Last week’s piece by Mike Gallemoregot Mark Howard’s memory turning which – as we keep saying – is what’s supposed to happen. That is, not getting Mark thinking (which is never a bad thing) but one piece jogging somebody else’s memory, in this case about Big Lou Yaffa, Daily Mirror sub and Newcastle Utd supporter, moonlighting on the News of the Screws.
Then, going through the back numbers, John Waddell discovered that he’d been written about, and wanted to get the facts right.
Mark Day remembers that sometimes some newspapers didn’t get the facts at all, and when they did, they weren’t sure what to do with them – as in Britain declares war, see page 10…
And Linda Lovelace – there’s a name from the past – goes down, to Ascot, with Ian Bradshaw.
And if any of this stuff jogs YOUR memory, let’s hear about it. The address is up there, top right.
Black and white
By Mark Howard
The mention of Lou Yaffa in Ranters last week reminded me of the best ever wind-up. Lou, a fanatical Newcastle supporter, was in the chief sub’s chair at the NoW on the last day of the 1992-93 season. His team was certain to go up. No-one across the entire newsroom could be in any doubt – Lou saw to that.
I’m not sure who hatched the plan. Certainly, Bob Warren and Bill Bateson were ringleaders with Alex Marunchak and Greg Miskiw heavily involved.
At the time we had a fore-runner of email: a messaging service that also ran the wire services straight to your screen. It didn’t take long before everyone learned to spoof it. Simply delete an existing message and you could over-write it convincingly. Headers, footers, the lot.
As Lou left for The Old Rose once the first edition was off the stone, the first of a series of PA Snaps was forged. ‘Newcastle player fails post-match drugs test… mfl.’
On his return, with the entire paper on board, from Patsy Chapman downwards, the forged ‘snap’ hit the screens. Lou’s reaction was predictable. But still worse was to come. As reporters hit the phones (to the speaking clock, a well-honed skills in those Nowadays) further bad news for Magpie supporters came thick and fast.
Snap after snap, take after take, the sorry saga of a club riddled with illegal performance-enhancing substances unfolded. The backbench solemnly debated ripping the book apart. At least five front-of-the-book pages, the splash, and most of the sports were binned.
Fresh pages came from the art desk with headlines that were more like darts to Lou’s soul. But, true pro that he always was, the only visible sign of his agitation was that his already phenomenal smoking rate increased to roughly 40 an hour from its usual 20.
By the time the night team came in to take over and for Lou to be chauffeured back to Manchester by Geoff Kuhillow, he was a near broken man. Keegan had quit, the FA was stripping his club of its title and no fewer than five players were exposed as drug cheats. The great and the good of football were united in condemnation.
In the car, for the long journey home, Geoff asked if he’d like to hear the radio. Lou demurred. Just as well, really; none of us could work out which fuse was the radio’s and Geoff was unwilling to risk us deactivating something else like the lights by taking out fuses at random.
After a largely silent drive, Lou was deposited at his front gate. And as he turned to go up the path Geoff wound down the window. ‘Lou!’ he shouted. ‘That drugs story. It was all a wind-up. See you next week.’
Quite what Lou must have registered on the Richter Scale no-one witnessed. But as the most minor of irritations led to violently profane eruptions with Lou – one can but imagine it would have been truly seismic.
Nobody called me William
By John Waddell
Back in April in Ranters, I discover, Anthony Peagam made what, for him, was a most unusual porridge of his facts. He credited me with having given the first half of my name to a column he described as ‘John London of the Evening News’. True there was a John London column and for a couple of years I ran it but it was in the dear old News Chronicle, not the Evening News. Moreover, it was started while I was still slithering around on the paper’s political staff failing to mimic my masters Douglas Brown and Ian Trethowan so I have no idea who dreamed up the column’s name.
I later did a similar stint running the William Hickey column in the Daily Express but sadly nobody called me William which I would have rather enjoyed.
One of the interesting things about gossip columns then was that far from being deb’s delights we proved to be rather a serious bunch. On my News Chronicle team, I had Patricia Rowan who finished up as the long-time editor of the Times Educational Supplement and Corinna Ascherson, at the time married to Neal Ascherson and who still pops up from time to time in the New Statesman. Then there was Mike Andrews who pioneered legal PR.
The Hickey crowd of my day spawned two of the Daily Mail’s top brass, the late Brian Vine (who had also been on the Chronicle dairy) and Robin Esser. Not a bad result.
Ranting away about the group Walter Hayes pulled from Fleet Street in the sixties to help strike-bedeviled Ford of Britain present a more cheerful face, Anthony could have added a few more names. As well as myself there was photographer Ken Denyer from the Daily Express and, a bit later, Alan Gardner (formerly editor of the Daily Mail Paul Tanfield column) and Peagam himself as well as a whole host of irregulars, Dennis Hackett and John Goldsmith among them.
Walter Hayes could at the time claim to have been the youngest ever editor of a national newspaper, the Sunday Dispatch, and his impact on Ford was immediate and lasting, helped by the fact that he became a close confidante of Henry Ford. As Walter moved up through the organisation, eventually becoming the European vice-chairman, I inherited several of the jobs he vacated. He proved a very hard act to follow but the umbilical cord to Fleet Street and its progeny was a great help.
Meet the misses
By Mark Day
When old journos gather in bars they tend to tell stories of their greatest hits: how they solved a particularly puzzling murder; how they saved the British Empire or brought down a government.
Rarely do we hear of their greatest misses.
But we’ve all had ’em.
Ben Hills, an investigative reporter who cut his teeth at The Age in Melbourne under editor Graham Perkin, has written a biography of his mentor, Breaking News: The golden age of Graham Perkin (Scribe). In it, he recalls the Dickensian days of a moribund paper in the 1950s and 60s before Perkin began its modernisation.
He recounts some tales of The Age’s better misses.
Take the story of Russell Hill, a late-stop sub-editor on The Age in 1956. The paper had gone to bed, as had Russ. Well, he had nodded off, as you do in the wee small hours while the presses roll and you wait until near dawn in case something important happens.
Russ was suddenly woken by the clang of teleprinter bells – they had an alert system in those days of ringing five bells for a big breaking news story – and tore a snap off the printer. Egypt’s Colonel Nasser had ‘annexed’ the Suez Canal – a move that would take the world to the brink of World War III.
‘So what?’ Hill thought. ‘It’s already in Egypt, isn’t it?’ And he went back to sleep.
That is almost as big a miss as The Age front page in 1939. True, the front page was filled with advertisements in those days, but still, a small pointer to ‘Britain Declares War – See Page 10’ does seem to be a trifle underdone.
Missing stories was not unusual for The Age in its sad old days. Hills tells how a country correspondent’s hopeful filler alerted editors to a rather big story happening overseas. The story said that flags in Mildura were flying at half-mast as a mark of respect for the king.
‘The king?’ Hills writes. ‘Dead? Burrowing frantically through a file of overlooked cables one of the subs discovered that, while they had been knocking back beers down at the pub, George VI had died.’
I was chortling over these tales, and more, with Frank Crook, the Sydney newspaper and radioman on the day the Exile on Main Street documentary on the Rolling Stones was on TV.
‘Ah,’ said Frank. ‘London, 1964; the decade of Swinging London was just about to begin. Gerry and the Pacemakers topped the charts, The Beatles were about to rocket onto the scene, and slowly making their mark was a group called the Rolling Stones.
‘I was sharing a flat in Willesden with a Daily Express photographer called Russell McPhedran, when we noticed from our front window a regular parade of young girls gathering daily outside a house directly opposite.
‘What was it all about, we wondered. Perhaps we had stumbled on a half-way house for wayward girls. We should be so lucky.
‘One-day McPhedran and I drove to a local service station to check his car in for servicing. When he offered our address to the girl behind the counter she cried “Eek! You must live opposite the Rolling Stones!”
‘After we drove away, McPhedran turned to me and said: Who are the Rolling Stones? I replied, Oh they’re some kind of pop group, like The Beatles.
‘McPhedran, always on the lookout for newsworthy snaps, wondered whether it might be worth his while to stroll across the road and get the boys to pose for a couple of candids.
’I don’t know whether it would be worth the bother,’ I replied. ‘Pop groups come and go. Hardly anyone has even heard of this mob and they’ll probably sink without trace.’
‘Good call. McPhedran put his camera away and never thought about it again – except that for the past 40 years he has never let me forget it.’
Gives good headline
By Ian Bradshaw
With the news that Lindsay Lohan is to play Linda Lovelace in a remake of Deep Throat I fondly recall my encounter with the original in London.
It was soon after the release of the notorious film that Linda turned up in London and I was asked by John Knight’s wife Gloria if I would be interested in doing photographs for a feature on Lovelace for the News of the World. The idea was to photograph Linda and then she was to go to Royal Ascot in men’s morning dress and top hat though with just a shirt front and cravat under the coat which would pop open to reveal her topless.
I was pleasantly surprised when I met her. She was tall, quiet, and not at all the raving sex maniac that many colleagues who heard about my assignment imagined. She had a great sense of humour and we got on very well.
I photographed her at her hotel (Dorchester, I believe; memories of hotel rooms fade quickly) in various glamour situations which, as I recall, were made difficult because of numerous scars from surgery on her torso. Then on Ladies Day at Royal Ascot her Rolls Royce, registration plate PEN 15 whisked her off to the races where we let the press corps masses take over the news publicity for the daily papers. She naturally got barred from the Royal Enclosure, which was what it was all about, of course, and the publicity machine got their coverage.
I met her afterward and she seemed quite unfazed by it all. Beneath all of the notoriety, there seemed to be a very nice lady who just wanted to settle down, which she eventually did in Montauk on Long Island, NY until her death.
She did, however, return to Ascot the next day – in a Bentley this time –the registration plate? 130 LOX [Bollocks] and that, I think, is what she thought of Royal Ascot and its archaic traditions.