It’s not too hot for the old folks back home, is it? One asks because the Grim Reaper has got another triple up, this week.
Mike Kiddey remembers Eric Purnell of the Daily Telegraph (and elsewhere); Paddy Byrnerecalls running up against Terry Newell (Daily Mirror and other places); and we hope to have words about Arthur Brown of the People, next week.
Funny old week. We’ve even got another obit on the typewriter, this time by John Shone.
But let’s start at the beginning, with the beginnings.
Neville Stack joined the business for the romance… meaning that he thought it was the sort of job that would automatically pull birds. His piece is the latest in our continuing series about how people started in the Great Game – prompted by Walter Schwarz’s excellent memoir, The Ideal Occupation, which is getting flattering double-page reviews all over the place.
James Lambie also had a book out recently (not one of ours, but it was reviewed here). His history of The Sporting Life was voted British Racing Book of the Year and he reports that collecting a prize at the Savoy was a night to remember – but for the wrong reasons.
And Rudge (cartoonist James Whitworth) holds up the column with a memory of industrial action (as we used to call industrial inaction).
Bouncing with Bernadette
By Mike Kiddey
Eric Purnell, a former chief northern reporter of the Daily Telegraph who died two weeks ago aged 75, was one of the most cantankerous characters ever to come out of Withy Grove.
He was blunt to the point of rudeness but he could also be incredibly generous to anyone in genuine need, particularly fellow hacks – but it was something never mentioned. Eric wanted to maintain his macho Yorkshire image
When he moved on to BBC Radio Manchester, where he regarded all management as ‘pillocks’, Eric’s own management style as deputy news editor and producer often landed him in hot water.
On one occasion, after producing a Citizens Advice Bureau phone-in Eric, was hauled before the pillocks after horrified volunteer social workers reported him for berating callers as ‘whingers and moaners’ and refusing to put them on air.
The BBC eventually despatched Eric to a room in the basement – where they put him in charge of PR. To everyone’s astonishment he was a success.
He learnt his craft at what must surely have been one of the best schools in the business, the Doncaster office of the Yorkshire Evening News whose alumni included David Baird, Philip Finn, Ivor Key, Frank Clough and Jim Davis as well as a number of Daily Mirror executives.
I first met Eric at the start of the Northern Ireland troubles. At that time the conflict was covered almost exclusively by the northern offices of the nationals
Having recently transferred from Fleet Street to Manchester I l knew few of the Manchester staffmen, so on arrival in Belfast, I headed for the best hotel in town. In pre-bean-counter days it was the obvious place to find them.
I walked into the Royal Avenue just as a bedraggled character, shirttails flapping and tie askew, staggered across the plush foyer, slammed a bottle down onto the reception desk and bellowed: ’Call this wine? Its effing cat’s piss.’
I said: ‘Good afternoon. Mike Kiddey, Daily Sketch.’
‘Eric Purnell, Daily Telegraph,’ came the reply.
Eric, a good operator, held the distinction of being the only journalist to my knowledge to conduct an interview with a Member of Parliament while bouncing up and down on a space hopper.
It took place at the City Hotel in Derry, where the business of reporting was normally conducted through a fog of CS gas and Powers whiskey.
Eric had bought his son the space hopper for Christmas and was taking it for a test drive.
Fuelled with Powers and bouncing around the hotel with gusto he spied Bernadette Devlin, the Republican firebrand and Westminster MP later to be jailed for rioting, as she was sneaking into a lift.
Eric, a good operator and never one to miss an opportunity for a story, cried out: ‘A word please, Miss Devlin.’ And with one almighty bounce landed alongside her just as the lift doors closed.
Five minutes later he bounced out again muttering: ’Bit embarrassing… The only thing to do was to keep bouncing right through the bloody interview hoping she wouldn’t notice.’
A few nights later the rioters in Bogside targeted Her Majesty’s Press ensconced in the City Hotel.
As petrol bomb and bricks rained down Eric and his equally irascible photographer. Bert Imlah took a break from the bar to nip out to the toilet where a brick promptly came through the window, causing Bert to pee on his shoes.
‘Have ye NO manners?’ screamed Bert. Purnell said later: ’I thought Bert was bollocking me but he was yelling through the broken window to the rioters.’
Eric retired with his wife Barbara to a converted chapel in the wilds of Wales where many of the locals attended his funeral at Aberystwyth Crematorium last week.
Some of the chapel folk were a little bemused to find, instead of an order of service on each chair, there were the following extracts from Eric’s will:
‘I REQUEST that my body be cremated and that my ashes be scattered over the fourth green of Bramall Park golf course if possible – or one of the fairways – to help generate grass for a sport which brought me moments of great joy.
‘I REQUEST that on my death the fastest hearse in the area shall be hired – given the legal speed limitations appertaining at the time – to take my addled remains to the nearest crematorium as quickly as possible and disposed of, without religious music or other religious nonsense (no matter what the god squad say I will face).
‘I REQUEST that wailing and weeping at my demise shall be kept to a minimum or banished altogether and that my wife shall throw a party for relatives and friends within a fortnight after the funeral.’
Barbara added her own postscript which read:
‘So, no weeping and wailing please… Any ideas on how we can smuggle Eric’s ashes onto one of the poshest golf courses in the UK would be greatly received.
’As for the fastest hearse – Alun put your foot down.’
Alun, the funeral director, did as requested and the party was held back at the converted chapel after the cremation. There was no weeping and wailing, nobody was prepared to risk the wrath of Eric. But there were some tears.
By Paddy Byrne
Terry Newell was the Marathon Man at the Daily Mirror – verging on the unique among a mainly heavy drinking and chain-smoking fraternity, he competed in the first 28 London marathons.
He’s probably best remembered, though, for his equally enthusiastic – but considerably less successful – attempts to run rings around the editorial executives on the third and fourth floors. His running mates were the loony left-wingers in features, running (it must be said) largely against brick walls, for those were the days of relatively compliant management, that tended to concede to most – certainly to the most sensible – claims submitted by the NUJ chapel under FoCs of the calibre of Steve Turner and David Thompson.
But his heart, which gave out last week at 75, was always in the right place.
Terry had started in the late 50s as a freelance sub and sometime reporter on magazines, including Health & Strength, before moving to the Daily Sketch and the Morning Advertiser. In 1970 he started shifts at the Daily Mirror and joined the staff as a features sub where he remained until being sacked in the mid 1990s. He also did Saturday sports subbing shifts for more than 15 years for the Sunday Telegraph, occasionally writing rugby match reports. He was also a regular at TV Times for many years.
After the Daily Mirror he started shifts at the Kilburn Times where he worked until October last year.
Terry’s funeral will be held at the church of St Peter and St Paul in the village of West Clandon, Surrey on June 3 at noon. After the service and burial the wake will be at Clandon Park which is next to the church. It would be helpful to advise his daughter, Jane, if you plan to attend. Donations can be sent in his memory to Cherry Trees, a respite care home for children at School Lane, East Clandon, Guildford, Surrey, GU4 7RS.
By Roy Stockdill
Leo Clancy and his chum Martin Turner (Ranters, last week) both worked for the News of the World as freelances on regular shifts in the 1970s/80s – the pre-tabloid, pre-Wapping days – in Bouverie Street.
They were two of a motley crew of freelances, all of them ‘artful dodger’ characters who were widely regarded with deep suspicion by the staff reporters and deliberately kept at arm’s length by editorial executives. Besides Clancy and Turner, they included Gerry Brown, Clive Cooke, Ray Chapman, and the photographer Ian Cutler.
Their value as contributors was recognised by successive NoW editors, but who didn’t want to know too much about how they got their stories. So, the regular freelances were allotted their own office, a small, windowless, dingy room well away from the full-time editorial staff, which some wag among them dubbed the ‘Animals’ room’. The ‘Animals’ room’ became part of Bouverie Street folklore and was referred to by everybody as such – to the chagrin, especially, of Derek Jameson during his editorship.
As then deputy features editor under the late Rod Tyler, formerly the Daily Mail education correspondent, I had the great good fortune – or should that be misfortune? – to be one of Leo Clancy’s bosses.
One day, Tyler commissioned Leo to go on the dole for a month and write a feature about his experiences. Leo duly went off and signed on. We saw nothing of him for a week –on the following Tuesday he appeared in the office and presented Tyler with a claim for a week’s freelance shifts and expenses.
Rod Tyler was apoplectic, no doubt foreseeing himself being charged as an accessory to a benefits fraud, and informed Leo in no uncertain times that he really had meant him to spend a month drawing the dole, with no pay from the NoW. Poor old Leo was forlorn and dismayed but duly did as he was told, and I can still remember the intro to his story to this day. He wrote: ‘It’s bloody hard work being on the dole!’ (The ‘bloody’ may not have got into the paper).
The other story about Leo concerns the fact that he found a house in the Notting Hill/Shepherds Bush area that had an absentee landlord nobody could trace, having disappeared abroad somewhere. Leo squatted in the house, letting rooms out to mates, until the requisite legal period – 12 years, if memory serves me right – had expired, after which it became his. I believe he eventually sold it for a lot of money.
There were no flies on Leo Clancy…
By Henry Taylor
I can supplement your National Enquirer reminiscences (last week) with a few earlier ones. I am old enough, at 78, to have worked for the Enquirer for a couple of years in the early sixties when their office was on 60th Street and Madison Avenue (yes, in midtown Manhattan) and long before the wild days that Jim McLandish writes about (Ranters, last week). The paper later moved over to New Jersey, then down to Florida.
I emigrated to the US in 1963 (it was easy under the old quota system) because I couldn’t get a job before I went. Once in New York I did the rounds trying to get work, when someone I was talking to in the New York Times office asked me if knew Ted Mutch, a sub at the Daily Mirror where I had been a sub in the fifties. I said I did, and was given the address of the Enquirer, which I had never heard of.
Ted, managing editor, hired me as one of four articles editors (three Brits, one American) who sweated blood trying to get off-beat and human interest stories out of American freelances, who seemed to have no idea what they were. The publisher, Gene Pope, was desperately trying to change the image of the paper because he wanted it on sale in the supermarkets, but they wouldn’t take because in those days it was little more than a gore sheet – crime stories, usually murders, accompanied by pictures of mutilated bodies.
The nearest we came to having a riotous time in those days was when someone suggested we got all our stringers, from home and overseas, and entertain them for a day or two. Laurie Wilkinson, ex-Daily Mail, flew over from Rome, Henry Thody, a former staffer on several British papers, turned up from God knows where, somebody whose name I can’t remember popped over from Paris, and a handful of lushes from papers around the States joined in. In was great while it lasted, lavish lunches, huge bar bills, expenses unlimited.
Of the people I remember: Mutch, Wilkinson, Thody, long dead. Robin Leach, then aged about 22, did some freelance work for us, and as far as I know is still in Los Angeles, having made his fortune in television. Iain Calder and Bill Dick were running the London office, which was over a coffee shop off Bond Street (I did some freelance work for them when I returned to the UK). Calder and Dick joined the Enquirer in the States, Calder becoming publisher after Gene Pope retired and Dick dying of heart problems in New York, where he had gone to work for another tabloid.
And me? I joined the Sunday Telegraph as a news/features sub where I remained until, well, not death just yet, but until I retired.
The tender touch type
By John Shone
In response to Harold Heys’s excellent piece about the demise of the manual typewriter (Issue 195, May 6), I have to confess that there’s still a portable tucked away in our attic… just in case.
Until we moved house a year ago, I always carried it in the boot of the car… just in case.
Actually, in the months leading up to the turn of the century, and for some time afterwards, my little Fiesta was home to four machines… just in case.
As news editor at BBC Radio Shropshire, with special responsibility for ‘contingency planning’, I knew that my rusty and trusty hoard of vintage typewriters could be relied upon to keep listeners up to date at the dawn of the new millennium… just in case the dreaded Millennium Bug infected the station’s computer system and wiped out our news bulletins.
As North Wales news ed at HTV Wales in the 1990s I was the last of the Luddites, resisting any change to a new technology until eventually they forced me to use a laptop.
But then I’ve long been in love with typewriters. In a Ranters edition several years ago I recalled how I was the only boy in the shorthand and typing class at secondary school in North Wales, circa 1959, before leaving at 14 to fulfill my journalistic ambitions in London. What I didn’t reveal then – but can unburden now – was the physical violence used against me as we sat at our desks in rows, hands poised over the covered keyboards of our sturdy Remingtons.
Those quirky, qwerty keyboards were hidden from view by a small cloth apron, or sometimes a wooden shield so that we didn’t peep as we strived to master the skills of touch typing.
The trouble was, I couldn’t resist peeping – not only at the keyboard, but at the ample busty delights of my nearest neighbor, Jean. She was a major distraction as hatchet-faced Miss W began dictating from the Pitman’s commercial typewriting manual.
‘Dear Sir: In reply to yours of the 29th ultimo, asking for a gratuity of one year’s salary, I beg to state that I cannot even give consideration to this…’ she’d intone.
Amid the clumsy clatter of the trainee typing pool it was a real struggle to concentrate and, all too often, I would give in to my lustful pubescent urges. As my quivering hands began to wander in the direction of shapely Jean, the hawk-eyed Miss W would suddenly strike… hard with a wooden ruler across my knuckles.
‘Behave, you horrible boy, and pay attention!’ Oh, the pain of first love!
Not long afterwards, my affections for Jean began to fade in favour of Joyce. She was the daughter of Billy, our local coalman, who delivered large quantities of nutty slack to our house through the 1950s as my mother battled to keep the home fires burning.
One day, while lurking around Billy’s coal yard in pursuit of his daughter, I set eyes on something much more desirable – a ‘sit up and beg’ Underwood typewriter which, I discovered later, had seen considerable active service in those years of conflict between 1939-45.
Apparently, armies in the Second World War took typewriters with them into battle and typed with them in the field on little tripod stands. It was even reported that among the ships sunk off Normandy during the D-Day invasion was a cargo vessel carrying 20,000 Royal and Underwood typewriters intended for the use of the Allies. As far as is known, all 20,000 are still down there.
But Billy the coalman’s Underwood managed to survive the war unscathed and there it was, sitting up and begging in his dusty wooden shack, just waiting for me to take it home.
‘How much do you want for that old typewriter, Mr. Hughes?’
For a moment, Billy looked puzzled but quickly realised that the ubiquitous Underwood might be just enough to divert my attentions away from his daughter. Without further ado, he agreed to sell it to me for a fiver. It was delivered the following Monday, perched incongruously on a blackened set of scales on the back of his old Bedford coal lorry.
My Dad loaned me the money to buy it and – until I landed a job as a copy boy on The Sporting Life– I paid him back at half a crown a week from my meager earnings on a Saturday bread round.
My affair with Billy’s daughter fizzled out before it really began. But my loving relationship with Miss Underwood lasted until my mid-twenties. I couldn’t keep my hands off her and she responded beautifully to my tender caresses as I stroked her keyboard. It wasn’t long before I reached 60 wpm. Oh, how quickly the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog…
In 1963, when JFK was assassinated, Miss Underwood was there to support me as I hammered out a short piece for the Mirror– hand-delivered to Holborn from my home in Islington – giving an 18-year-old’s perspective on the death of a global icon.
Then, there was the time I thought I could make a fast buck and supplement my wages on the Islington Gazette by typing envelopes at ten bob a thousand. The advert in the Friday edition didn’t mention that all the names and addresses were Arabic.
But my faithful war veteran delivered the goods until I got fed up.
Eventually, the letter T snapped off and, after months of ploughing through late-night copy from council meetings to ‘write-in’ the most common consonant in the English language, I finally conceded defeat and acquired an Olivetti.
I still couldn’t bear to part with my dear old lady and it was another two years or so before she was consigned to the scrapyard. By then I’d met Pam, a secretary in classified ads, who let me fumble with her all-electric model.
But that’s another story.
By Neville Stack
Even at 13 I had a vivid idea of what career I wanted.
It was the one that would make me attractive to women.
So, hey diddley dee it was a reporter’s life for me. Gorgeous maidens would seek my company; the less appealing would yearn for me. Lesser men toiling in banks would envy my raffish charm
So when I grew up and got demobbed from the RAF, I bought myself a trench coat (to which I was not entitled), turned up the collar, and sported a cigarette at a rakish angle.
I knocked at the door of the Ashton-under-Lyne Reporter and begged for a trial. Bliss! I was taken on the strength for a few shillings a week and warned that if I didn’t pull more than my puny weight I would be dumped. (Eventually, I was.)
How well I remember the egregious Jack Middlehurst, banging on about how he was once mentored to my fellow RAF conscript Harold Evans, who was destined to become editor of the mighty Sunday Times and a knight to boot. God, what a bore Jolly Jack was.
Yes, I found that the depressing fact of literary life, far from being dashing, was a dreary round of trudging round the dreaded Calls, picking up the unconsidered trifles that made up the life of the gloomy end of a gaunt grey town in the gaunt grey days of the post-war years, when it always seemed to be raining, except when we were stifled in yellow coal-smog.
Which is why my trench coat often got wet and my Woodbines got extinguished by the drizzle.
Alas for my adolescent dreams, the ladies of Lancashire were oblivious to my charms. Perhaps it was the grubby trench coat. Or maybe the ever-present fag. Or my rotten job.
Yes, I did get to meet some memorable people, I suppose, though not memorable enough to stay in my memory.
But stay… I recall how used to buy my cheap cigarettes from my former flight-lieutenant James Sherwood, who now ran a sweetie shop. He was kind enough to mention that it was ‘no wonder that such a scruffy conscript as you never made commissioned rank’… ‘In fact,’ he would say, ‘You were the lowest form of military life – an aircraftsman second class.’ And add spitefully ‘if there had been a third-class, you’d have been it.’
And I never did make it with women of the WAAF, except to speculate with my comrades-at-arms about the anaphrodisiac nature of their RAF-issue undies
Did I get any news from the gallant wartime bomber pilot? Nope. All a scoop meant to him was a tin thing he used to shovel up liquorice all-sorts
And did being a reporter on a crappy weekly make this weedy youth a bird-magnet? No, it did not.
Unsurprisingly the local lasses soon twigged that the scrawny fellow in the gangster mac, trudging round the shops and vicarages looking like a rent-collector, was unappealing in the extreme.
Seedy, yes; glamorous no way.
Especially by comparison with all the returned heroes with their spectacular moustaches.
So when I finally got the message that I had been misinformed about reporter appeal, I took the bus to Manchester and conned news editor Roly Watkins into taking me as a temp on the Daily Mirror to replace (some hopes) the late, great Keith Waterhouse. That was a lifetime ago, and I suppose I’m still on trial.
So, in despair, I then gave up the dreams of romantic encounters and concentrated upon becoming a virtuoso in Creative Expenses, with a bit of reporting on the side.
On the whole, I think I did the right thing.
Neville Stack became northern news editor of the Sunday People then the Daily Herald and the IPC Sun. He was a sub on the Daily Express, Manchester, then editor of the Stockport Advertiser before being appointed editor-in-chief of the Leicester Mercury. He spent a year as Press Fellow at Wolfson College, Cambridge, then joined the Straits Times group in Singapore, returning to the UK to be their Europe correspondent. He retired to his native Ireland, but still wrote columns for newspapers overseas.
The porker’s revenge
By James Lambie
It was not the best of times to go down with food poisoning – the porker’s revenge for turning him into sausages.
It was, after all, the big night; the culmination of years of dipping into hundreds of books at the British Library in St Pancras and scanning through thousands of microfilms and bound volumes in the BL newspaper library in Colindale.
The trauma of travelling on that incubator of all viruses known to man, aka the Tube, to that treasure house for historical research was as nothing compared to the near-death experience this peripatetic pen-pusher underwent last week at the Savoy Hotel in London where the National Sporting Club was holding its ninth British Sports Book Awards in the sumptuously refurbished Lancaster Ballroom.
The book that took us there, The Story of Your Life: A history of The Sporting Life newspaper (1859-1998), was one of seven short-listed for the newly introduced best (horse) racing book award, appropriately sponsored by Ladbrokes. A rush of blood to the head had resulted in taking out a second mortgage and inviting a table of loyal supporters fit for the occasion.
Guest of honour was our long-time hero Sir Mark Prescott, a genius genuine among Newmarket trainers, whose generous endorsement of the book went a long way towards giving it the credibility it needed to be accepted by the racing world at large.
Also on the table was the Life’s former greyhound editor Bob Betts whose 3x great grandfather, Morton Peto Betts scored the only goal (for Wanderers against the Royal Engineers) in the first-ever FA Cup Final, played at the Kennington Oval in 1872.
Another with a sporting lineage was young Joe Galibardy, a web designer with a bright future as you can see if you visit www.sportinglifebook.com. His grandfather of the same name is, at 96, the last surviving Olympic gold medallist from the 1936 Munich Games. He was an outstanding half-back in the Indian hockey team that demolished their opponents by scoring 20 goals without conceding one in their four preliminary matches, before going on to beat Germany 8-1 in the final.
Sue Wreford, who made the long haul from Dorset, held the unique position of being the only woman journalist at the Life in the early 1970s when she campaigned tirelessly for her sex to be allowed to ride under Jockey Club Rules. When that autocratic body finally relented in 1972, she was one of the first to don silks and a right bonny sight she looked in them, too.
Another ex-Lifer at the posh nosh was Jeremy Chapman who, as assistant editor, did much to hold the paper together during its final traumatic years. Chapman doubled up as the paper’s golfing correspondent – a position he now holds with the Racing Post – and had an uncanny knack of sorting out long-priced winners of major tournaments prompting Hugh McIlvanney to write of him: “he has had enough extraordinary success in the game’s betting market to make most of the other professional forecasters seem the equivalent of municipal course hackers.”
Bryan Pugh, former chief sub at the Life and now holding the same position on the Post, proof-read the 611-page book in the impossibly short time given to him and more than earned his place at the table, as did Tim Martin-Jenkins (younger brother of Christopher, the BBC cricket commentator and journalist), who let this impoverished scribbler doss in his Notting Hill flat rent-free during research trips to London.
Lastly, all the way from Kincardine-on-Forth, came the kilted Bob Menzies and his delightful partner Lucinda Elrick, who were responsible for taking this confirmed Luddite by the hand and gently leading him into the wonders of the IT world.
And so it was that while the rest of the table tucked into the finest fodder the Savoy could serve up, dish after dish was waved away by yours truly who confined himself to lacing multiple glasses of water with rehydration powders while popping the occasional loperamide hydrochloride 2mg capsule, which fortunately succeeded in living up to its billing by stopping the trots in less than an hour.
By the time the award for the best racing book was announced I was in no condition to give any sort of coherent speech and simply staggered off the stage clutching a heavy glass trophy, before being photographed grinning manically and wishing death would come sooner rather than later.
In short-heading Paul Mathieu’s self-published, masterly account of the Masters of Manton: From Alec Taylor to George Todd, the award revived ghostly ties the Sporting Life had with the original National Sporting Club, founded in Covent Garden in 1891. Early members of that Bohemian establishment included Theodore Cook – later knighted for his services to sport – who wrote a weekly column for the Life under the pseudonym ‘Old Blue’, and the paper’s boxing correspondent, Bob Watson. Watson’s membership was short-lived, however, as he was expelled within the year for making caustic comments about one of the club’s boxing matches.
And boxing was what the old NSC was all about. For more than 30 years it was the hub of British and, indeed, world boxing, combining weekly bouts with slap up meals; and here I should add that the basic fare was chops or steak with chips and a flagon of beer thrown in, all for the price of 1s 4d – just over 6p in ‘new’ money.
My, my, isn’t inflation a terrible thing? But it’s not half as bad as food poisoning on your big night at the Savoy.
The award for the best autobiography went to England’s former rugby international Brian Moore for his Beware of the Dog, also winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year. Other category winners were: Rugby: Tom English’s The Grudge; Cricket: Harry Pearson’s Slipless in Settle; Football: Anthony Clavane’s Promised Land; Biography: Catrine Clay’s Trautmann’s Journey; New Writer: Matthew Syed for Bounce; Publicity Campaign: Robert Penn’s It’s All About the Bike; Illustrated Title: Doug Cheeseman, Martin Cloake and Adam Powley’s ’61 The Spurs Double; Sports Book Retailer: W H Smith.
The category winners are now open to a public vote at www.britishsportsbookawards.co.uk/vote where anyone is free to vote for their favourite book. The overall winner will be announced on June 13.