If it goes on like this, we will have to find a fount of type called Hushed Tones and put a reporter on the door to collect names of mourners.
This week, Plain John Smith remembers Arthur Brown, who died earlier this month.
Then Mark Day (we start with an edited extract from his column in The Australian) and others recollect a possibly apocryphal – but none the worse for that – tale about Sydney crime reporter Dave Pick, who would otherwise have slipped away unnoticed.
There’s obviously no danger of Leo Clancy slipping away unnoticed; this week David Isaacs has – yet – another tale from his colourful life.
But, back in the land of the living, Ivan Waterman has tracked former show-biz writer Pat Codd all the way into the mayoral chamber for a piece of Codd that passeth all understanding.
Former snapper turned sometime picture editor Alun John continues our series about How I Got Started.
Oh… and, lest we forget, Skiddy has celebrated his 82nd birthday with another book out. We’re starting to lose count but we think this one is number 26. Nothing to do with journalism, this time – except that it’s a series of excellent interviews with Welsh artist Sir Kyffin Williams, and a large number of his friends. Revel Barker plugs the book.
And cartoonist Rudge, as usual, props the whole column up with more reports from the chapel.
Talking of which, we are indebted to our old friends at Media Digest for the latest tale of stupidity on the house agreement front. Apparently, instead of a pay rise, journalists at Johnston Press were offered… free plays on the firm’s bingo games. Only – and you knew there’d be a catch – as employees they would be barred from collecting if they won any of the top prizes.
The source for the information is said to be the NUJ. It can’t be true, can it?
The man who beat Cap’n Bob
By Plain John Smith
Arthur Brown was a hot metal man and proud of it.
As assistant editor of The People, he revelled in his role as the production mastermind who waged a weekly battle to bring out the paper amid the maelstrom of deadlines, slip editions and mutinous printers.
But for all his skills on the stone, Arthur may best be remembered as The Man Who Beat Robert Maxwell.
Seeking staff cuts after taking over the Mirror group, Captain Bob wrote to the staff with individual offers for voluntary redundancy. Along with many others, Arthur accepted.
When Maxwell realised just how big the final redundancy bill would be, he reneged on the deal, arbitrarily slashing the previously agreed payouts.
Confronted with this take-it-or-leave-it edict, many journalists grudgingly gave in and took the money. Not Arthur Brown. Furious at the crooked publisher’s treachery, he took legal advice and sued Maxwell for breach of contract.
For months, with no job and no pay, he defied the bullying tactics and threats from Maxwell’s men.
The dispute was on the eve of going to court when Maxwell surrendered. Arthur got his money, plus interest and legal costs.
Such a combative stance was typical of Arthur Brown, who has died aged 80. A resolute and sometimes prickly character, he was never one to back away from a challenge.
Award-winning photographer Michael Brennan, who worked for him when he was northern editor of the IPC Sun, remembers: ‘While he was great company and terrific with anecdotes, Arthur’s presence in the news room was quite intimidating. God help anyone, sub, deskman, reporter or photographer who screwed up.’
It was Brennan who captured some of the only pictures of Donald Campbell crashing in Bluebird while attempting a water speed record on Lake Coniston in 1967. Says Michael: ‘I didn’t know what I had in the camera, and when I phoned the Manchester office I was told by picture editor Ron Graham that Arthur had told him: If Brennan hasn’t got pictures of the crash, tell him not to bother coming back.
‘After the film emerged from the developer back at the office and the whole sequence of the tragedy could be seen I sheepishly informed the assembled company that I had agreed to a pooling arrangement, sharing the pictures with other newspapers. Arthur’s response was predictable. Fuck the gentleman’s agreement. Since when have gentlemen run newspapers?‘
Arthur was born in Sunderland and began his newspaper career as an apprentice printer on the Sunderland Echo. One morning a big local story broke and the news editor, short of bodies, summoned Arthur from the print floor and told him: ‘You’re a bright lad. Go out and be a reporter.’
Arthur did and it was the start of a journalistic career that soon took him to Manchester where he became chief sub and later northern editor of the Daily Herald. He continued in that job when the Herald closed and became the IPC Sun following the Mirror group takeover. Later he moved down to London as assistant editor of The People.
He involved himself in almost every aspect of the paper. A stickler for detail, he could be found in the features room on a Friday night, studiously completing the crossword scheduled for that week’s paper. ‘You have to make sure the clues are correct,’ he explained. ‘Print the paper upside down and no one notices. Print a wrong crossword clue and every bloody reader in the country will write in to complain.’
Arthur was a brilliant organiser, often called upon to oversee office social functions and celebrations. His colleagues dubbed him Assistant Editor (Dinners).
Always one to relish the funny side of Fleet Street life, he delighted in telling a story involving the Great Lyndoe, The People’s famed astrologer whose predictions were one of the best read columns in the paper in the days when it sold five million.
A touchy and eccentric character, Lyndoe insisted that he would write for the paper only if his copy was collected by hand each Tuesday from his East Coast home by a senior executive. Such was his popularity among readers that this demand was readily met.
The task fell to the versatile Mr. Brown. One Tuesday, there was no copy waiting for Arthur and when he asked why the celebrated stargazer replied: ‘Because there will be no paper on Sunday.’
Nothing could persuade Lyndoe to produce a column and Arthur returned to the office empty-handed. Days went by with no sign of problems and on Saturday night the presses were about to roll, without Lyndoe’s forecasts when the printers walked out on strike and there was no paper that Sunday.
‘Pity he doesn’t apply himself to the football results,’ growled Arthur. ‘We could all make a few bob.’
Arthur was a keen and talented golfer, who at his peak played off a handicap of six. A former captain of the Press Golfing Society, noted for his prodigious tee shots, he was also a member of Effingham Golf Club near his Surrey home.
In retirement, never happy with being idle, he took over a flower stall on Woking station and became a familiar figure to thousands of commuters. It was a million miles away from Fleet Street, but Arthur was never happier.
He leaves a widow, Angela, sons Mark and Anthony, and daughter Kate.
The birthday boy
By Mark Day
Dave Pick was the central character in a story that has been told and re-told by generations of Australian journalists. It’s a yarn with a funny gag-line, but it has become a part of reporting folklore because it contains an essential truth about our business.
Over the years names have been forgotten and details have become fuzzy, but the story goes like this: Dave was a reporter on the Sydney Daily Mirror when he was scooped on a job by the Sun. Dave had covered a run-of-the-mill yarn in a few paragraphs, only to find the same story was the Sun splash. The Sun reporter had learnt that it was the birthday of the person involved in the story. Dave had missed that key piece of information and when his editor saw how he had been beaten Dave copped a massive bawling out.
A little later Dave was sent to cover an incident in the city where a tram had run over a pedestrian. Dave crawled under the tram and said to the victim: ‘I’m from the Daily Mirror. Is it your birthday…?’
Boom…tish! The beauty of this yarn is that it perfectly captures the nature of journalism in an era long passed. This is when we learnt on the job; when starry-eyed kids, straight out of school, became copy boys and fed their ambition by watching and listening and absorbing lessons from the swashbuckling legends of the University of Hard Knocks.
We were like little Blue Heelers – ears pinned back, noses quivering, tails wagging – waiting to be told to ‘getaway back’ and chase a story. The excitement of having front row seats at the first draft of history drove us in giddy and exhilarating pursuit of by-lines and front-page splashes.
There were no J-schools then. You didn’t turn up at your first job ‘work ready’. There were no degrees to be had in media studies or marketing or communications. You either had a nose for news and an ability to find out the facts and the twists of the tales, or you found another job. The people who have risen to the top of the nation’s editorial trees in the past half-century have almost universally been products of that era of on-the-job training.
The ‘Is it your birthday?’ story comes from a past era but highlights the constant and very modern need for reporters to check every angle and never to be afraid to ask another question, even if it might seem a little silly. You never know when the answer might make the story. Many times a mundane yarn has been lifted out of the back pages by a nugget of information that transforms it and turns it into something different – and something different is the essence of news. As we learnt on day one, dog bites man is not news; but man bites dog… now that’s news!
I’m telling the Dave Pick story because there’s more to it. He died on February 23, aged 78, of heart disease and was cremated in Sydney almost two months later on April 20. By all accounts he had no close relatives and his funeral was arranged by the public trustee. None of his old workmates knew. I found out only because the long-time journalist and broadcaster Frank Crook used to bump into him from time to time.
‘We would say g’day and chat about friends and acquaintances,’ says Crook. ‘But we never discussed that story. He had denied that it ever happened, and I had the feeling that he was deeply embarrassed by it.’
Michael Frazer, a Melbourne journo and radio producer who has written a book about great journalism anecdotes, says he spent months trying to find Dave and when he eventually ran him to ground Dave was willing to chat about anything except his connection to the birthday question. ‘I got the feeling he regarded it as an embarrassing part of his much-younger past,’ Frazer says.
I can understand that, but I’d like to think Dave Pick is now looking down on us from heaven quietly proud of having given his name to a classic reporters’ tale. He might be gone, all but forgotten, but the lesson passed on to young reporters in his name should never be. And, just in case you’re wondering: No, February 23 was not his birthday. That was January 27.
The column prompted some interesting responses
From Mike Carlton: Poor old Dave Pick was the ABC’s police roundsman when I got my cadetship there in 1963. He was a Pom, a nice bloke and kind to us cadets, but gangling and awkward and gullible. A fairly ordinary hack, it must be said. The ABC, in its lofty way, regarded police rounds as a necessary evil. Dave spent his days cooped up in a corner listening to the police, fire and ambulance radios and doing the morning CIB conference: ‘Man up dog, but yers won’t print that one…’
The birthday story was true, but Dave was taunted about it so much that he grew to hate it. He was a great butt of sub editors’ jokes. Worse was to come. The details are hazy, but some notorious crim was on the run from Long Bay jail. One of Dave’s colleagues phoned him, with a disguised voice, said he was the crim and wanted to tell his story. Dave should meet him late the next night outside Randwick race course.
Major drama. This was Dave’s chance to wipe the floor with the afternoon papers. The cops were informed. Dave fronted up to Randwick and positioned himself beneath a street light. There were coppers up trees, behind bushes, hiding in taxis, disguised as street sweepers. Dave waited and waited. Nothing happened. Eventually, the cops gave it away, leaving Dave to keep his lonely vigil until dawn. He never believed it had been a setup. He was convinced the crim had chickened out at the last minute.
From Tom Mackay: Dozens of journos would have worked with Dave through the years when competition among the news media outlets in Sydney was at its peak. He loved the thrill of the chase as a police reporter and covered many big stories.
He had a particular interest in the NSW Mounted Police Unit and its horses. His informants there would advise him that the Unit was constantly under the threat of closure and that if this happened, the horses would all be sent to the knackery. As he knew every horse in the police stables, his response was to wage a quiet PR campaign on ABC news bulletins on behalf of the police ‘mounties’ and their faithful steeds. As a reporter, he would appeal to us sub-editors for editorial space particularly when the nation celebrated the Horses’ Birthday each August.
More often than not his story would get a run. It is very sad that Dave died totally unlamented. How about former colleagues kicking in some cash for a plaque to mark his passing? Maybe the Mounted Police Unit could find a spot for such a memorial to such a staunch supporter. Let’s see if we can find some way to mark his passing, even if it is only a decent wake.
From Geoffrey Luck: Dave Pick’s was a sad ending for a bloke who was gentle, harmless and pleasant but whose whole working life and demeanour was a continued insouciant innocence, so aptly illustrated by the stories and the undoubted apocryphal embellishment.
When I returned from New Guinea in 1966 to become the ABC’s chief of staff, Dave was ensconced in a little glass room in William St as the police roundsman. He never went out on a story and spent his days listening to the police radios. He had no contacts, never visited police headquarters or even the King’s Cross station a stone’s throw away.
He had no feel for the crime scene or any of its main players at a time when drugs, corruption and extra-judicial removals entwined police and the underworld. Dave was like a cocker spaniel – so anxious to please, but absolutely without road sense. He would drive me mad, always asking for directions on what to do with the scraps of information he picked up from the radio.
Then the ABC decided it was probably breaking the law listening to the police frequencies and turned them off. Dave was bereft. Nobody knew how lonely he must have been and how those police radios were his connection with the world and his past life.
I should have been there yesterday…
By David Isaacs
This is a tale about a man I never met. Before moving to the Daily Mail Leo Clancy had worked for the Staffordshire Evening Sentinel in Stoke-on-Trent. I don’t suppose he was there long because it was then an organ trying (not too hard) to extricate itself from the 19th century. I was there for 10 months that seemed like five years.
The news editor was a man called Norman Beckett, thin in frame, voice, imagination and humour. Legend has it that he had risen to that dizzy height at the end of the war when most of the editorial staff had been whisked away to serve in HM Forces. Norman, it seems, had been a copy taker and was drafted in as emergency cover. He stayed, apparently, because no-one thought about replacing him. It was that sort of ambiance.
His approach to news editing was simple: he would enter into a gargantuan diary every invitation (no matter how humble) from any organisation in the Potteries and despatch one of his reporters to cover any and every event in Christendom. News was not the word.
I had not long replaced the departed Clancy when I was told of one of Leo’s clashes with his unflappable and gormless news editor. Pushed to breaking point by some unremembered contretemps, Clancy narrowly avoided grabbing Norman by the neck and instead seized his typewriter and hurled it through the window (the newsroom was on the second floor) narrowly missing an elderly couple going about their business in the street below.
Becket momentarily glanced up from his beloved diary and in his customary nasal whine declared: ‘Now, now Leo. There’s no need no to lose your temper.’
His colleagues were divided as to what happened next but Clancy left the building and was never to be seen in the Sentinel newsroom again.
By Ivan Waterman
Fleet Street, or what remains of the Street of Shame, was rocked to its foundations last week with the announcement that one Patrick Codd, late of the Daily Star and the Daily Express (Manchester) has been made Mayor of the Royal Borough of Kingston, Surrey. No, you are not dreaming.
Now, are you still a) Sitting upright in the same chair? b) Screaming with laughter while thrashing the floor with your fists? c) Gulping down handfuls of anti-depressants.
Don’t worry, our Mr. Codd or ‘Coddy’ as he is affectionately known to his many mates from Hacksville, has always been able to take a joke. If you were Coddy you didn’t have much choice.
From the crown of his well-coiffed bleached mop of sandy hair (Sandy and Julian’s Bona Geriatric Crimpers) to his fine Church’s brogues our man in the Jermyn Street trench coat became part of Street folklore long before he collected his redundo and handsome pension a couple of years back.
Not a day over 68 though records show he is in fact an extremely sprightly 73, he became a permanent fixture on the Star in the eighties in the glory days of Phil Walker and the late Lloyd Turner. And he didn’t look back – unless he left his white wine on the bar.
Nothing could deter him once he was on the trail of a story, whether it be a single column masterpiece about David Jason’s line in string vests or a spread on the latest well-endowed soul in Jordan’s life. He could sniff out a headline in a matter of minutes whether it be at BAFTA or Montreaux. 300 words usually did the trick and nothing fancy like bursting into two syllables. His copy was both immaculate and banal but he knew and understood his audience. Broadsheet snobs may have looked down from a great height at the Star but Coddy would have none of it. He loved working for the Comic, as he described it. And nobody would ever get away with scoring points at his expense.
Away from the Street, he was a noble Tory councillor peering down on Kingston’s suburban sprawl from his delightful £2 million spread at the crest of Kingston Hill, nestling against Coombe Hill golf club.
He was elected as a councillor in 1994 in the Coombe Ward and went on to serve on at least a dozen committees, chairing cultural services and safeguarding the borough’s military position as the council’s representative on Reserve Forces & Cadets Association for Greater London.
He was, of course, a fearless member of the TA, known as The Major by his rank and for his formidable knowledge of all military matters. On holiday breaks with wife Sue he would trudge through the fields of Picardy to examine WW1 battlegrounds and is still famed for taking an armoured TA unit along Westway into Central London before losing the entire confused squad in a cul-de-sac backstreet of Paddington. Somebody, he claimed, had deliberately switched road signs. The enemy were everywhere. He saw himself in such adventures as a cross between Flash Gordon and Captain Mannering.
But there was nothing but glowing pride as friends and councillors queued to shake his hand after he was elected mayor at Kingston Guildhall.
Originally a soldier, Coddy switched to journalism, working on the North Devon Journal and Herald and the Western Evening Herald, before moving on to the national stage in Manchester with the Daily Express.
He served as deputy leader of the Conservative group and chair of the Maldens and Coombe neighbourhood committee. He took the oaths of office and loyalty to the crown on Wednesday, May 11, witnessed by a Kingston magistrate for the last time before the court closes next month. Proposing him as mayor, Conservative leader Councillor Howard Jones said: ‘Pat is a true blue Englishman who counts the qualities of service, gentlemanly behaviour, honour and integrity as the main characteristics to look for in any man, and qualities he himself has in abundance. He is articulate, colourful and an elder of this council who I am sure will uphold the true dignity of the office and I look forward to a really successful year for him, the mayoress and his deputy.’
And there were more celebrations to follow as Pat and Sue toasted their 40th wedding anniversary at the Kingston Lodge Hotel a few days later watched by their daughter Devona and his eldest daughter from his first marriage.
Semi-retired, though always looking for a ‘good hit’ for the Star on Sunday, Coddy has at last been forced to recognise that his showbiz reporter days may be nearing an end.
He has literally dozens of mayoral engagements, many with Sue, to keep him busy in the coming months. ‘Yes, the white wine is still flowing freely. Golly, this is such hard work!’ says the man who put the X in xenophobia. ‘Just pass that bottle will you?’
By Alun John
I decided to leave school and take any job I could to try to contribute to the family. I became a clerk at the Guardian Insurance Company in Cardiff’s Windsor Place. I hated every minute of it.
I was given a desk and told if I studied hard at night school and passed the relevant professional qualifications, then in just a few short years I could look forward to a secure and rewarding career in insurance. All I was looking forward to was getting out of the place. I was shown how to run the switchboard and plug the callers through to their extensions using a system of cables. I can even remember the number of the London office – Mincing Lane 2555 as it was before BT was even heard of and before they embarked on their daft programme of changing your phone numbers nearly every week.
I was given index cards to file. This was happening just as computers were coming into business. They were not in offices, but in remote centres where vast machines filled room after room and drones like me all over the country filled in details on index cards and posted them for inputting. I wasn’t exactly good at posting things. Every night as my last job of the day I had to take a document bag with all the post for the London office to the post office round the corner in Churchill Way.
At the front of the bag was a window with a card showing the address of the London office on one side and the Cardiff office on the other. More than once I forgot to turn the card over and, instead of going to London, the wretched bag turned up back in Windsor Place the next morning and everyone got their post back. I was also frequently admonished for not paying enough attention to important details, like the sandwich order. We used to go upstairs for a coffee break and it was a scene from Are you being served? We all sat at tables according to rank, never really mixing with each other. On my table we used to play whist and keep track of the score sufficiently accurately to enable us to know who was the week’s champion. This was a matter of great importance to some, but it went a very long way to convince me I did not have a shining future in the insurance business if this was the type of person I needed to become.
My camera saved my sanity. Whenever I could, I would get out of the office at lunchtime and go into Cathays Park and take pictures of whatever caught my eye. They weren’t that good, but then they weren’t that bad either by now, so I took the bold step of offering them to the South Wales Echo, the local evening newspaper. I have to say there wasn’t a huge rush to take them up. Nevertheless, they were quite encouraging in telling me to carry on with what I was doing.
One week I decided that I really had done enough for the world of insurance and took a couple of sick days off. I rang the personnel office of the Echo and asked if they had any jobs for a trainee photographer. I was hoping perhaps they would say ‘yes’ and straight away give me a large bag of kit and a ticket round the world. The girl said she didn’t think they needed me at this stage, but if they did they would write. Helpfully the girl said she would call back if they didn’t have anything just to let me know. An hour later the phone rang. I expected to be asked to leave some details for her to bury in a file somewhere. I knew what happened to files.
The girl wondered if I might be interested in a job they had in the darkroom as an assistant. There was no guarantee it would lead to anything more, but if I was interested could I come in and talk to the photographic manager. Could I? Was the Pope a Catholic? When could I come in? How about this afternoon?
I caught the bus into town and met Leslie Grist, the manager, who actually seemed impressed with my five O-levels because they were not seeking anyone qualified for the most junior post in the department. He also looked at a couple of my pictures, but was more interested in the fact I had printed them rather than taken them. We looked round the department, met a few of the photographers, including Lew Yapp, who ran the picture desk and I was offered the job for a fiver a week. The only question remaining was when could I start? It was Wednesday now, so how about next Monday. We agreed.
I didn’t sleep much that night. A mixture of excitement and apprehension had my mind racing. I went into the office next day looking for a clean piece of paper to write out my resignation. Before I could find it I was summoned to the manager’s office on the first floor. He asked how I felt I was doing. I replied I was going to resign that day. He countered by saying he actually felt neither my heart nor my future lay in insurance and they were going to sack me. We agreed I could leave next day and I went back downstairs to my desk. I enjoyed the filing for my final two days. I enjoyed it mainly because I systematically shuffled every drawer full of index cards that I could get to. I must now apologise to any of the good folk of south Wales who had a claim held up through this grossly irresponsible act. But, boy, did it make me feel good!
Friday came and I walked out of the door in Windsor Place for the last time. I don’t know who had the greater escape. Me from boredom and the mutant teddy bear – or the glamorous world of policy endorsements and underwriting from me.
The photographic department of the South Wales Echo certainly managed to give me the finest training that a new young photo technician could aspire to. I had only been there for three brief months and had acquired a whole new set of skills missing from my photographic knowledge. In fact, technician was now not too grand a title for the boy in the darkroom.
Already, I could sweep the darkroom floor with confidence. I could remember a whole order for tea, coffee and sandwiches from the canteen in my head and not make a mistake when I delivered it. I could periodically look out of the windows into the street at the side of Thomson House and see if there were any traffic wardens about trying to put tickets on the photographers’ cars and then dash back to the department and warn everyone. I could take and collect dry cleaning reliably and very quickly found my way to the back bar of the Queen’s Hotel for a pint after work.
More important, I was getting a serious insight into photography just by looking at and listening to what was going on around me. I learnt more in those three short months than I had in all my attempts at photography up until then. The picture shows Alun John outside the Old Bailey as Sheila Buckley arrives for the John Stonehouse trial.
The Man Who Painted In Welsh
By Revel Barker
Sir Kyffin Williams RA was the iconic painter of the Welsh landscape. He painted in Welsh with a palette of the colours of Cymru. To many he is still the greatest painter that country has produced and one of the very few whose work was in such demand that buyers queued up overnight at his exhibitions and elected a queue master to decide who was going to buy which picture when the gallery opened.
He was frequently sold out in an hour.
Yet this talented man was neglected, even vilified, by the arts establishment, which hurt him deeply. He used to say: ‘I am loved by the people and hated by the establishment.’
In the decade until Kyffin’s death author and broadcaster Ian Skidmore, his neighbour and friend, collected the views of other friends who loved him. Most have by now gone to join him but they leave an important record of this wonderful man.
They recall his childhood; his growing talent as a painter; a great humanitarian who used his own epilepsy to further the cause of other sufferers. They remember the archetypal Welshman, the product of an English public school; the teetotaller whose conversation illuminated many a dinner party; and the author of two classics of Welsh life, and the wickedly gifted cartoonist who gladly gave away drawings and paintings now worth thousands.
But above all they remember a delightful companion and a loyal friend.
The Man Who Painted in Welsh is published tomorrow by Revel Barker at £9.99 and is available from amazon, Waterstones, Barnes & Noble and all the usual sources – including (our favourite) the Book Depository which offers free delivery worldwide.