Issue # 141

Twin peaks

This Week

Before we broke up for the hols, we encountered a problem. It was the sort of predicament they don’t have in today’s Fleet Street.

In an attempt to solve it – you’ll quickly notice – we have slightly changed the format. This is an experiment, but if it works, we’ll probably stick with it. Basically it just means that you can no longer scroll down this page to read everything. You’ll need to click on the links, then click at the bottom to come back to this page.

The situation is explained in the editor’s letterand, although we know that journalists don’t usually bother much about ‘management problems’, you may be doing yourselves a favour, in the long term, by reading it.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Stan Solomonshas found an old cuttings book and meandered off down Memory Lane – with shock results for the medical profession.

Alan Whittakerrecalls an encounter (it was in a pub) with Peter Earle and Rupert Davies, the star of Maigret.

Garth Gibbstakes up painting and creates a masterwork, worth thousands. (And, feature editors please note, it’s an easy one to copy for a quiet day…)

Harold Heysfinds himself trying to keep abreast of Eve Pollard at an office lunch.

And Jeremy Chapman reports the death last Sunday of his editor and friend, Graham Taylor.

But enough about the past. What of the future? You thought the computer was your friend because it made life easier (and did away with most of the inkies)? It’s after your job, as this link – uncovered by Neil Marr’s computer while he wasn’t looking, clearly shows.

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Editor’s Letter

Just before Easter the website went down.

The problem (and it meant that we were off-line until we sorted it out in the time-honoured way – by throwing money at it) was that we had TOO MANY READERS.

Not since the Daily Mirror passed the five million mark and realised that to produce more copies would cost more in cash payments to the inkies, and therefore would mean running on lower profits, has journalism encountered such a dilemma.

OK. If you want to be pedantic, our glitch was that we had too many readers coming on-line, all at the same time. It slowed down access. And eventually it slowed to a standstill. Suddenly, nobody could get on board.

We could bore you with the statistics and you probably wouldn’t be particularly impressed. In the past 12 months we’ve had 2.9million visitors to this website. It seems a lot to us but we’re aware that some sites have that number, or more, every day.

On the other hand, we are currently averaging around 10,000 visitors a day (up to 40,000 on some Fridays) – but, sadly, we have no idea, and can’t even imagine, who they might be.

We have several hundred who are known to us. They are the people who have ‘registered’, along the way, most of them by clicking on to the link in the box at the top right of this page.

They are the people who get a note, early every Friday, informing them that the site has been updated.

If the overloading (or over-downloading) continues, we may need to institute a system by which those readers get a password-related link every week, so they’ll be the only people who can then access the site.

For this reason, if you are enjoying reading the weekly offerings, and want to continue reading them – and if you don’t already receive these mailings – it will be in your interest to log on in that box, send a simple short message, and remain within the system.

It is, of course, highly encouraging to have so many readers. And it’s good for our contributors to know that their stuff is being widely read… by somebody.

But otherwise there is no advantage for us in having so big a casual readership that it threatens the system for the regulars.

The site is free, and hopefully it will remain free to read. But fewer than one per cent of the readers contribute to it in any form.

If you want to keep it going, you could help by putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and writing a piece.

Consider that as your subscription. But, first, log on so we know who you are.

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Memory Lane, Huddersfield

By Stan Solomons

Trawling back through the make-believe the land of drop intros, curvaceous brunettes and talking dogs, I fondly remember some of those wonderfully talented artists who contributed to my pension fund and made indelible footprints on my fading memory.

Will I ever forget the soft, velvet tones of film star James Mason who on his visits to his home town, Huddersfield, shunned the attentions of Fleet Street and instead took a shine to us and kindly telephoned our agency to invite us round to do story and pix for which we found a ready market in the Daily Express Hickey and other pseudo-society columns. The pic of me with Mason snapped by the late Brian Worsnop is among my prized possessions (sad maybe) but when I show it to visitors enables me to crack the old gag, ‘Who’s that with Stan?’

And in my mind’s eye I can still see world-famous concert pianist Artur Rubinstein in 1975, towards the end of his career, desperately massaging and stretching his claw-like fingers ravaged by arthritis as we spoke shortly before he performed a Beethoven and Chopin recital at the Huddersfield Town Hall.

Suave, dapper conductor Malcolm Sergeant, a charming gentleman right down to the fingertips which held his baton also made a deep impression when I interviewed him many years ago. And actress Julie Christie’s warm smile as we shook hands during a visit she made to the North of England stayed with me for a long time.

I was also full of admiration for Charlie Chester, at one time Britain’s highest-paid comic, when he played the lead in a panto in Halifax back in the 1950s with his arm in plaster after breaking it in an accident. When I spoke to him in his digs I couldn’t pluck up the courage to tell him how a few years earlier I had pinched nearly all the gags he had told in his West End show and passed them off as my own at a school concert.

But of all the people I have met I suppose none of them can compare with a tiny Yorkshire housewife who might easily have been burned as a witch had she been born two hundred years earlier. It’s not often that a freelance gets the chance to breaking a story of earth-shattering importance, but I came agonisingly close.

It seemed at one stage that she had proved that the juice from a humble orange could not only grow hair but more importantly cure cancer. I was on the brink of revealing all when… but more of that later. First let me take you back to the time, more than fifty years ago, when I first met the amazing Mrs. Kathleen West, this short, dumpy little woman with a round face, a warm smile, and with center-parted hair tied in a bun at the back, a modern-day Mother Shipton.

She had walked into the Huddersfield office of the Bradford Telegraph and Argus and told a reporter she could tell a pregnant woman the sex of her unborn child provided the mother-to-be told her where she felt the baby kicking during the ‘quickening period’ which, if I remember rightly, was around four and a half months. Bet most of you didn’t know that.

If the baby kicked on the left-hand side it was a boy and on the right-hand side a girl. Or it may have been the other way round.

They were the days long before scans which would reveal the sex of the baby. And when the reporter checked with her GP he confirmed that so far she had been right in all nine cases she had forecast.

After the story appeared we followed it up for the nationals with her attempt to make it ten out of ten. When the baby was born she’d got it wrong but claimed that the mother who she thought was a friend had deliberately given her the wrong info on where the baby was kicking. Anyway, that was the end of that story.

Fast forward a few years to the 1970s.when Mrs. West, who it turned out had been studying biology for years, got in touch with me again. She and her friend Mrs. Hazel Johnson had been carrying out experiments for some years on finding a cure for male baldness using members of Mrs. West’s family and friends as guinea pigs. It involved rubbing a solution into the skin, but none of them knew the nature of the active ingredient.

That included me when I agreed to have the treatment in the hope of regaining the curly locks I had lost many years ago. Having a hair-raising experience took on a whole new meaning as once a week, despite the jibes and piss-taking of my colleagues in the agency, I allowed Mrs. West to rub a colourless solution she poured from a bottle into my scalp.

It was not until some time later when the two women revealed their secret to the world that Mrs. West told me that she should have rubbed the solution into my back where there was a large expanse of exposed skin, but used the scalp because that was what I would expect her to do. I never suspected that the solution was in fact orange juice, the smell of which she had somehow disguised with some harmless additive.

Whether or not it was wishful thinking I have no doubt that I achieved some hair growth over a period of several months. The two women claimed that it was the ascorbic acid in Vitamin C in the orange juice which produced hair growth when applied directly to the skin and into the bloodstream.

Eventually – I can’t remember the time span – the two women decided to go public when they realized they were not going to make a fortune by marketing their product. After eight local balding men had taken part in a six-month test with varying results, the two women arranged a public meeting in Dewsbury Town Hall to explain their methods. Later, as a result of the publicity, the Outspan organisation contacted the women and organised controlled experiments with six volunteers over a period of 26 weeks in London.

I attended some of those sessions and I can tell you that the results in some of the cases were quite astonishing. I remember David Morgan, a currency dealer in London’s foreign exchange telling me, ‘Six months previously when we started the test I was thinning quite a lot on top and I also had a bald spot on the side.

‘I didn’t suddenly have shoulder length hair overnight, but the growth has been remarkable.’

And Ian Hunt, an accountant, was equally delighted. ‘I not only got a lot more hair on my head but a lot more on my shoulders and the small of my back, but I’m not worried about that,’ he said.

I saw before and after pictures and the new growth of hair was astonishing.

It all seemed very simple. As Mrs. Johnson explained ascorbic acid is not readily available in chemist shops because it does not have a very long shelf life. ‘So we looked around for the easiest, a safest and cheapest method for growing hair,’ she told me. ‘The one most readily available to the man in the street was, of course, oranges.’

Mrs. Johnson, who claimed that her husband had started losing his hair fifteen years earlier and used orange juice and now had a healthy mane, explained, ‘Squeeze the juice from half an orange twice a week, filter it through muslin or a coffee filter paper. Warm the skin on your back to open the pores and then rub the solution into the back between the area of the neck and waist. After half an hour remove the sticky substance left on the skin.’

I tried to get newspapers interested without much success and Outspan who were delighted with the results of their six-month tests issued a press release which also did not raise too many eyebrows. I remember a piece in the Guardian in which they quoted one skeptic who asked, ‘If this works, why aren’t oranges hairy?’

And Outspan’s rivals Jaffa jumped in with: ‘Jaffa oranges are for eating and enjoying – whatever Outspan ones might be for.’

I’m afraid the two women became rather disillusioned and the story died a death.

For some years Mrs. West had insisted to me that if you can cure baldness you can cure or prevent cancer because the ascorbic acid applied directly into the skin in the form of orange juice enhanced both the body’s inner and outer defenses. Both these were stimulated in the presence of ascorbic acid.

In 1983 Mrs. Johnson issued a pamphlet explaining the theory and at the same time attacking the medical profession for their ‘hide-bound’ attitude to cancer, often unnecessarily subjecting cancer sufferers to prolonged, debilitating, and frequently painful treatments, coupled with loss of hair, in the hope of a cure.

In the pamphlet Mrs. Johnson claimed she and Mrs. West had cured Hazel’s father of cancer. He had been sent home from the hospital five years earlier after being told there was no hope of a cure and the family had treated him two or three times a week with small amounts of orange juice and he was now as alert and well as the average 74-year-old.

But I told Mrs. Johnson that we needed actual proof, someone with cancer who was being treated with orange juice. Soon afterward the chance came. Her husband who helped her run a confectionery shop in Dewsbury developed cancer in his shoulder.

Bravely he decided to let his wife treat him with orange juice while we monitored his progress.

I was shown X-rays taken of his shoulder at different stages which showed the cancer was gradually reducing. The stage had almost arrived when we would be ready to reveal all to the world.

But then Mr. Johnson died. Not from cancer but from diabetes. Don’t ask me why but no-one knew he was a diabetic and unknown to his wife he had been eating large amounts of sweets and chocolates. It seems incredible but it happened – and with his death went the end of what would have been a great story. Plus of course recognition for the amazing Mrs. West, who died some years ago, and her friend Mrs. Johnson who later emigrated to Australia.

Several times since then I have known friends and relatives who have suffered and died from cancer and have been tempted to recommend the orange juice treatment, but never had the courage to do so.

And often I have asked myself the 64,000 dollar question: If I had cancer and had been told there was no hope of a cure would I ask my wife to rub orange juice into my back?. I think the answer is Yes. After all, what would I have to lose?

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A match for Maigret

whittaker3 2By Alan Whittaker

A blizzard throttled Fleet Street and the early evening pub trade was suffering as regulars tried to hail taxis in a frantic rush to get to the railheads.

The mass exodus was so severe that Peter Earle and I were the only purchasing occupants of the ‘top of the tip’ bar – upstairs in the Tipperary. Not the most luxurious cocktail lounge in western Europe but it had provided a safe haven for News of theWorld foot soldiers since the days when it was Mooney’s Irish bar. It was an invisibly signposted No Go area for executives in the dreamy days before Ned Kelly blustered his way into Bouverie Street.

A heaped coal fire threw a cushion of comfort as snowflakes thickened on the draughty windows.

Footsteps on the staircase indicated the laboured approach of a third patron. The snow-flecked intruder was encased in a checked overcoat, every fibre shouting Savile Row. The face was half-hidden by a brown wide-brimmed hat; the sort of headgear favoured by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Lord Baden Powell, or people who needed to be recognised as thespians. He hung it on a convenient hook, stared around the room and ordered a whisky. This guy was an actor. He had made his entrance.

I recognised him as Rupert Davies who played the pipe-smoking detective Maigret in the television series based on Simenon’s novels. Every episode opened with Maigret in the shadows striking a match and lighting his pipe.

‘I think I know that face,’ mused Peter.

‘Everyone knows that face; it’s Maigret,’ I said

‘By Jove you are correct.’ Peter Earle actually used such phrases, alongside ‘Gadzooks, Great Scot, My dear fellow, and Let there be no murmuring‘. In another century he would have been a leading light in the Pickwick Club. Once, in less conciliatory mode, he addressed an Old Bailey judge sitting in the precincts of the Wig and Pen thus: ‘You are a six-foot supercilious streak of shit.’

Peter also possessed a prodigious memory and could recall, years after the events, precise background details of stories and enquiries in which he had been involved.

He approached the bar on a replenishment foray and greeted the lone figure in full florid flow. ‘It’s a pleasant surprise to see you in our humble hostelry Mr. Davies. Pray tell me what brings you to this sadly deserted watering hole?’

The intruder’s face betrayed the uneasy apprehension of a man suddenly accosted by a lunatic waving a glass.

‘I’ve spent half an hour trying to flag down a taxi,‘ he explained, cautiously sidling away, glass in hand. ‘It’s this damn weather, everybody wants a cab. I saw the light of this place and decided to pop in for a quick drink and to thaw out.’ He suddenly smiled and peered intently at Peter. ‘Have we met before?’

‘Indeed we have,’ replied Earle. ‘As a scribe, I wrote a piece about you for the sadly deceased journal known as the Empire News.’

‘Of course, of course.’ The smile became a relaxed beam. ‘I remember because it was the first time I’d had my name in a national newspaper. It must be the best part of 20 years ago.’

Earle’s extraordinary memory took over. ‘Twenty-five years and two months,’ he assured him. He turned and addressed the barman. ‘Replenishment for my friend.’

‘That’s very kind of you. A small whisky please,’ said Maigret.

‘Nonsense and fiddlesticks. I insist you have a large one, I have never been known to purchase anything smaller.’

The invitation to join us by the fire was readily accepted. Off came the luxurious overcoat to join the hat on the hook. Another round was ordered.

The fire was beguiling and the conversation flowed in tandem with the Scotch.

No one ever accused Peter Earle of being a slow drinker and Maigret was no shrinker.

The barman renewed the bottle on the optic.

The discussion was wide-ranging. The subtleties of Speyside and Islay malts were analysed, the Maigret TV series dissected, the influence of the feudal system on Tudor Britain and the chances of Accrington Stanley making a comeback were also among the items discussed.

One of Peter’s ambitions – sadly never fulfilled – was to occupy the Chair of Bosomology at either Oxford or Cambridge and when he broached the subject he found a receptive listener in Maigret. Quite clearly the great sleuth had made his own studies and was keen to provide the usual statistics relating to the superstructures of various actresses he had encountered in the course of his investigations.

Two hours later the blizzard abated. The faint-hearted had scurried to the railheads and were either home or homeward bound. From the window taxis could be seen, or as Earle pointed out: ‘The electric metered cabs have reappeared in numbers to ply their trade.’

It was time to go. Warm handshakes and the sight of Maigret manoeuvring himself into an uncooperative overcoat. The QE2 attempting to dock in a Force 10 gale. At Fleetwood.

Finally the wide-brimmed hat. No longer pulled halfway down the forehead. Set at a tilting, jaunty angle. More Bud Flanagan than Bogart.

Once attired the actor gave a slight bow.

Fortified by the best part of a bottle of Scotch and having absorbed two hours of animated conversation he addressed us in Earlesque mode.

‘This has been an illuminating experience and one I will remember on those grey days when the Fates conspire to depress us.

‘I have enjoyed your company enormously,’ he continued, edging towards the door at the head of the staircase. He paused and turned to Earle before delivering his exit line.

‘I just hope to Christ it’s another 25 years and two months before we meet again.’

Alan Whittaker was a News of the World staffman for thirty-seven years as reporter, columnist, features writer, tv critic etc. Previously on the Darwen News, and the Blackburn-based Northern Daily Telegraph now the Lancashire Telegraph.

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But is it art?

By Garth Gibbs

Art Buchwald, the American columnist, was pacing up and down Fifth Avenue one day many years back, glancing at his watch every now and then and, like many husbands, wondering when his wife would emerge from the shops.

When she eventually did, she handed him five carrier bags to look after while she trotted off to check out some jewellery in Tiffany’s.

Hanging around a street in Manhattan with bags from five top stores – Macy’s, Saks, Barneys, Bloomingdales and Berdorf & Goodman – wasn’t smart so Buchwald sauntered over to Lexington Avenue and popped into an art gallery. He carefully left the bags in a corner and slowly sauntered around the place, checking out the state of the art.

When he returned a little while later to pick up the bags he was delighted. The gallery, it turned out, was holding an exhibition and Buchwald’s bags had been awarded first prize. He was handed a cheque for $10,000.

Let’s assume the story’s true. Could this sort of thing happen in London?

Of course, it did and it could happen again.

Some of the works of modern art bought by the national galleries (funded by the taxpayer) may have fooled the aficionados but haven’t fooled the punters.

Remember the Tate’s acquisition of a PileofBricks by Carl Andrew (officially known as Equivalent VIII) which was bought for £6,000 in 1972?

Or Mark Wallinger’s work? He bought a racehorse and designated it ART by simply calling it A Real Work of Art.

Then there was Damien Hirst’s pickled sheep. Away From the Flock (its official title) consisted of a lamb suspended in formaldehyde in a glass case.

The work of Laos-born Vong Phaophanit, who was short-listed for the Turner Prize for his Neon Rice Field, consisting of seven tons of rice, so infuriated the punters that a young woman threw flowers into it as it went on display at the Tate.

Vong Phaophanit didn’t win the Turner Prize. The winner turned out to be Rachel Whiteread – whose cast of a derelict house was labelled Disaster in Plaster. The house was later demolished by Tower Hamlets.

Then, of course, there was Martin Creed. He showed us he was pretty switched on when he gave us Lights Going off and on in an Empty Room.

Art, according to Tate guidelines, ‘treats everyday reality in a recognisable manner’.

So anyone can be an artist?

Yes, sir. Even I.

All I needed for a start was inspiration. So I thumbed through the works of Manet, Monet, Chagall and Tretchikov, but eventually I found what I was looking for while making a call from a BT telephone box.

Call girls. Or rather, call girls’ calling cards.

I bought a piece of plywood, painted it, sanded it, mounted the cards on it and then framed it with a border. It was all very tasteful, naturally. Well, most of it was. I put a picture of a telephone box in the middle, a phone card in the top right hand corner, a packet of condoms on the left for emergency use only and added some oil paint squiggles for good measure.

The work was entitled Marking Man’s Progress to the Second Millennium.

I wrapped up my work of art and sauntered over to Sotheby’s in Bond Street.

They were charming.

‘Mister Brown will be with you in a moment, sir,’ said a receptionist.

Mr. Brown turned out to be Benjamin Brown, deputy director of contemporary art at Sotheby’s. He was busy right now, explaining to a chap from Italy that the prints the man had found in a vault in Sienna were not the works of Botticelli, not even by the wildest stretch of imagination.

Next, he spoke to another art lover from Italy – in fluent Italian – before it was my turn.

Mr. Brown came over. I took a deep breath. I gave him my name and said: ‘I would like your opinion on a work of art. It is by a famous artist. I myself have not been told who the artist is but an expert like yourself will probably recognise the signature in every brush stroke. I want to find out what it is worth.’

Mr. Brown didn’t throw me out on my ear. He waved his hands. ‘No, no, no,’ he said. ‘I don’t have to examine the brush strokes. Do you know who I think this is by? This is by Sarah Grieve Stewart.

‘Sarah Grieve Stewart does work very similar to this. But she always signs her name.’

I explained that the signature had been left off deliberately to get unprejudiced comments.

Said Mr. Brown (again): ‘I really think this is the work of Sarah Grieve Stewart, an American artist who lives in London. She does this sort of thing and I think she is great fun. I think she is not necessarily a great artist, but she is pretty good.’

Me: ‘So who would exhibit this?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘So it is just a fun piece?’

‘Oh, no, Sarah Grieve Stewart would consider herself a serious artist.’

‘So what is it worth?’

‘That would depend whose signature goes on the work of art,’ said Mr Brown, adding, after a pause, ‘for a pointer though, Sarah’s work sells for thousands.’

Wow! Cheered up, I bounced along to Lots Gallery in Chelsea and unveiled my work with an air of panache.

Mr. Nicholas Carter, picture valuer at the gallery, looked at it with the pleasure you would think he might reserve for a newly-discovered work by Leonardo da Vinci, or, at least, Turner.

I started my routine about recognising signatures in brush strokes and the work being a comment on the 21st century, but he waved me to keep quiet and said: ‘Gosh! This is excellent!’

A couple of people who had wandered into the gallery rushed over for a peep and an elderly lady burst into giggles. ‘I say, isn’t that naughty – but wonderful at the same time.’

‘Steady girl,’ said her equally elderly friend.

Mr. Carter peered at it again. ‘What fun! I would like to know whose work it is… but anyway, I am sure someone in the West End would buy it.’

‘Who do you suggest,’ I asked. ‘An art dealer or a gallery perhaps?’

‘Someone who doesn’t mind taking a risk in the avant garde,’ he said. ‘What I would do would be to take it around to Cork Street and Albermarle Street and even Duke Street and talk to them there.’

As I turned to leave I asked: ‘What would you say it was worth?’

Artists, I was told, value their own work and then everything depends on the market and who likes it.

‘Sotheby’s said it could be worth thousands. What do you think?’

‘Try it.’

The Eaton Gallery in Duke Street was my next call.

The boss, Mr. Douglas George, squinted at the work, waved me to silence when I launched into my spiel and said: ‘A friend of mine collects these cards. He has about three hundred of them, all different. He believes they are going to be very valuable one day.’

He added as an afterthought: ‘He’s Australian, needless to say.’

Would the Eaton Gallery hang the work?

No, but not for any other reason than that all the art displayed in their gallery is more than 100 years old. The telephone numbers on my work proved that though the game the girls are engaged in is by now means new, the cards were.

I worked my way through the Burlington Arcade to Browse and Darby and had my first disappointment.

A girl at the reception desk spotted the condom packet and looked as though a nasty smell had suddenly settled on her top lip.

‘I’m afraid we wouldn’t exhibit that,’ she sniffed.

But across the road at a gallery claiming to deal with the likes of Dubuffet, Nicholson, Matisse, Hoffman, Magritte and Picabia, I ran into Mr. Lindsay Tuckett, who described himself as an art connoisseur.

‘I think you have hit the jackpot with that, ol’ man. Haven’t you heard?’

‘Heard what?’

‘That there is a massive campaign to rid all telephone boxes of these cards.’

‘Really?’

‘Yes really. Spoilsports. The Metropolitan Police, the rotary clubs and groups of Women Opposed to Bloody Everything have demanded their withdrawal.’

Mr. Tuckett advised me to exhibit my work at the Tate to boost its price.

‘Will the Tate accept it?’

‘Are you kidding?’

The Tate, it turned out, was busy organising a Bonnard exhibition and didn’t have much time. A receptionist looked at my work briefly, said yes, it looked all right, but I needed to send in slides.

I made one more trip, down the road from Harrods to the Bunch of Grapes, on my way to the Victoria and Albert Museum.

As I sat down and ordered a pint of lager a guy wearing a Chelsea scarf said inquisitively, ‘What you got there, mate?’

‘A very valuable work of art.’

‘Can I see it?’

‘Sure.’

Silence.

‘Gee, mate, this is a load of crap if you don’t mind me saying so.’ Another pause. ‘But can I borrow your pen. If you’ve no objections I’d like to take down a few of these phone numbers…’

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 Twin peaks

haroldheys1 4By Harold Heys

Drinks with the boss! Ooh, Er! Colin Dunne’s recollection* of an encounter with Hugh Cudlipp brought back a distant memory of lunch with Eve Pollard and David Montgomery and a few Sunday People execs at the Midland in Manchester.

It was never my scene. Keep your head down. Tick. Keep it shut. Tick. Don’t get pissed. Mmm. It was an approach that usually seemed to work.

But now and then there would be someone to edge you into the firing line. And you were On Your Own.

It hadn’t got off to an auspicious start. I’d barely got through the door when Montgomery swerved past a couple of chairs, brushed the table at an angle and came at me out of the sun which was streaming through the tall windows. ‘I believe you know my wife?’ he said.

Under different circumstances, it could all have been a bit tricky but this was cool. Yes, I knew the delightful Sue who had been working for the Mirror Group house magazine. I used to feed her stuff from Manchester. All very innocuous.

It got a bit heavier. We sat down and my timing, for once, was out. I grabbed a last glass from the bar and turned round to find that the only remaining seat was direct across the narrow table from the imposing Pollard protrusions.

My contribution to the discussion was limited, as I recall. Until the conversation drifted round to what we all thought of the paper. She was an assistant editor at the time. Red alert! I was musing over some suitable adjectives for when my turn came … exciting, vigorous, dynamic, and so on while trying to wear my expression of studied concern. The one usually reserved for the final furlong of a horse race as my nag starts a steady back-pedal.

I was suddenly awakened from my reverie. Sports editor John Maddock was saying something about one of his staff having some criticism to make. I looked up and eight or nine pairs of eyes were looking directly at me. The faint smiles were a mix of false concern, feigned interest, mild amusement – and stifled smirks. Maddo, the bastard, could hardly contain himself.

I took all this in at a glance. Eve was leaning slightly forward – oh, please don’t do that Eve – and smiling as she told me huskily: ‘Go on, Harold. Give it to me.’

What’s that about hearing a pin drop? The liveried waiters behind the bar could have been juggling jeroboams and no one would have noticed.

Right, children. Get out of that. Do you wimp out – ‘Oh, no… no Eve. Not at all. Oh, dear me no’ – as you vainly try to recall exciting, vigorous and dynamic? ’ Or do you attempt the oil-on-troubled-waters approach? ‘Well, it’s just that perhaps, well, the horoscope could be a little bigger. Apart from that…’

I have to say that neither of these brilliant ideas came to me. Or I would have used them.

Instead, realising that my job was sailing quickly down Peter Street and into the Irwell, I decided there was nothing to lose with an immediate attack.

‘Give it to me,’ she’d said. I stood up, looked Eve straight in the eye, half unzipped my fly, and, pointing to the table, asked casually: ‘What? Right here? Now?’

Eve was a good sport, as I’d expected. Or at least, as I’d hoped. And a tricky moment passed off with laughs all round. Phew! Newspapers! Dontcha love ’em?

*Colin Dunne’s Cudlipp encounter appears in his new book, Man Bites Talking Dog, which is out now and available from from amazon-uk or Waterstones; in the US from amazon;or worldwide with free delivery from Book Depository.

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Death of Life man

By Jeremy Chapman

Graham Taylor, editor of The Sporting Life at one of the most difficult times in its history – when owner Robert Maxwell was waging war on the print unions –died on Sunday. He was 80.

The 13 troubled months of his command, in 1985-86, gave him little chance of proving whether he was a good editor, but he was too ‘nice’ and not ruthless enough for the time.

For one week during his tenure a tabloid emergency edition of the Life was assembled and printed elsewhere. And for a time the London-based newspaper moved out of the Mirror building and into Alexander House in Farringdon Road.

Graham, a one-paper man who joined the Life at 16 in 1946, was appointed successor to long-serving Ossie Fletcher in March 1985, when Maxwell interrupted Ossie’s retirement party to announce: ‘Brother Taylor will be your new editor.’ Graham said he was ‘gobsmacked and had no idea’.

On being replaced in April 1986, Graham said his overriding emotion was one of relief, saying: ‘I was on the paper for 40 years and enjoyed them all apart from the last one.’

Everybody liked him, apparently even Maxwell, who, in a rare show of generosity, let him keep his company car for £1.

Before his short spell at the helm, Graham was a talented second-in-command. He made his way up the ranks after starting on the sports desk and he later produced a widely read football pools page in which he was never afraid to criticise bookmakers when they deserved it. He won their respect that way.

Underrated as a writer, his thought-provoking reports on the annual Tote lunch were required reading and, after becoming the newspaper’s number three, it was a natural progression to deputy editor on the retirement of Alec Hayward.

He finished his Life career at the age of only 56 and never sought to return to journalism. He was happy in later life as a do-it-yourself addict, making extensions to his home in Coulsdon, Surrey.

One of the people he helped was John McCririck in his days as an award-winning investigative journalist. ‘Big Mac’ often used to have trouble writing intros but Graham would always come up with a good one and get the piece started.

I also have reason to be grateful to him because, immediately on becoming editor, he made me his deputy. Even if he had chosen someone else, he would always have been a special, loveable, approachable colleague with a great gift for friendship.

A great family man, Graham leaves wife Norma, two sons, David and Jonathan, and daughter Jane. No funeral details are yet available.

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