Issue #83

That reminds me…

This is how it’s supposed to work.

We had two tales last week of reporters being scooped on their own stories and this prompted two more.

And a book review of Ladies of The Street reminded Gordon Amory of an incident involving a lass in chilly Tynemouth, when he was but a lad.

That, in case it has escaped your attention, is the plot of Ranters. It is The Last Pub In The Street.

Somebody spins a yarn at the bar and somebody else says: ‘That reminds me of the time when…’

Usually (but not in this case) before they’ve reached the punchline.

This Week:

Budding journalist Peter Holland learnt a sharp lesson – that sex and religion is a heady mix, and always sells.

Young Australian reporter Philip Harrison learnt that it helps if journalists also read books.

Gordon Amory remembers a reporter being exposed at a civic function, in the days when ladies wore hats.

Tina Hannan spots a cartoon in the cellar of the Cheese and reckons the faces look familiar (although there was a time when most hacks looked like that). Can you identify them?

Mike Gallemore, sometime sub, NUJ convenor, Sporting Life editor and now magazine publisher, remembers more tales of his wayward Dad, Ronnie.

Neville Stack, with a paper hat and a mustard sandwich, represents the rest of us at a Buck House garden party.

And Colin Dunne writes a steamy first novel and digs Lonnie Donegan’s potatoes.

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You always remember the first time…

By Peter Holland

My old boss Stanley Blenkinsop’s account last week of the worst scoop he ever suffered reminded me of my own first failure in journalism.

In my early teens, and dreaming of becoming a reporter, I had volunteered to edit a local church magazine to impress any future employer. My last edition as editor coincided with my start as a junior reporter on the Newark Advertiser.

After reading countless editions packed with church notes, thoughts from the pulpit, and lists of flower duty rosters, the vicar’s wife suggested that the magazine should print an article about sex. Or, to be more exact, sex techniques.

Apparently, she had just read the Kama Sutra and believed there were many in the congregation, in the Year of Our Lord 1961, who would benefit from a ‘Christian manual of sex.’

My first major decision as an editor, who now had two years’ experience of editing but rather less of the subject matter, was to get the lady herself to write the article.

It was duly published in what was my last edition, as I was now a full-time reporter on a weekly paper covering ‘real’ stories.

A freelance agency spotted a real story, probably for the first time, in a church magazine.

The vicar’s wife and her ideas of what Christians should do in bed (and on the kitchen floor etc) made page leads in several national papers.

But not a line in that week’s Newark Advertiser.

The look on my own editor’s face as he looked at the other papers’ headlines showed that he didn’t think too much that day of his new £5-a-week trainee. But I had been indentured and he was stuck with me.

Later I was taken on by that avid reader of church mags, agency boss Frank Palmer. I never had the courage to tell him how my failure as a reporter had once rewarded him.

I suppose it’s comforting to be in such illustrious company as Stanley Blenkinsop, to feel the pain after almost half a century.

Maybe we both had too much sex on our minds to see the scoop.

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Read a book, get a scoop

By Philip Harrison

Stanley Blenkinsop’s story (Ranters: last week) of being scooped reminded me of a time when, as a young reporter, I was really badly beaten on a good story.

It was in London in 1960. I had travelled there from Australia via Hong Kong and landed a job in the John Fairfax office at 85 Fleet Street. The group had a big London office and hired most of its 14 journalists locally, usually Australians who had travelled to the UK hoping to work in Fleet Street.

Much of the work consisted of spending several hours in the Reuters cuttings library researching articles for Fairfax’s Sunday papers, but there was also a fair amount of original work for the dailies – the Sydney Morning Herald and the Sun.

One day the news editor was eager to get the first interview with an Israeli academic who had been denied an entry visa to Australia to take up a university job. The Menzies government had refused to give reasons for the ban. The academic lived in London and we had discovered his address.

I was the first journalist to speak to him. He had no idea why he had been banned. I got from him a few details of his family, borrowed a photograph and left.

Outside, on the footpath, I bumped into an Australian Associated Press reporter who had just arrived. ‘You’re too late,’ I said. ‘In any case, he is as mystified as we are.’

I returned to the office. ‘There’s nothing much in it,’ I told the news editor. ‘He doesn’t know why they won’t let him in.’ Two hours later, we knew why.

An AAP report on the teleprinter was headed: BANNED ACADEMIC ADMITS TERRORIST LINK. He had apparently been a member of the infamous Stern gang during Israel’s early struggles.

AAP was on the next floor. I went up and grabbed the reporter who broke the story.

‘How the hell did you find that out?’ I asked.

‘Pure luck,’ he replied. ‘I had never heard of the Stern gang until I started to read Exodus last night. I found the good professor as dull as you had until I asked him if he had ever been in the Stern gang. He said yes, but hadn’t realised that that might cause the Australian government to ban him.’

Bloody Leon Uris.

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Reporter exposed

By Gordon Amory

Reading Colin Dunne’s excellent review of Ladies of The Street(Ranters, last week) reminded of the days when I worked on such illustrious titles as the Blyth News. Ashington Post and the Shields Evening News – now reduced to weekly giveaways.

A lady reporter joined us just after the war, obviously sliding down the social and career scale. She drank, smoked and swore with the best of them.

The Evening News and the local borough council celebrated their centenary around about the same time and we were all invited to a dinner suit affair at then luxurious (it still is) Grand Hotel on the seafront at Tynemouth where even on a summer’s day the wind howls in from the North Sea.

This was on a February evening. The editor in chief spoke as did the mayor and the town clerk and there was alcohol in abundance – and the lady reporter had more than her fair share.

She was enjoying herself so much she started taking off her clothes one by one. Senior reporters tried to get her to put them back on again (younger ones didn’t object) when suddenly she jumped on the table, did a dance then ran out of the room down the winding staircase and out of the main entrance.

By this time she was completely in the nude except for her hat.

There was a gale and it was snowing as she ran along the seafront with a posse of newspapermen chasing her.

She was never seen again. If she ever received a P45 it must have been sent by post.

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Olde Cheese

Tina Hannan writes:

I’m wondering if you can help me identify the subjects of a caricature I saw in Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.

I was indirectly put in your direction by the daughter of an ex-landlady of The Mucky Duck, and she wondered if the picture might be of a couple of famous journalists from the 70s.

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The home run

By Mike Gallemore

Ronnie Gallemore, alias ‘the Wangadang Kid’ was arrested and formally charged with driving while under the influence of drink a total of eight times. Three such cases ended up in court – and he was found not guilty on each occasion. In his colourful driving career he was never banned and had an unblemished licence. But his amazing escapes are much more entertaining than his arrests.

I know, because I witnessed many of them. I had collected him from as many police stations as pubs during his lifetime.

For me, one of his most hilarious escapades was when he was driving along Cannon Street near Withy Grove in the early hours one morning with George Harrop. In those days he had a dark green Humber Hawk, which was about as near to a Sherman tank as you could get. Distracted by his conversation with Harrop (according to my Dad), he inadvertently demolished two keep-left signs in the middle of the road.

The car ground to a halt. Harrop jumped out of the car, saying: ‘It’s OK Ronnie, you can drop me here.’

Dad got out of the car, kicked the wings away from the tyres, got back in and lurched his way back home to Dickenson Road, about three miles away. He somehow managed to make it home and parked beneath what he called ‘the garage’ but which was really just a lean-to carport with no doors front or back.

He shot into the house, ran upstairs, put his pyjamas on, telling my Mum that he’d been in bed for the last few hours.

He’d barely finished explaining his alibi when there was a bang on the front door. He went downstairs and opened the door, wiping the sleep from his eyes. Standing there were two police officers holding the bonnet of my Dad’s car. They said they believed that he had hit two bollards on Cannon Street and that the bonnet matched his car standing in the drive. Steam was still rising from the car, which was making all sorts of groaning noises.

Dad told them he had been in bed for several hours, by which time my (being well practised in this sort of thing) had joined him at the front door to corroborate his story.

When the police officers said the bonnet they were holding clearly matched his car, my Dad said: ‘What right have you got to enter my garage uninvited?’ The policeman said: ‘It’s not a garage, it’s a driveway.’ There followed a short discussion regarding the status of the garage, which ended with Dad saying: ‘Go away and come back with a warrant and I’ll gladly accompany you into the garage.’

Eventually, the policemen went off to get a warrant.

As soon as the policemen had left I was enlisted to help him drive the car round to next door’s garage, which we knew was empty because they were away on holiday. We kept our lawn mower in their garage so we had a key for the doors.

Our car was an amazing sight. The two headlights on the wings had been bent inwards and were looking straight at each other. How he drove it home I’ll never know. The radiator had been pushed in but miraculously the engine was not damaged. It started up first time and he backed it round to next door and we locked it in their garage. As we walked back I pointed out to Dad the trail of rusty water that led from our ‘garage’ to next door’s garage and suggested we try to wash it away.

Typically, Dad said: ‘No, we’ll be OK. They’ll be back any minute, so it will be worse if they catch us trying to clean up.’

Sure enough, we’d been back in the house only a couple of minutes when there was a bang on the front door. Dad walked upstairs, turned round and came back down. He was still in his pyjamas. He opened the door to a triumphant policeman who presented him with the warrant. ‘OK, fair-enough-ski, let’s take a look,’ said my Dad. I was straining my ears at the top of the stairs wondering how Harry Houdini was going to get out of this one.

They walked round the house to the empty ‘garage’…. ‘Where have you put it?’ asked the police officer. ‘Put what?’ said my Dad. ‘Your car that was here before and it matched this bonnet,’ replied the policeman holding the car part like some sort of trophy.

‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ said my Dad. Meanwhile, the super-sleuth sidekick of the policeman who had been doing all the talking, suddenly announced: ‘There’s a trail of brown radiator water leading to the garage next door.’

The three of them followed the trail to next door’s closed garage door. They could hear the car inside making groaning and gurgling noises. The No.1 policeman said: ‘Open the door!’ My Dad said: ‘This is not my property and anyway I don’t have a key for this garage – and I believe my neighbours are away on holiday (which they were). I think you’ll have to go and get another warrant but I don’t know who you’d serve it on because there’s nobody at home.’

At this point a thin smile of resignation formed on the policeman’s lips as he muttered: ‘OK – you’ve won this one but you won’t win again. We’ll be watching you.’

As the two police officers went back to their car my Dad shouted: ‘Leave the bonnet would you,’ and the policeman threw it into the garden in temper.

My Dad walked back into the house, and as he passed me at the top of the stairs, he said: ‘Not bad old fruit, eh?’

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All are equal at the loo

By Neville Stack

The last place you would expect to think about class distinctions is surely the loo. But at Buckingham Palace they are said to take such things very seriously.

Mind you, in this respect the ladies is a red herring, so to speak. Ladies (the titled sort), ladies (the ones without a handle to their names) and women (the ones who couldn’t care less), queue up together as to the manor born. At the loo all women are ladies, for it says so on the door.

The occasion was one of the Queen’s summer garden parties in her backyard, where several hundred of the good, the great and the bewildered sipped tea with one another, listened to two bands, one at each end, playing different tunes – well, it isn’t really a small sort of garden – and tried to give the impression we were regular droppers-in.

Some knew why they had been invited, some thought they knew and some (like my wife and me) could think of no possible reason except, perhaps, a desire to bestow a royal smile by proxy upon newspapers and all who therein dwell.

We were what you might call motley. Some of us defiantly wore ordinary togs; others grey morning suits with top hats, the sort posh people get married in.

Though they all tried to look as though they wore that sort of rig every day, I assume most had hired expensively from Moss Bros. They looked very grand, like the chorus in the film of My Fair Lady.

There were scouts and nurses, generals and rankers, diplomats and (I suppose) dustmen. Provincial mayorssported their chains of office and a bishop was chatting merrily with a cheerful imam.

The Anglo-ethnics were well represented, with turbans and saris aplenty and here and there a head-turning cheong-san.

We had entered by a gate in the railings, trying not to notice the surveillance cameras. It was the first of the queues of the afternoon.

Into the palace we trooped, ignored by the robotic sentries in their scarlet tunics and bearskin hats and carrying wicked little rifles.

There was nothing, I mused, to stop an ill wisher taking in a firearm disguised as an umbrella; that is until I noticed that there were police snipers by the satellite TV dishes on the roof overlooking the gardens, and unmistakable bodyguards, male and female, with their Glocks discreetly tucked away.

Up the red carpet we progressed, handed our yellow tickets to a flunky, sauntered past dingy paintings of kings and their relatives and some surprisingly indelicate marble statues of naked ladies and well-endowed warriors. The twee folded paper in the empty fireplace was trimmed into the shape of a crown.

We were all at such pains to be polite, so intent on courteously giving way, that it was a wonder we ever went through the french doors and on to the lawn. The only frowns were worn by the Yeomen of the Guard, veteran retired non-coms who have to dress up in a bizarre and archaic livery of smock, breeches and stockings, with the beribboned hat and cockaded pumps. Clearly intent on proving they were really the Elizabethan equivalent of the SAS they looked ready to jab us with their halberds if we mocked their silly hats and silently dared us to smile.

We had hopes that one saucy girl would be decapitated on the spot for disrespectful dressing, but all she attracted was a discreet grin.

The ladies and the women (except for the elegant Asians) all wore hats. Some had chosen straw, worn crammed down; others, ill advised by their milliners, sported creations that were more architectural in style, especially one neo-Gothic job in shades of purple.

My wife, an egalitarian if ever there was one, naturally went to Marks and Spencers for a little white number that was as chic as any at the party.

Unfortunately, she had not spotted until too late the label which said ‘Do not get this hat wet’, so we guessed it was made of paper. This was all very well while the sun shone; but when clouds rolled overhead and distant thunder challenged the din of the traffic beyond the garden walls, I sensed we were in for a crisis.

Noticing a long line of people snaking across the lawn we assumed that they were all queuing for a butty and a cuppa, but it turned out it was for the Ladies. I don’t know where the Gentlemen were supposed to go, but I joined some other men behind the bushes which, I suspect, had done the same service for hundreds of years.

I was about to ask a courtier (who looked disconcertingly like Rex Harrison in full formals) how long we had to wait at the tea tent, when we realised we were standing by to be introduced to the Queen. She had just arrived to the strains of God Save Her, played by both bands at once.

The sun shone briefly for her; as a bonus for us it reprieved the paper hat.

We decided to grab our tea and warm ice cream while the mob was otherwise engaged.

From a distance we observed that the Queen, who is small, wore a bright blue boater, and we speculated whether it was made of paper. She was surrounded by the sort of intimidating English toffs who stand well over six feet even without their toppers. She was like a little cornflower in the tall grass.

We eavesdropped discreetly on the touchline. The general theme of chat seemed to be whether such events as this were really seemly in these hard times. It was agreed that it was OK to cheer people up, especially Us.

The Queen was said to be in a jolly mood. Since before meeting royalty you are warned ‘speak only when spoken to’, probably nobody had raised the subject of her taxes.

Observing an up-market group who clearly owned their morning suits and what’s more probably wore them around the house, I found myself muttering a verse written about a similar event given by the Queen’s grandfather.

The rich arrived in pairs
And also in Rolls Royces;
They talked of their affaires
In loud and strident voices.

Only the date has changed…

Not attracted by the chocolate cake, I chose a ham sandwich – because it had the crusts cut off, which the best people always do. Imagine my dismay, dear reader, when I found that it was laced with mustard, which I heartily dislike.

I mean, what does one do with an inedible royal butty in Buckingham Palace? One wraps it in one’s hankie, that’s what, and deposits it in the trashcan next to the Ladies loo tent, by the lake. So far it has not been traced back to one.

Somewhere in the Great Scheme of Things there is a rule of nature which requires the sun to shine in glory for the first half of every English garden party. Then the rain is switched on. And so, on cue, it poured on ours.

The royals dematerialised. Guests in their rented finery sought shelter, not risking their deposits. Old garden party hands raised their umbrellas. The Yeoman made a strategic retreat to lay down their halberds, take off their quaint hats, and brew up like the old soldiers they were

As the first fat blobs fell from heaven, my wife clutched her paper hat and fled for cover.

Both Marks and Spencer would have been proud of that hat. Far from becoming a soggy poultice, it stayed crisp and shapely until it got crammed into the plastic bag I had in my pocket for such an eventuality.

Probably that was the only time a carrier bag advertising Morrison’s Supermarket had been seen exiting from the front door of Buckingham Palace. The tourists at the gate refrained from comment, at least in our hearing.

And so we bade farewell to the highest society in the land, feeling curiously uplifted for the experience, though we couldn’t figure quite why.

I don’t suppose she noticed, but I was sorry I did not get to meet the Queen. I am sure she would have liked to hear about the mustard.

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Critical acclaim

By Colin Dunne

Now where were we? Oh I know. In Newcastle, where I was just about to embark on another leap to a new life and a new job. Yet again. Well, can we put that on hold for a moment. I have an apology to make.

My career in writing, which for no clear reason I am documenting here every week, did not begin – as I suggested – when I joined the Craven Herald (and West Yorkshire Pioneer, don’t forget) at the age of 16.

It’s bound to come out sooner or later. Someone somewhere is sure to rat on me. The truth is that twice before I left school I had dipped my toe into the business of assembling words for profit and pleasure. And – let me get this in before someone denounces me – it is true that I was the author of a critically acclaimed work of fiction entitled Tits which caused such a stir in the fifties. I’m sure you remember. No, sorry, I’ve got that wrong. The title was TITS! because I felt that lower case letters may be too subtle for the market I was targeting. The market was Form 4B at the grammar school in Skipton which was less discerning than you might think.

I was inspired to attempt this by an author who was enormously popular at the time. Hank Janson. If you were a schoolboy round about 1950 with a fully functioning pulse then the name will touch all sorts of forgotten nerves. He wrote hard-boiled crime novels with a strong SM slant, with titles like Don’t Dare Me Sugar, ‘Gun Moll for Hire, Broads Don’t Scare Easy and Skirts Bring Me Sorrow, in which the flesh was always creamy, voices were low and husky, nails seared across backs, everyone was panting uncontrollably, and nipples were permanently erect.

When you saw the illustration on the cover, no wonder they were erect. They were the only things that were holding the frocks up. And, take it from me, the uncontrollable panting was audible half-a-mile away from the teeming pit of tumescence that was Form 4B.

A clear step-up from William the Outlaw, these books were the nearest we had to porn. But it was almost impossible for us to get our sticky hands on them. There was a market stall in the high street where they sold for 1s 6d (don’t ask), but there was no member of Form 4b bold enough, or indeed tall enough, to pick up, say, Slay-ride for Cutie when your Auntie Edie could walk past at any moment. The only copy we had, This Dame Dies Soon I think it was, was secreted behind the big iron radiator in the gym block, because no-one dare take it home or carry it in a satchel. To be caught in possession of a Hank Janson meant expulsion to Van Diemen’s Land, the ASBO of its day.

With constantly being tugged out and mauled around by squabbling and sweaty boys, it was becoming so damaged that you could hardly read the bit where the strength of her desire was so frightening that she went for him like a lion at raw meat. That’s what it said. School dinners were never the same after that. This Dame Dies Soon was itself dying and we had no way of replacing it.

So I decided to write one myself. I avoided using a title with all Hank’s favourites words because, to be quite honest, we didn’t have much by way of Dames, Broads, Cuties, Guns, Death and Sorrow in 4B, although it may well have been different in 4C. On the other hand, we were just approaching an age where the bulging high-school gymslips aroused, among other things, our curiosity. So the title selected itself. It also presented no insuperable spelling problems.

Using a fountain pen, it took me some time to write the book, which was why I thought it was called one-handed literature. My idea was to make several copies and sell them at twopence each. With 35 in the class, this could be a money spinner of Murdochian proportions.

Sadly, after filling two pages of my English exercise book and even using big writing, the story came to an end. The trouble was one which has bothered writers over the centuries: lack of research. I knew nothing whatsoever about the subject, in either lower case or capitals, singly or in pairs. This was eons before Page Three. The only chance we had of a glimpse of them was on news film of royal tours of Africa, where occasionally, in the far distance, you could just about see some bobbing around during a ceremonial dance.

Well, some boys did. I didn’t. At the first hint of exposed skin, my mother would snatch up the Daily Express and hold it across the front of the 12-inch Murphy. ‘They shouldn’t put these things on when there are kiddies about.’ Kiddies indeed. Didn’t she realise she had her very own, and very young, Henry Miller in the house?

So, after one carefully written scene of bare shoulders, rose pink flesh, fragrant hair, torn thin silk, hungry lips, and body parts that were starkly outlined and taut, that was about it. With nowhere left to go, the steamy narrative ran out of… well, steam.

And with my Swan pen rapidly running out of ink, I made only the one copy.

When I say it was critically acclaimed, two members of the colts rugby second XV, the boy who came eighth in the junior cross-country, and the deputy paper monitor all expressed their approval. I sold it to Birtwistle for a penny. He made a dozen copies and sold them for twopence each. I believe he went on to become a successful literary agent.

Now what you should know about Hank Janson (real name Stephen Frances: sold millions) is that he – Hank, not Stephen – was an ace reporter with the Chicago Chronicle. Did I follow Hank into journalism in the hope that Sweetie, Hold Me Tight may come true? Possibly. I don’t think the sweeties ever did hold me tight, but I can definitely confirm that skirts brought me sorrow, and many another hack too.

My first burst into actual print came the following year when I picked up a library book called Mister Jelly Roll because I thought it sounded odd. At that time, odd was good for me. It turned out to be a book about Jelly Roll Morton, a New Orleans jazzman, which launched me on a passion for jazz that has lasted all my life. In the basement of Woods record shop (now a Chinese) in Skipton’s Sheep Street, I spent all my pocket money and newspaper delivery round pay on Hot Fives, Hot Sevens, Jug Bands, Footwarmers, Red Hot Peppers and All Stars. Within three months I could whistle the clarinet break from High Society, both upper and lower registers, and sing all six verses of Empty Bed Blues. It was strange that the music of cotton plantations and brothels of the southern states of America should transport so successfully to the sheep country of northern England, but it did.

The neighbours must have been heartily sick of hearing me complain that mah springs are gittin’ rusty, sleepin’ single like ah do. It must have sounded quite original sung in a Louisiana accent subtly overlaid with nuances of Wharfedale. Rather like Ilka Moor Baht ’At sung by Sister Rosetta Tharpe perhaps.

To me, it seemed necessary to share this passion with the world. My school exercise book and Swan pen came out again as I drew on my almost fathomless knowledge of music to write Blowin’ That Thing, which my secretarial sister typed out the following day in the office of the Eagle Star Insurance Company (opposite Woolies). Off it went. Without any warning, there it was in the next issue of Jazz Journal. I bought every copy at the newsagents.

Even better, a letter from the editor. He had enjoyed my article. It showed, he thought, an informed understanding of the music which was all too rare. He hoped I would write more. In the meantime, would I like to review some records? In the next post came two 78s, Bury My Body and Diggin’ My Potatoes by Lonnie Donegan. I did my reviews. The next letter from the editor said he was promoting me from 78s to LPs, which was like going from lead to gold. LPs were better than money. My friends were practically vomiting with envy, which was deeply satisfying. I waited. And waited.

But they never came. I never heard from the magazine again.

Later I discovered that the northern editor of Melody Maker, curious about this shining new talent in the Dales, had made a few inquiries. He had fed back to my editor that his new record reviewer was but lately out of short trousers, shaved once a fortnight, and was still wobbling between treble and tenor. I was rumbled. It was over.

My twin careers in porn and pop both ended in disaster. That’s the truth, and I feel better for having faced up to it. I need fear the blackmailer no more.

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