Issue #84

Reflections on Woman’s Mirror

This week

Remember Woman’s Mirror? You should, it had an all-star cast. And it is set for a reunion next month. Anthony Peagam is issuing invitations.

Former Daily Telegraph business editor Roland Gribben recalls the days before he was on the Manchester Evening Chronicle or even the Lancashire Evening Post, doing would-be reporters out of their linage as a starter on the Hexham Courant. But it didn’t deter Stanley Blenkinsop (for which some people may be thankful).

John Husband remembers City gent Robert Head, his old boss, who died this month.

And Colin Dunne meets that figment of everybody’s imagination, an intolerant Yorkshireman, and finds himself yet another job as a result of it.

It’s a quiet week this week, so can we point out to new readers – and remind old ones who haven’t yet taken advantage of it – that there’s always a free ride on the national lottery, courtesy of the Ranters’ own Lottery Syndicate.

What you do is go to the Ranter’s Lottery site at www.e-vwd.com/ranterseditor and click on the logo that says Grab A Grand. Then you choose your Lottery numbers and if they come up, you get £1,000, without needing to put your hand in your pocket. While you’re there, you can join the Syndicate, if you like. But it’s purely optional. Syndicate members can play Grab A Grand every week, but non-members are restricted to three goes.

And… don’t forget our Books page. You can click on it in column one on this page, or go straight to our six classic titles (shown in the column on the right) by clicking onwww.booksaboutjournalism.com .

Finally, our illustration last week from the cellar of the Cheshire Cheese has been half identified by Jon Churchman who says one of the subjects in the cartoon was former advertising guru David Blake, who moved to the Great Storyboard a couple of years ago. But we still don’t know the name of his companion.

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Reflections on Woman’s Mirror

By Anthony Peagam

Google sums it up. Search for Nova, and you get a bagful of pages, one of which describes it as ‘the greatest magazine of all time’. Hunt for Woman’s Mirror, and – zilch.

Now I’m second to none in my admiration for the memorable monthly created in the sixties by my old friend and mentor Denis Hackett. But it needs to be said that the weekly Woman’s Mirror was also a ground-breaker in a time when weekly sales around 4m were traditionally won by being cosy and genteel, like Woman, Woman’s Own and Woman’s Weekly.

Fleetway folded Woman’s Mirror into Woman’s Illustrated because it was selling ‘only’ 1.1m weekly. But not before some talented journalists and art men had passed its way.

Woman’s Mirror started life as Woman’s Sunday Mirror, and its birth as a newspaper, and the fact that a number of old hands from the Daily Mirror remained on the staff, gave it what today would be called edge.

Certainly, there was remarkable editorial willingness, and courage, to tackle what at the time were regarded as ‘difficult’ topics – these were, after all, days in which no women’s magazine sub would allow the word ‘period’ to indicate a passage of time.

When I pitched up in 1962-3 Jodi Hyland was editor. You knew when she was in the office because her small dog – some sort of pug – wandered around peeing until taken walkies by her chauffeur.

Peter Reid was deputy editor, a Daily Mirror Old Codger who later returned to the Mirror. Leslie Walton was production editor. And Pelham Pound was features editor, though I barely remember him: the Profumo Affair was soon making headlines, and Pelham Pound was, by all accounts, busy being ‘literary agent’ to the ‘society osteopath’ Stephen Ward… achieving little prior to his client’s suicide in July 1963, and even less afterwards.

The magazine was first housed in a tall, slim, red-brick building on Farringdon Street, close to Ludgate Circus and virtually on top of a Kardomah coffee house. It was to move to New Fleetway House, a hundred yards or so down the road towards Holborn Viaduct… from which I would gaze lovingly on to the bright red MG-A that I could park, all day without charge, at the kerb by the telephone exchange.

Chief sub of the department that I joined as lowest of the low was the immensely likeable Brian Checkley: a trombone player, like me. He was to move on to the Sunday Mirror and the short-lived Mirror Magazine, and to die tragically young. The team included Sally Adams, who later did greater things at NatMag; wild man Ian Levack, who went via TV Times back into newspapers – and died, lamented, about a year ago; New Zealander John Elder – always called Cob, today somewhere in Canada; Ray Hyams, older brother to actor Melvin Hayes, and now sadly a victim of Alzheimer’s; Ken Seymour, who went on to Southern TV; and Rosemary Hiscock, who succeeded Seymour and, after WM, stayed around women’s magazines more or less up to her death about five years ago.

Godfrey Winn – these days, I see, described as ‘a gay icon’ – was a Woman’s Mirror columnist, and his copy was rotated round the subs. He had a contract that forbade changes, but his outpourings needed to be cut to fit and it was counted a success if he failed to phone to grouse. Quite reasonably assuming that we all were women, at Christmas he sent gifts of nylons, perfume and chocolates.

John Bigg headed the art department in succession to Vic Giles, and was in turn succeeded by Bryn Havord, going on via the Reader’s Digest Association and Drive magazine to be a founding director, with RDA’s Bruce Marshall, of the publishing house Marshall Editions. Biggy’s No 2 was the lugubrious and hilarious David Shapley, who later became art director of Grattan Catalogues. And a peerless art department included Don Gilburn, who made a later career with Ford Motor Company; Phil Ashcroft who, after TV Times, hit the high spots with the News of the World; David Nathanson – for many later years with the Daily Mirror before finding true happiness in teaching; and Jeff Bodecott and Roy Hahner, who are still in demand as freelance designers.

Mary Evans ran the picture desk, assisted by Betty Jackson and skinny Barry Bourne; Helen Simpson was a staff photographer; Katie Stewart was cookery editor, and goes on being one of the UK’s biggest-selling cookery writers; and Jane Bacon was fashion editor – last heard of as the wife of a Texan oil millionaire.

Willa Beattie, Margaret Melrose and Diane Norman (wife of Barry) were among those in features; Norma Knox and Mary Oates were glamorous secretaries; and lovely Lesley Saxby was fiction editor, encouraging all and sundry and giving me first sight of a byline.

Jodi Hyland, of course, became Mrs Hugh (later, Lady) Cudlipp, and was followed into the editor’s chair by the redoubtable Joy Scully – who frightened everyone but unaccountably took a shine to me, and tried to talk me out of it when in 1964 I handed in my notice to go to work for Ford Motor Company, joining the PR department assembled by Fleet Street veterans Walter Hayes and John Waddell. There’s no doubt that she was a talented editor, though just as well remembered for her slumps over the picture desk light-box, when all the world would take note of the fact that her stockings were held up by twisted florins.

It was, for all of us, the best of times. We were young, and learning our craft. And along the way there were such delicious memories as the truly stunning Jane Bacon adjusting her suspenders in the full-length mirror in the fashion department – while I waited, open-mouthed, to gain her approval for a layout and subbed text.

  • And the point of sharing all this with you? Quite simply to draw attention to the fact that, in Central London on Wednesday 13 May, there is to be the first-ever (we think) reunion of Woman’s Mirror staffers. Already, virtually all the 1960s art department is on board, and I should be delighted to hear from anyone else who would like to scoff a lasagne and raise a glass to those happy days. If you worked on Woman’s Mirror, or know anyone who did, please get in touch: 01256 881552 or anthonypeagam@btinternet.com

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When city editors had standards

By John Husband

Robert Head, who died this month, was the first city editor of any popular paper and, at 30, the youngest in the job when Lee Howard appointed him in 1960. In the next 30 years, setting standards of conduct for city journalists that died before he did, he never owned a stock market share.

In fact his advice to colleagues who sought suggestions about what to do with spare cash – in the days when journalists used to have some – was likely to be: ‘Put it in the post office; it’ll be safer.’

By the time he retired in 1990 he had become a legend as the first journalist to explain simply to millions how the financial world worked, helping ordinary people to buy their first home and save for their future.

He avoided using typewriters ‘because they give reporters verbal diarrhoea’ and he detested computers.

Bob preferred to write notes with a pencil on a pad and file copy by phone so that he ensured that his stories sounded ‘just like you’d tell it to a mate in a pub or supermarket queue.’

He had been born in Winnipeg, Canada, but the family returned to England when he was four. He went into journalism because the short-sighted headmaster at Gunnersbury Grammar school mistook him for a boy named Towers, for whom he had arranged a job.

‘He collared me one day and told me my English was good and to report to the City Press for a job,’ said Bob.

City Press was the local newspaper of the City of London run by a passionate free trader, S W Alexander.

When Bob joined the Mirror he brought those free trade ideas with him – disliking trade unions and mistrusting the Tory Party and he loathed Edward Heath for taking Britain into the Common Market, which he detested.

He saw it as a protectionist club fattening the pockets of farmers and wealthy landowners ‘at the expense of Mirror readers’.

When an editor asked him to expose price profiteering by the supermarkets he instead produced a Daily Mirror Shock Issue showing how the EEC was adding £5 to a weekly groceries bill at a time when the average wage was just £40 a week.

The Mirror’s then owner, the Reed paper giant, benefited greatly from Britain’s common market membership. And an unholy midnight row ensued that nearly stopped the paper appearing.

A compromise deal was struck and the Mirror published a leader inside Bob’s special edition, defending Britain’s membership of the market but admitting that it needed reforming.

He was the first to label ATMs ‘hole in the wall’ cash machines.

When inflation went mad in the 1970s he was asked on television how people could protect themselves.

He held a tin of beans up to the camera and said: ‘Stock up on tinned food, clothes and shoes.’

He pressured the Government to protect savers, which resulted in the launch of inflation-linked savings certificates, which were nicknamed ‘granny bonds’.

Bob drank daily but, working for both the Daily and Sunday Mirror was always ready to deal with any major financial story that broke. When he had to work through lunch he’d settle down with a smoked salmon sandwich, a bottle of German hock and a packet of cigarettes.

Visitors to his office, next door to agony aunt Marje Proops, were always offered a drink. His quiet and friendly sense of humour and attitude of calmness was often a steadying influence in the generally rowdy atmosphere of the editorial floor.

Bob trained up many youngsters who went on to become leading financial journalists and newspaper and magazine editors and firmly believed in the value of meeting people over a meal or a drink. His advice to them was: ‘You’ll never get the story until your guest has downed his second port.’

At his funeral mass this month the priest said:

‘Bob wasan unrepentant sinner guilty of the three worst sins you can commit in today’s world:

‘He was an unashamed smoker, drinker and a committed Christian.’

Bob, who was 78, was married twice. He is survived by three children, Greg, Stuart and Sindy, and eight grandchildren.

He never discovered what became of his fellow pupil, Towers.

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Penny-pinching

By Roland Gribben

At the risk of adding to the Stanley Blenkinsop folklore I have to hold up my hand and admit I once deprived the Great Man of linage money.

Back in the early 1950s (yes he goes that far back) when Stanley was something junior in the law but interested in journalism he penned soccer reports on his local Tyneside team at Wylam for the Hexham Courant for the magnificent reward of a penny a line (in old money of course).

Duringone match he noticed a tall, fair haired youth busy scribbling notes about the match. The vigilant Stanley approached the lad, still wet behind the ears, and asked what he was doing.

‘Covering the match for the Hexham Courant’ was the reply.

‘So am I,’ replied Stanley.

‘But I work for them,’ countered the youth.

So Stanley put away his notebook and walked off ready to compare what would have been his scintillating match commentary with the printed hackneyed version at the weekend. And counting his losses of course.

Stanley has never failed to remind me about the blow to his pocket at our rare subsequent meetings.

Sorry Stanley. One of these days I’ll make it up to you.

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Home thoughts from a broad Yorkshireman

By Colin Dunne

Roundabout the middle of the sixties, did anyone see me pushing a bed to the tip on Tyneside? Was I observed selling off pairs of pyjamas (one owner, hardly used)? I ask because at that time I must have entirely given up sleep. It’s the only explanation I think of for the insane burst of activity which came over me.

Firstly there was my daily column for the Evening Chronicle: six times a week, to be delivered by 2pm. That left the afternoons free so I began writing op-ed pieces for the Journal, allegedly humorous, perhaps twice a week. After that, there was always the danger then that I may find myself with time on my hands, so I would then whizz off a quick four-minute talk for the BBC’s ‘Voice of the North’ radio programme, which was anchored by John Craven, long before he even owned a pair of wellies. All I had to do then was to race up to the BBC studio and record it.

After that, my time was my own. Why I didn’t take on a milk round to stave off boredom, I’ll never know.

But I did recall all this years later when I worked – whoops, take that back – when I occupied a desk in the Mirror features fourth-floor room, the one that was known as The Mink-lined Coffin. There the average was one feature every three months. And I distinctly remember our NUJ man saying that we should have our four-day week reduced to three because of the stresses of the job.

Oddly enough, writing eight or even 10 pieces a week is easier than writing one every three months. It came as a surprise to a fully qualified Idle Sod like me to discover that too little work was much more exhausting than too much. I really enjoyed buzzing around Newcastle like a supercharged mosquito.

I can only think that it was the dizzying spectacle of all this activity that led Peter Stephens, the editor, to give me my first freebie: a four-day trip to Luxembourg. If I hadn’t gone there, I would never have met Neville Stack, who asked me if I would be interested in a move to Manchester. At the time I was unable to reply on account of the heavy linen napkin I had stuffed into my mouth. I had put it there to muffle my laughter.

I had just met what may have been the last of that endangered species, The Appalling Yorkshireman. They were endangered, I expect, because they were so bloody irritating, and I speak as one born, bred and escaped. I know whereof I speak. I tell you, if Geoff Boycott and Fred Trueman had ever had a lovechild – for the moment, I’m assuming they didn’t – Eric would have been him.

It was at a state banquet in Luxemburg and their tourist department really threw the lot at us: a high-vaulted palace, lashings of gold-leaf, vast chandeliers, heavy silver cutlery, crystal goblets, and waiters dressed in the style of light-opera emperors serving food fit for the gods, and only executive gods at that. It was certainly a step-up from my usual banquet at Pumphrey’s Tea Rooms in the Cloth Market.

If I was impressed, and I was, then Eric, sitting opposite me, was decidedly not. Carefully he scraped the exquisite sauce off the piece of beef in front of him. ‘I knew it,’ he said, triumphantly. ‘Red raw. They wouldn’t have to cover it up with this muck if it were fit to eat. You wouldn’t catch me eating that rubbish.’

My heart lifted. I hadn’t heard a griping tyke in years. Considering this was the sixties, he appeared stuck somewhere round about 1947. Brylcremed hair parted as though with an axe, best dark-blue suit as worn on Sundays, birthdays, and wedding anniversaries, and paisley-patterned tie, as worn every single day of the week. He worked for a smallish evening paper in south Yorkshire.

As he pushed the plate away, and with it the glass of red wine, Eric sighed: ‘What I wouldn’t give for a pint of Sam Smith’s.’

Surely they’d bring him a beer? He wouldn’t want them to bring him a beer. The beer here would be German beer which was, personal experience had proved, no more than gassy maiden’s water. You wouldn’t catch him supping owt German, thank you very much. And the wine? French, he said, with some scorn. We had all seen what the French were made of during the war. You wouldn’t catch him drinking owt French.

He said this as though there was some sort of secret government inspectorate that was constantly trying to catch him eating and drinking foreign food. And failing, clearly.

It turned out he didn’t think much of Luxemburg, which I thought was a very grand little duchy indeed. Two strides, he said, and you’d passed it. The rest of Europe fell into much the same bracket. Belgium, Holland, all these places, were all jumbled up because, he believed, they were all the bloody same. He personally wouldn’t give you tuppence for the bloody lot of them.

I say he was the perfect Yorkshireman because, when it came to geographical loyalty, he was not much given to self-doubt. He didn’t rave on about the wonders of his home county, but rather preferred to point out the deficiencies of non-Yorkshire places. I’d been brought up with dozens like him. From cradle to grave, they never set foot outside Yorkshire because where else could possibly be better? Exactly.

By this time, we’d covered most of Europe and he was working his way through other places he wouldn’t give you tuppence for. London for one, the south of England, even the Midlands. Speaking personally, he couldn’t get back to Yorkshire soon enough.

With an apologetic cough, I said I was from Yorkshire.

‘Aye, so you say’ he said, sounding far from convinced. Eric fixed his dark-brown eyes unwaveringly on mine. I had the feeling I was about to be tested. ‘So where are you from then?’

I told him. The Dales. He waved away the next course and sipped at a glass of water while he formulated his reply. That wasn’t really Yorkshire. As far as he was concerned, people from The Dales were no better than Geordies and Geordies, as he was sure I would know, were no better than Scotsmen with their brains kicked out. What wouldn’t he give you for them? Tuppence – that’s what he wouldn’t give. He lay down his napkin. His final verdict.

So what was he doing here, avoiding disgusting food and drink in countries he hated with such worthless people? Ah. He had to come because he’d just been promoted to a new and important job. Which was? A look of quiet pride flickered across his face. ‘Travel editor.’

Beside me, Neville Stack, whispered that he had to admire the man’s sense of humour. ‘Eric?’ I asked, in some surprise. ‘No,’ he said, ‘the man who gave him the job.’

It was a true tragedy. The man who loathed abroad, and everything that dwelt therein, was doomed to roam the earth, dreaming of Sam Smith’s. That was when I had to put the napkin in my mouth.

I liked Neville Stack from the moment I met him. He’d been on the Mirror in Manchester in the early sixties, with Roly Watkins, with Brian Park, Stanley Vaughan and Alan Staniforth. When I met him, he was then news editor of the old broadsheet Sun in Manchester, where, with endless ingenuity, he somehow matched – and often beat– newspapers with three or four times the staff and money. More important, for all that he was an astute operator; at heart he saw journalism as paid fun. Earlier, when he was news editor of the People in the north, he found both he and the London office were working on the same story, somewhere in the Midlands. It was about a man who collected unwanted dogs. ‘Saviour of the Strays’ was how London wrote it. Neville’s team discovered he was selling them for vivisection and the Saviour became Rat of the Week.

He went on to edit a major weekly and then an evening paper before travelling the world instructing others on how to produce newspapers. Taking his journalists out for a drink one night in Trinidad, he noticed that the deputy news editor. Romeo, was nowhere to be seen. It was a chance not to be missed. ‘Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?’ he cried out. ‘He done gone to de gents, Mister Stack,’ said one of the others, to which Neville replied: ‘If William Shakespeare had known about that, it could have changed the course of English literature.’

Hard not to like such a man.

Indeed, I think it was Neville who first detected what could possibly be a pattern in my career path – so far, Skipton, Darlington, Halifax, London, Leamington and Tyneside. Since my first daughter was born in Radford Semele (Leamington) and my second in Heddon-on-the-Wall (Tyneside), was I perhaps just looking for villages with silly names in which to father children? In which case, had I thought about Chapel-en-le-Frith, down the road from his home?

So persuasive was this argument that a few days later I found myself doing a reel around Manchester pubs, talking to news and feature editors. In a pub called the Swan with Two Necks, I again met Bill Freeman, whose carefree lifestyle on the Craven Herald (and West Yorkshire Pioneer) first lured me into this industry. He’d gone from the Yorkshire Post and the Sunday Express to be news editor of Manchester Mirror. I’d like the Mirror, he said. Well, I liked Bill Freeman, and since I seemed to have been following him for most of the past ten years, it seemed only logical to follow him into Withy Grove.

And a month later, I handed my house over to Peter HInchliffe (then on the Chronicle news desk), my column to Charlie Fiske, packed up my Morris Minor Traveller, a half-timbered Tudor car – we had moved on from pre-war ten-quid models – and set off for Manchester. We headed first of all for the south Manchester suburbs where you can find an NUJ quorum in most pubs. You know the places: the grove of Hazel, the hulme of Cheadle, the hall of Bram. Once I learnt, however, that in that area there was a better than even chance of bumping into Denzil Sullivan, I moved just over the Derbyshire border. Working for Bill Freeman, with Neville Stack for my neighbour, and Chapel-en-le-Frith just down the road. It had worked out perfectly.

Except for one thing. At the back of my mind there was one tiny concern. In my ten years in journalism, I had yet to cover a proper news story.

Oh dear.

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