Issue # 153

This Week

Did anybody – I mean anybody apart from former Mail man Paul Bannister who now lives in Oregon – remember that last Sunday was a memorial day for the sainted Vincent Mulchrone and celebrate the fact? If you were a soccer fan, there was little else to celebrate at the weekend.

The occasion, children, was England playing (I use the word in its loosest sense) West Germany in the World Cup. Again.

On July 30, 1966, Vincent had an intro that has entered newspaper and sporting history. If you don’t remember it (and, especially, if you do, it’s reproduced here in all its glory. Click on his name or, if you’re coming in late, scroll down to read one of the most memorable intros in modern journalism.

Talking of quotes (like, ‘If the Germans…’), all his life Harold Heys has been collecting those that refer to newspapers. He’s kindly sharing some of them – old ones, new ones, loved ones, neglected ones (as Semprini used to say).

Then, back to the You Couldn’t Make It Up series of stories (see Ranters, passim). Phil Harrison remembers his celebrated colleague Steve Dunleavy, while working in Hong Kong, getting scoops that rival papers found impossible to follow.

And to end as we started, with a Fleet Street classic, Keith McDowall recalls the occasion when Hugh Saker was poured onto a late-night train after a session at the Press Club, and his ever-loving wife telephoned to meet him at the station…

Truly, you couldn’t make it up…


World Cup or World War?

By Vincent Mulchrone

been war. And a very valuable little war, too, if only because it showed us how nationalism can raise its idiot cry over a cowhide. And I’m not thinking of foreigners hanging trainers in effigy, or quaking Latin trainers suddenly finding they have urgent business in the Outer Hebrides. I mean us.

The Angelus, except that they were listening to their neighbours’ radios and their prayers were that Eusebio wouldn’t do it.


<‘Eng-land, Eng-land,’ Heil! or ‘Ban-zai’.’ But hysterical triumph in a crowd is much the same no matter what the cause, and I didn’t like the sound. They were not, I repeat, defending freedom, they were kicking a cow.

been such a clean game in soccer’s temple? Had life ever tasted so good?

Win or lose, tomorrow’s papers are going to be sheer hell. The shame of a defeat will be exceeded only by the horrors attendant on a victory. The deductions that will be drawn about the future of the British nation are already terrifying. And what bothers me is – how the hell did I get mixed up in it?

This Mulchone classic – and many like it – appears in The Best Of Vincent Mulchrone (available from amazon, Waterstones, the Book Depository and on order from any half-decent bookshop). It costs £9.99 and royalties go to Leukemia Research.



The Dunleavy scoops

By Philip Harrison

I was working in Hong Kong on the South China Morning Post when Steve Dunleavy arrived in 1959. He was seeking new pastures after having worked on and been fired from three of the four Sydney dailies. Not, I hasten to add, for any perceived shortcomings in his journalistic skills, but for various escapades often involving alcohol and urination.

He had heard that the Post was looking for journalists, so he quit his last job at the national broadcaster, the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission) to try his luck. I had known Steve in Sydney and introduced him to the Post executives. He was hired and pretty soon had started to make his mark on the then colony.

Steve was put on the airport round at Kai Tak and came up with many exclusive stories from interviews with arriving and departing passengers. Reporters from the English-language rival Tiger Standard and the many Chinese-language dailies were in despair as they tried to follow-up the exclusive stories after bollockings from their news editors.

Funnily enough, the subjects of Steve’s stories were usually impossible to track down. The interviews typically referred to departing passengers whose aircraft left soon after Steve filed his story for the afternoon China Mail, the Post’s sister paper.

They included an American businessman who was going to spend millions opening a chain of espresso coffee shops throughout Hong Kong and Kowloon. However, efforts by various rival journalists to follow up the story were fruitless.

Another Dunleavy exclusive was an interview with a visiting American geological scientist whose research had proved that Hong Kong was sitting on a huge artesian basin containing so much water that, if bought to the surface, could supply Hong Kong for at least 100 years.

This was big news. Prolonged drought – and the refusal of China to make life easier for Hong Kong’s British rulers by building a water pipeline from the mainland – meant that for much of the year water restrictions were in force. Residents had two hours of water in the morning and two in the afternoon.

Again, though, the geologist was impossible to locate. According to Steve, this was because he had interviewed the man at the airport transit lounge and he had left for Europe.

But the most bizarre scoop of all was a story Steve filed just in time for the China Mail’s last edition for the day. It was 1960, only two years after Charles de Gaulle had been recalled to power and was struggling to try to find a way to end France’s Algerian war. Steve had discovered that a passenger on a flight that was in transit in Hong Kong had the same name as the French president.

It was a great interview. Mr de Gaulle, terrified of assassination attempts, told how he had to check-in at hotels under a false name and be constantly wary. Many assassination attempts had been made over the years. Now he was returning to France after a secret trip to China.

Unfortunately, his plane had left by the time the Post airport reporter saw Steve’s story in the Mail, but half an hour later, there was great excitement when the airport announced that the plane had turned back to Hong Kong because of engine trouble.

Reporters from rival papers swarmed round the arrivals bay. Amazingly, though, the aircraft’s passenger list showed no one named De Gaulle on board. Another uncheckable Dunleavy scoop. Steve did explain later that he had not mentioned that Mr. De Gaulle had persuaded the French authorities to issue him with a passport under an assumed name.

As one editor of a Melbourne daily once wrote on a rather bizarre story from a staff reporter: ‘Good story. Could be true.’


Quote, unquote

haroldheys1 2 By Harold Heys

When I was a young reporter of 16 tender years I remember looking through books of quotations for something witty and pithy and apt about the job. Something perhaps inspirational or deep. Naive? Yes, of course. Anyhow, the only thing I could ever find was the line about not needing to bribe or twist the British journal-a-list by a character called Humbert Wolfe, whoever he was.

(If you aren’t conversant with this amusing bit of doggerel, you might as well stop reading this piece of whimsy now and get back to your twittering or your X-boxing).

More recently, and certainly, before the tentacles of the internet gave everyone access to everything – much of it quite accurate – the only new arrival was probably Nicholas Tomalin’s wonderful line about ‘rat-like cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability’ of 40 years ago.

Nowadays there are dozens of websites with quotations about journalism, most of it ponderous American pomposity, and none of which comes near to Tomalin’s excellent premise in the Sunday Times in late 1969. Ranters, to its eternal credit, maintains its standing with occasional mentions. Look up the whole article. It’s very good.

However, back to Wolfe. A few years ago I came across his book The Uncelestial City (which carries the ‘bribe and twist’ bit) in a dark corner of a dusty old book shop in Lancashire and I snapped it up for 40p, hoping to glean a little insight into a chap who obviously knew our game well.

I should have realised that anyone making a fin de siècle move as a youngster from the cosmopolitan delights of Milan to take up residence in, er, Bradford must have been rather odd. Even by our standards. It was indeed 40p thrown away. I made fewer than a dozen pages before beginning to nod; on Page 30 I threw in the towel.

As a critic once said: ‘What’s it about? About as much as I can take.’ It’s an afterlife fantasy written in the late 20s and now forgotten except for:

You cannot hope to bribe or twist, Thank God, the British journalist. But seeing what the man will doUnbribed, there’s no occasion too!

Wolfe – for anyone still with me – was highly regarded in the 20s and was tipped to become poet laureate. He wasn’t an Oscar Wilde. Which brings me to some of my favourite quotations about journalism, gleaned over the years. Here’s ten to add to Wolfe and Tomalin. Let’s have your top ten (we’ll presume Wolfe and Tomalin are in your dozen). Incidentally, I’ve not used a quote from anybody I’ve never heard of. It seemed a good starting point. They aren’t in any particular order; cynicism is rampant.

In journalism it is simpler to sound off than it is to find out. It is more elegant to pontificate than it is to sweat. Harold Evans

Laziness has become the chief characteristic of journalism, displacing incompetence. Kingsley Amis

In journalism, there has always been a tension between getting it first and getting it right. Ellen Goodman (Boston Globe)

Newspapers are unable, seemingly, to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilisation. George Bernard Shaw

Once a newspaper touches a story, the facts are lost forever, even to the protagonists. Norman Mailer

Get your facts first, and then you can distort ’em as much as you please. Mark Twain

The public has an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing. Journalism, conscious of this, and having tradesman-like habits, supplies their demands.Oscar Wilde

The Press can be seen as no more, surely, than a bunch of journalists. Fellows with, in the main, squalid and unfulfilling private lives, insecure in their careers, and suffering a considerable degree of dependence on alcohol and narcotics. These are not characteristics inseparably associated with discernment or fastidious taste. Alan Clark

And, to close, a couple of takes on our proudly ‘open’ society. Here’s one from Hannen Swaffer (or Helen Swaffer as one web site calls one of the doyens of Fleet Street. Give me strength.):

Freedom of the press in Britain is freedom to print such of the proprietor’s prejudices as the advertisers won’t object to.

Finally, these from Lord Justice Sedley(Redmond-Bate v DPP Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court in 1999):

Free speech includes not only the inoffensive but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative provided it does not tend to provoke violence. Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having.

One of Sedley’s lines from his excellent ruling (it’s worth close scrutiny) was this:

From the condemnation of Socrates to the persecution of modern writers and journalists, our world has seen too many examples of state control of unofficial ideas.


Saker saga

By Keith McDowall

One of the biggest laughs in Fleet Street history was the one about Hugh Saker’s journey home from his role as a crime man on the Daily Mirror when he was certainly tired but unlikely to have been very emotional. They poured him onto a very late train to East Croydon.

The news desk rang his home at Addington, near Croydon and persuaded his wife, then in bed, to take the car to the station and collect Hugh.

Vivienne Batchelor was no stranger to booze In Fleet Street because she herself was a distinguished writer on the Evening Standard and prior to meeting Saker, also then on that paper, she had been married to Tom (Duncan) Webb of the People.

Not best pleased, Viv put a housecoat over her nightie and shot off quickly to East Croydon because the trains are fast from Victoria and there was not much time. With a grunt, Hugh Saker got in the passenger seat and promptly went into a deep sleep while his wife drove.

But Viv had not had time to spend a penny – and realised she did not have one with her. So as her car reached the more rural Shirley Hills she pulled up and crossed the road in search of appropriate tree cover.

Just at that moment her husband awoke and found himself sitting in the passenger seat. He was surprised but not unduly phased by this discovery. He found the ignition key in place and he felt up to driving home, so moved over and set off.

It was before the breathalyser and cars did have rear view mirrors but, even so, Saker missed seeing Viv franticly running after him, waving and shouting.

It says much about a Fleet Street man’s ability to recover rapidly from a skinful that he drove home to Featherbed Lane in Addington, put the car safely in the garage, went indoors and locked up. Within seconds he was in bed and fast asleep again.

Ever resourceful, Viv found a lit phone box that did little to alleviate her shivering but she had no money to call home. The only thing – dial 999.

‘Oh yes dear,’ replied the ever-helpful New Scotland Yard. ‘Lost your purse have you? Business not so good tonight?…’

It took all her resourcefulness – of which Viv had a lot – eventually to convince the two patrol car cops who eventually arrived, hardly able to keep a straight face, about what had happened. They had heard it all from distraught young women, many times over.

But eventually, they agreed to drive her home to Addington where she could prove that her husband really had left her standing by the roadside. They were, however, bemused to find the car perfectly parked in the garage and no signs of life from within, even in response to loud knocking on the front and back doors.

Vivienne managed to rouse a neighbor who had a spare key to her home and could confirm her identity for the doubting policemen.

Once indoors, she reckoned there was little point in getting back into bed and trying to sleep beside her snoring husband. She decided, instead, to get showered and dressed and go in early for her shift at the Standard.

Her movement in the bedroom woke Hugh.

‘What are you doing?’

‘Getting dressed for work.’

‘Just a minute…’ said Hugh. ‘Where the hell were you when I came home last night?…’


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