious episode. His book, Slip-Up, was perhaps the best analysis of Fleet Street at work ever written. It was brought to me by TV producer Graham Benson and director James Cellan Jones who thought there could be a great TV screenplay in it. There was. I wrote it. It appeared on BBC TV under the title The Great Paper Chase. It was a huge success. And Slipper sued for libel.

Jack Slipper and I met for a couple of large ones at the old Wig and Pen Club opposite the Law Courts. Somewhat given to malapropisms, he explained his position: ‘No one minds a bit of dramatic licentiousness, Keith, but you have made me out to be a right prat.

‘For instance, take that scene where I’m ordering a drink for my sergeant and me at a café table, and I’m supposed to say to the waiter, ‘Uno beero and another uno beero’. All right, Keith, fair enough, it’s the only way you can get served in some of these places.

‘But then you have me turn to my sergeant and say: You see what we’re up against, Peter. They only talk Brazilian down here.’ Slipper took a brooding swig of his whisky.

‘Now I’m a much-travelled man, Keith. I’ve been to Malta, I’ve been to Rhodesia, I’ve been all over the place. So I knew they only talked flaming Brazilian before we even got there.’

The BBC had to pay him £50,000 libel damages, plus costs. Plus an injunction against them repeating the offense. Pity – it was a very entertaining 90 minutes. But as Jack Slipper would have been the first to agree, you can’t win them all.


How to buy by PayPal

To order a copy of Slip-Up: How Fleet Street found Ronnie Biggs and Scotland Yard lost him, direct from the publisher, you need to pay by PayPal. [Otherwise you can buy via amazon or order from any decent bookshop.]

We have three other books – about journalism, written by journalists and mainly for journalists – in our small collection, started this year. They are:


  • Forgive Us Our Press Passes, by Ian Skidmore
  • The Best of Vincent Mulchrone
  • Cassandra At His Finest And Funniest.

The retail price for each is £9.99 but they are available direct from the publisher at ?9.00 each, including UK post and packing.

Here’s how you do it.

You go to

You go to BUY with PayPal.

You register with them and enter your credit card details – it is perfectly safe and secure; it’s the method that virtually everybody uses when they buy on E-bay.

You tell them to send the money (£9, £18, £26 or £35 depending on the number of books) to [email protected]

If you are not buying all four books, please name the books you want.

Include your name and postal address.

There: you’ve done it.

Do it now and it/they will be in the post this weekend.


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