Issue # 192

This Week

It may be that it was the mention of a possible million-pound prize in our competition – announced last week – that drew in the responses. But that would be an unworthy thought… what people are going for is the first prize: a copy of The Ideal Occupation, Walter Schwarz’s terrific memoir about life as a foreign correspondent, mainly for the Guardian.

Nobody wants to be second best.

To recap, Walter when aged 13 had written an essay about what he thought would be the perfect career and he’d opted for journalism. We asked how other Ranters had made the decision and why they opted for this great game.

(Anybody out there who can’t remember why can just buy the book. It costs only £9.99, is a great read, and is available with free delivery worldwide from the Book Depository , most other on-line booksellers, and on order from any half-decent high street bookshop.)

So we’re kicking off with Steve Bates, like Walter, a Guardian man. And like Walter he came in after university – which, if nothing else, will be news that pisses off Kelvin.

The jury’s out on whether this tale is pipped by Ken Ashton, who writes that his grandson Jacob has already chosen his likely career path at the age of SIX. He currently fancies becoming a monkey, but there’s plenty of time yet for him to see the light (and shade).

Then Harold Lewis reveals that he might have been a doctor. Reminds me a bit of Peter Cook telling Dud that he could have become a judge, only he didn’t have the Latin…

But first, some follow-ups to last week’s ranting.

Roy Greenslade review Walter’s book in yesterday’s Media Guardian.

Rick Wilson’s story about a Moluccan siege brought happy memories flooding back for Ian Markham-Smith of a gathering of Fleet Street’s finest that was clearly not one to be missed.

Andy Leatham follows Harold Heys’ piece with more stories from the Daily Sport.

And holding the whole lot up is cartoonist Rudge, down there in the colour supplement.

What else? Felicity Green is the guest on Desert Island Discs this weekend (Sunday, Radio 4, 11.15am).

And next Thursday – lest we forget – is WAYZGOOSE. You can all have the day off, unless you’re producing Ranters for Good Friday morning…

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The foreign correspondent’s dilemma

By Roy Greenslade

‘Well, now, let’s see, there’s a riot in Bihar. Worth a quick trip?’

‘Perhaps. But floods in Bangladesh could be more dramatic.’

‘But then, Bhutto’s in trouble again: might do something drastic at any moment. Could drive up to ‘Pindi and have a look. Good chance to take the car out of India and renew its customs license.’

‘Well, yes, but going out of town would mean missing the foreign ministry briefing – it seems they might have something to say for once.’

That is a one-man morning ‘news conference’ related in the just-published book by former Guardian foreign correspondent Walter Schwarz.

It illustrates the dilemma facing a man assigned to cover the sub-continent from his New Delhi flat. It also casts a light on the nature of news values. How do we choose what to report?

That’s just one of the virtues of reading Schwarz’s memoirs, a reporter who plied his trade, as I noted last month, during the days when copy was dictated over a crackly phone or transmitted by telex.

Aside from his Indian period, Schwarz’s The Ideal Occupation tells of his adventures in Nigeria, Israel and France. It is published by Revel Barker Publishing at £9.99.

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Caps off to the Dutch

markham smith2By Ian Markham-Smith

Reading Rick Wilson’s recollections of stringing for the Daily Express in the Netherlands (Ranters, last week) also took me back down memory lane to the twin Dutch sieges of 1977. Although my memories of those splendid three weeks in the Dutch sunshine are very different from Rick’s.

The weekend had started badly for me. I had only been in the Daily Mail London office on Carmelite Street, within staggering distance of The Harrow pub, a few minutes on Sunday morning when I was told to get to Heathrow. I was off to Brussels. Overnight there had been a fire in a cheap hotel and several British tourists on a coach tour, who were staying there, had been killed with more being treated in hospital.

The only problem was Heathrow was fogged in and all flights delayed or cancelled. That May 22 was a very long Sunday making regular check calls to the foreign desk and being told to stick at it.

Eventually, I took off in the late afternoon but by the time I got there the Mail’s Brussels-base stringer – I think his name was Eric Kennedy – had quite successfully wrapped the whole thing up. Obviously, he wasn’t exactly delighted to have a whipper-snapper staff man from London intruding on his patch. Quite frankly, I felt like a spare prick at a wedding. OK, I filed but it was purely an exercise to cover my backside. To make matters worse, the Daily Express Thames Valley man, Colin Pratt, had somehow managed to get a flight from another airport and had got to Brussels hours before me. He’d visited the hospital – by the time I got there no visitors allowed – and got some great first-person stuff.

So the Monday morning looked pretty bleak. I was preparing to return to London with my tail between my legs and facing, quite possibly, a bollocking even though I can’t be responsible for the weather and the airport bosses were obviously as unreliable in those days as they are now. But sometimes there is a God looking over down-in-the-dumps reporters.

As I was preparing to check out of my hotel around midday, I got a call from the foreign desk – manned by John Moger and his stalwart deputy Jim Thurman, two very experience old hands – saying that a major drama was unfolding in Holland. A bunch of disgruntled South Moluccans had hijacked a train close to the village of Glimmen in north-eastern Netherlands. Nine armed Moluccans had pulled the emergency brake on a morning train and had taken about 50 people hostage. At the same time four others had invaded a nearby elementary school and had taken a load of young kids and their teachers hostage as well.

Pretty serious stuff and possible career redemption. What I didn’t realise was that I was about to embark on the best pack job – certainly the best pack job overseas – that I would ever go on in more than four decades in journalism. Although it was hard work, Messrs Moger and Thurman could not have realised that, while it was hell for the hostages, it quickly turned into an extended paid holiday for many members of Fleet Street’s finest and the rest of the worldwide journalistic community that gathered in Holland’s idyllic flatlands.

The train and the school were situated between the Dutch towns of Assen, famous for its motorbike race, and the university town of Groningen. In those days about a five-hour drive from Brussels – the roads have probably improved by now although the traffic is probably worse. After my experience at Heathrow the previous day, there was no way I was going to fly. A hire car would at least ensure that I got there within a reasonable time.

But this was a big story – not just for the local Netherlands press and a few other surrounding countries – so the world’s press quickly descended on the area. All the American TV networks dispatched their European-based crews and there were reporters from virtually every Northern European country representing newspapers, radio and television stations.

Hats of to the Dutch government information service. By the time I arrived they had created a press centre. There was a massive hall for regular press conferences and numerous rooms with desks and typewriters already set up (remember this was within hours of the hostage situation developing). As I entered the already packed centre, there were technicians fixing up banks of telephones, which the journalists could use to make free calls to anywhere in the world, and the officials were setting up a canteen and bar, where we could buy subsidised food and drink, and even a games room to help us while away the hours. I got so addicted to a sort of Dutch shove-ha’penny crossed with skittles game that I actually bought one and brought it home. The Dutch authorities had dealt with Moluccan terrorists before and they were obviously preparing for the duration. Never before or since have I seen such a well-oiled operation.

Within minutes of my arrival, I spotted Brussels rival and adversary Colin Pratt. Over the ensuing hours others started to arrive including dapper Harry Arnold from the Sun. Eventually, it became obvious that after filing initial stories, finding hotel rooms was a good idea. The only problem was there were no rooms at any of the inns. Hotel after hotel was fully booked. Eventually we found one dormitory room with seven beds in a hotel in Groningen. There was nothing for it, we’d have to forget any rivalry and share until we could find separate rooms. And so it was, that Colin, Harry and I plus four others became unlikely room-mates. The rivalry wasn’t so much over stories but who beat who to the bathroom.

The Daily Mail quickly expanded the team with reporter Malcolm Stewart, legendary writer John Edwards – to do what John always did best and give some colour and depth to the yarn – and photographer Bill Cross, among others.

Tony Frost arrived for the Evening News, Keith Dovekants for the Standard, Guy Rais for the Daily Telegraph and Keith Graves for the BBC. The ITN man arrived without a jacket and had to go on-air almost immediately. We were about the same build and he asked if he could borrow my sports coat so on night one my jacket made it onto News at Ten.

By the weekend, John Ball, formerly a crime man on the Express and by then a reporter on the Sunday Times, and John Knight of the Sunday Mirror had expanded our numbers. John Bell, once known as Bell of Carlisle but for many, many years a high-flyer for the National Enquirer, was also sniffing around trying to find something ‘special’. On Friday night our press centre bar was buzzing. Fleet Street had moved a few miles to the East. If it wasn’t for all the foreign languages being spoken you would have thought you’d walked into the Stab or the Popinjay.

Things soon settled down to a nice routine – press conferences mid-morning and early evening. Occasionally, one of us would sneak off to develop a lead. But the weather was perfect early summer and there was plenty of time for shopping trips, experiencing the local restaurants and sitting in the sun sipping beer. There was even time on the first Saturday evening to organise a trip to the cinema to see director Sam Peckinpah’s latest blood-and-cuts flick Cross of Iron (in English, with Dutch subtitles) starring James Coburn, James Mason and Maximilian Schell.

Boys will be boys and there was plenty of opportunity for drunkenness and debauchery, although, heaven forbid that I would even for a moment suggest that any of my colleagues would indulge in such behaviour. But I do remember that one American TV network front-man had to seek urgent medical assistance after developing a dose of something nasty from an Asian beauty in a local brothel.

After about a week or so the story had flattened out but there were still more journalists than hotel rooms. Colin Pratt was replaced by Bob McGowan for the Express and a young Colin Myler, later editor of the News of the World, who I think was on his first foreign assignment, replaced Harry Arnold. They also took over their beds in our dormitory.

Bob and I quickly decided on a little competition. Instead of filing from Ian Markham-Smith in Assen or Bob McGowan in Groningen, we’d try and get more exotic datelines. The area was surrounded by small Dutch villages some with populations or around four. As a result, our datelines would be such places as Hoogezand, Veendam and Zuidlaren. The idea was to try and find a dateline more impressive than a Welsh railway station. It helped while away the hours.

Our routine was occasionally disturbed by events such as a pregnant hostage being freed, followed by a quick unexpected press conference but basically the days fitted into a pattern.

I had to pop back to the UK for a couple of days for a small operation that had been lined up for many months. I am pleased to say that the foreign desk chose to send me back as soon as the procedure was done. And my brief absence did not stop a double page spread I wrote analysing the events that had unfolded towards the end carrying a strap-line saying the piece was from ‘the man who has watched every minute of this drama’. I wasn’t complaining but it did not stop Keith Graves pointing out on every possible opportunity that the strap-line wasn’t exactly correct.

Sometime before the end of the siege other hotel rooms started to open up and our Fleet Street band of dormitory sharers drifted apart.

I move on to the night of Friday June 10. The day had been just like any other but by mid-afternoon there was a tension about the place and our government spokespeople were being strangely evasive. There had been rumours that something was up. More police than usual had been spotted around the area. The press centre bar was still operating but there were fewer of us around than there had been. Tony Frost, I and a guy from CBS decided to break the monotony by visiting a local bar in town but none of us was enjoying himself. We took it in turns to slip away and phone back to the press centre in case something is going on.

Normally, we’d have called it a day by midnight on a Friday evening but all of us decided to go back to the press centre; within an hour most of the usual suspects were just hovering around. We couldn’t actually go to the train because the area was sealed off, there were some 2,000 marines and soldiers keeping the place in lockdown; you couldn’t see anything and most importantly you were a long, long way from the nearest phone. This was a long time before we all had mobile telephones let alone today’s communications gadgets.

Among all the characters I remember being there to cover the siege – and my apologies to the many wonderful characters who were there that I have either forgotten or not mentioned – I don’t remember running into either Rick Wilson or John Warden. Rick may have been in his bed but I can assure you that when the shit hit the fan most of the rest of us weren’t.

It was in the early hours – around five local time, four in London – that the flash bombs and the shootings started as Dutch fighter jets flew over the train to give the marines their shock advance for the stunning rescue.

Our government minders quickly appeared and a running press conference started. Bob, I and many others hit the phones. The Mail copy-takers had gone so the night-man Peter Lynch started taking my copy while trying to negotiate with the production department to change the front. Peter, who now runs a media company in Sydney, Australia, told me this week about his frustrations at being unable to get my copy into the paper. Many of my colleagues were in the same boat and equally frustrated. Only Bob managed to get a piece into an Express Ludgate Circus edition. I never saw that day’s Express but I was later told the story carried John Warden’s by-line. He may have been involved but, if the story only carried his name, I feel very sorry for my rival Bob because it was he who stayed up all night along with me and filed the copy that made the last edition.

Nevertheless, we all carried on working throughout the night and morning. Obviously other colleagues had early starts as Brussels-based freelance Dennis Newson arrived around breakfast time to cover for the People and other Sunday colleagues soon followed him into the press centre.

My personal disappointment was eased when I got a call from a member of the foreign desk staff calling from home, saying that an old mate who had previously worked on the Mail but was now news editor of the Toronto Star needed coverage. As a result my Mail copy went to Ontario. Rick may have only been paid 15 quid for two weeks work but, on top of my Mail salary, I got 500 Canadian dollars for my trouble.

Many of us stayed on for a few days to cover the funerals of the six Moluccans killed in the raid but then, sadly, the holiday was over.

Another benefit for me was that John Bell kindly recommended me to the editor of the National Enquirer and a few months later I left the Mail to take a job covering Europe for the Florida tab.

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This sporting life

By Andrew Leatham

The Sport’s first office was in an unremarkable 1970s office block perched between a dual carriageway and Salford’s famous Flat Iron Market. And it was probably scene of the most fun I ever had in journalism.

The permanent staff numbered no more than eight, backed up a motley collection of red-top hacks turned casuals that included me, Alwyn Thomas and Alan Rimmer from the People, John Burke-Davies from the News of the World and Maurice Chesworth from the Daily Mirror.

At first the paper came out only once a week, leaving us plenty of time to trawl the pages of Weekly World News and other obscure American mags for stories that could be re-written to make them British or European.

One day, a new casual came in for a shift. Now, this chap had worked for the Guardian and was totally unfamiliar with tabloid ways, let alone the ways of The Sport. He was given a cutting — I think it was about an Uruguayan woman who had given birth to a four-kilo cabbage after being abducted by aliens — and told to ‘do it up.’

He must have spent about an hour reading and re-reading the cutting until he finally asked: ‘Has anyone got a contact in the Uruguayan police?’

Half a dozen heads swivelled and stared at him quizzically. ‘What?’

‘The Uruguayan police. I’ve got this story to do and I need to check it out. Has anybody got a number or anything?’

His request was met by uncomprehending silence until ex-Daily Star man Dave Graham, who was news editor, spoke out. Without looking up he simply said: ‘Andy, take ‘im to the pub and tell ‘im how it’s done.’

We never saw the Guardian man again.

The pub in question though was seen many times again by the Sport staff. It was called The Flat Iron and stood on the opposite side of the market — so-called because its layout resembled… a flat iron. It was a barn of a place that had long ago seen its best days. The furniture was stained and broken. Generations of damp had peeled the wallpaper away from the high corners. The carpet had that sticky feel that only many, many gallons of sloshed beer can achieve.

At first, we were treated with a degree of hostility by the locals. Chief sub Les Groves was called ‘a fuckin’ yuppie’ because he was wearing a tie. But gradually, when they realised we weren’t coppers or social security investigators, they accepted us but always treated us with a degree of suspicion. After all, I don’t think they had met many people who claimed to be working but still spent a couple of hours in the pub every day.

The number of Sport editions grew steadily until the paper had outgrown its Salford base and moved to the old Daily Express/Daily Star building in Ancoats, Manchester. The move introduced a new name for the title, the Daily Sport and it was soon publishing five days a week. It also introduced a new house by-line when Anne Coates joined the redoubtable Hazel Groves.

The number of staff also continued to grow and as it did so, the fun began to subside. Before long, the place had the feel of a proper newspaper office with an array of executives, news desk, picture desk and sports desk.

At its height, the Daily Sport employed some of the best tabloid men in Manchester but no one foresaw the rise of the internet which killed off the paper’s income mainstay, premium telephone chat lines.

Right from the start media commentators said the Sport would never last; that its mix of sex, nudes and more sex would never sell. But it did and for more than 20 years it titillated, teased, amazed and amused its readers. We will never see its like again. Someone should write a book.

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Career building

batesstephenBy Stephen Bates

In my last year at university, I thought – not having done any journalism – that it might be a nice sort of a job, worthy of my talents, with the result that I easily failed to get on any of the hotly competed-for training schemes run by the BBC, the Mirror, Thomsons, Westminster Press, Birmingham Post or any of the other groups in those dim, distant days of 1975.

To add insult to injury, the university careers officer suggested, crushingly, that he didn’t think I was the right type of person to be a journalist – how about marketing, or personnel with ICI Paints, instead? No thanks – and when I reluctantly applied, ICI sensibly didn’t want me either.

But my father insisted that I really ought to get a job and wangled a place at the company where he worked (so strings were pulled, albeit from my point of view unwillingly, and not terribly glamorously). It was with the builders’ merchants Travis and Arnold (now Travis Perkins) where I found myself three months after graduation, working in a sawmill in Littlehampton, with the wind blowing freezingly right off the Channel and straight through the open doors.

This was not how I saw the life of a graduate turning out so I decided pretty quickly to revisit my idea of working for a newspaper and, having invested in a copy of Teach Yourself Journalism, followed its advice to apply to a local paper.

The third one I tried (having been turned down by the Newbury Weekly News in my home town, and by the Henley Standard) was the Reading Chronicle, whose editor Bill Garner amazingly invited me for an interview.

I had not really expected a positive response by that stage. Just as well I didn’t realise how lucky I’d been: my application landed on the editor’s roll-top desk on the same morning as a note from a young reporter handing in his resignation. I learnt later that the coincidence fortuitously meant Garner could save himself the cost of advertising the vacancy in the UK Press Gazette. A day earlier, or later, and I’d probably not have been invited in.

It was a real, old fashioned newspaper office in the centre of town with the printing presses rumbling in the basement and paper and grime everywhere else. I was ushered up the narrow wooden stairs to see the editor, who seemed to be ingrained with ink, deep into the wrinkles of his face and hands and – yes – he really did wear silver armbands and smoked Woodbines.

He turned, got up and uttered the first words ever spoken to me by a journalist. ‘Hello, Mr. Bates,’ he said. ‘I hope you realise we can’t pay you as much as whatever you are getting at the moment…’

How characteristic was that? It gradually dawned on me that he was going to offer me a job. And he was right, he didn’t offer me as much as I was getting at the moment: £20 a week to be precise, but there was never a question of my not accepting. Asking golden wedding couples the secret of their married bliss (one long hoped for answer: ‘Not speakin’ to each other for 49 years…’) sure beat working in a sawmill on the south coast in winter.

Stephen Bates went on to work for the Oxford Mail, the BBC, the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail and, for the last 21 years, the Guardian.

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All in the family

By Ken Ashton

Grandson Jacob is six and scary. Not in a frightening way. Scary because he’s too damned clever.

As the end product of a family of journalists – Nana is a former deputy editor, Mum PR and media boss at Chester Zoo, Granddad – well you know about Granddad. Or Taid. Or, as Jacob calls me, Ken.

At six, he is still learning to read and write, all with phonetic letters and all with eagerness. Like most little lads these days, he can whizz around a computer and a keyboard and knows more than is good for him. He looks at my e-mails, informs me who has sent what and – if I’m not careful – tends to reply. And he is delighted when Lord Skidmore’s name pops up on the screen. ‘An e-mail from Skiddy, Ken.’

He’s already admitted he wants to be Prime Minister one day, wrote to that nice Mr. Cameron and got Downing Street pencils back. He discusses the daily TV news with me and each day, before going off to school, likes to scan the local headlines. ‘I’m getting a bit fed up with Libya,’ he says.

And the Independent did him a favour when they launched their baby i, because it’s using short and snappy headlines, which he can figure out, is stapled, so it doesn’t fall apart and is referred to phonetically by Jacob as the i as in itch and not i as in eye.

He just doesn’t just play games, he performs them, so whatever the activity he needs an ID badge – we have about 100 saved on his own memory stick, all with logos, all looking official and each worn to suit the occasion. Fireman? TV news reader? Tesco delivery driver? Press Officer…

The other day he rolled home from school to inform us he’d had his photo taken as part of a local paper piece on of the school’s achievement of excellence in their inspectors’ report.

‘Right, Ken,’ he says, ‘I need a new badge – Press photographer. And I need a camera, please, but not one of those titchy digi things, a proper job with a flash.’ He sounds like a Press photographer already. He’ll be asking for exes next. Or moaning that he’s done that job before.

So I rummage around in my rarely-used camera gadget bag and come out with a Fuji FinePix that looks impressive, with built-in-flash, but the sort of amateur thing snappers would laugh at.

‘Right,’ says Jacob, ‘which button does what? And I need a pad and a pen.’ For…? ‘Someone has to write a caption,’ he says.

‘OK, Ken, hold that piece of paper, don’t put it over your face, shuffle a bit in that chair, look up, don’t frown, stay like that. Smile.’

Click.kenashton2011

‘Now,’ he says, ‘names, left to right?’

The lad will go far. As what, time will tell. But be very afraid…

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Playing doctors

haroldlewisBy Harold Lewis

Frank Metcalf – mentioned recently in these columns – was a rarity among reporters.

A gentleman.

Unassuming, softly-spoken, he sat across from me in the newsroom of the Yorkshire Evening Post. And, in the course of his busy day, he found time to cast an avuncular eye over my first shaky sentences and help me polish them into something approaching acceptable copy.

But for his patience and encouragement and, I confess, a boisterous family gathering, I might have done something more productive with my life than devoting so much time to subterfuge, pretension and deceit or, come to think of it, carousing and frolicking and generally having a fine old time.

Like thrusting my hand up old ladies’ bottoms.

Or worse.

Around the age of twelve or thirteen, however – when it was still the fervent wish of my parents that I follow several of my relatives into the family business, so to speak, and I saw myself more as a rakish swashbuckler cast in the mould of Damon Runyon or Dashiell Hammett – I caught the down draught of a conversation that sidetracked me straight away from pursuing my mother’s and father’s lofty ambitions.

No fewer than six of my cousins were doctors then, of one specialty or another, and, inevitably, they liked nothing better than trading grim and gory war stories when they infrequently got together.

It was what cousin Phillip, a general practitioner in Sheffield, was recounting that had me all agog, in a cold sweat and instantly planning abandoning any notion of spending a lifetime catering to the aged and ailing.

Seemingly, he had a patient, a woman of a certain age, who had made an appointment at his practice to have a troubling and recurring pain in her nether region checked out.

Nobody, according to him, could have been more surprised when on investigation he ended up extricating a tin of boot polish, the obvious cause of her complaint. Kiwi by brand, black by colour.

The explanation from the embarrassed woman was that after a monster night out she had made friends with a fellow she hardly knew and had heard from a bunch of old wives that the tin of shoe shine would protect her not only from pregnancy but a variety of virulent social diseases, afflictions she had no wish to explain to her long-suffering husband.

So she had, she told my cousin, decided that there was nothing to lose in giving the shoe polish cure a shot.

Phillip’s words of chastisement, according to his tale, were chilling and to the point.

Inevitably, the incident also had the effect of terminating right there and then any budding medical aspirations I, or my mother or father, might have had.

There were easier, better and more dissolute ways, I reasoned, to earn a crust, like the infinitely more glamorous appeal of journalism. Quite obviously, my naiveté prevented me from knowing any better at the time. Indeed, so far as I knew then the only arseholes likely to be confronted, principally outside the office were all of a metaphorical nature.

As I later found out, however, it was difficult to get away from frightening and forbidding orifices of one kind or another.

Startling pitfalls it was all too easy to tumble into.

And, as Reg Payne, then the editor of the Sunday Mirror, once sagely reminded me in a rustic pub in Cheshire (I went along later to lick my wounds with Ian Skidmore at his nearby home and only succeeded in almost losing three fingers of my right hand when I stupidly attempted to pet his bulldog pup): ‘Harold, you’re a little grunt and I’m a big one. And if you are going to be a grunt, be a big one.’

Except, grunt, of course, wasn’t exactly the word he used.

In the years that followed, by dint of cultivating a penchant for eavesdropping and honing my aptitude for osmosis, I picked up enough of the parlance of the medical fraternity to pass myself off with some aplomb at those meetings and conferences attended by the men in white coats.

The same guys, incidentally, who, I suspect, insist on draping stethoscopes around their necks for group photo opportunities in case they are confused with the grocers in the deli department at Waitrose.

It was all a facade, of course.

But it was to serve the National Enquirer well.

Apart from celebrities, the other thing the paper pursued with a vengeance at one time were major medical breakthrough pieces. At the heart of it all, was a wish to be the first publication in the world to announce a cure for cancer.

Much money – hundreds of thousands of dollars at least, maybe even millions – went into attempting to run down this particular holy grail.

So when word reached the office of dramatic new cancer treatment, a vaccine called Bacillus Calmette-Geurin (BCG) that doctors had been using successfully to boost the body’s natural immune system to overpower the killer cancer cells, the paper, in the way it did, went overboard.

A team numbering about a dozen was sent post-haste to the National Cancer Institute in Maryland where eminent researchers from all over the world were converging to release their latest, sensational findings.

There was one closed session, strictly forbidden to the prying press, but relying on what I had learnt in my formative years, I was eventually able to bluff my way in and mingle as unobtrusively as I could with the throng of scientists and physicians.

At one end of the room, I spotted a very familiar figure.

Billy Burt, formerly of the Daily Mail, had arrived at the Enquirer at about the same time as myself – the first of a flood from Fleet Street – and, significantly, he, alone apart from myself, had also managed to employ his wily ways to broach the inner sanctum. Billy’s secret weapon, of course, was that he was a Scot, obviously earmarked by the door minders by his distinctive accent alone as a foreigner and a welcome conference participant.

‘Dr. Burt,’ I boomed, coming up behind him. ‘So nice to see you again.’

Billy didn’t miss a beat.

‘Dr. Lewis,’ he responded, putting his arm around the two men with whom he was in animated conversation. ‘Have you met our colleagues from Canada and Israel?’

And that is how – much to the approbation of my parents, I’m sure, and in the most distinguished circumstances – I finally got to be a doctor for the day.

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Rudge

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